Karen Ashley Ng’s quest to see the Northern Lights brought her on a magical journey to Lapland.
I’ve had my heart set on seeing the northern Lights for as long as ican remember. ever since iwrote my first bucket list of travel destinations at 13, the journey to Lapland to see the Northern Lights dominated the number one spot on each revision of that list. Friends and family thought that ihad gone bonkers when I declared that I would be visiting one of the world’s coldest and most remote regions in the dead of winter last year. Lapland is not a country but its cultures and landscapes are as unified as one. It is the area that spreads over the most northern parts of the nordic countries – the arctic area known as Sampi.
I flew into Helsinki, the capital of Finland with my husband in February. The weather was -4cand the chilling winds gave me a preview of what was to be expected. From there, I took a domestic flight to Rovaniemi, the gateway and capital of Lapland. I had rented a little two-bedroom house with a fireplace for my stay in Rovaniemi. nothing too luxurious but definitely spacious enough for just the two of us. The temperature was -10cand according to the locals, we were in for a treat as such “warm” weather is highly unusual in February.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we headed out to meet our reindeers and they took us across the arctic circle into Santa Claus’ official home. The arctic circle is an imaginary line drawn at the parallel of latitude that runs 66° 33’ 44”. areas north of the arctic circle are unique places that allow the experience of polar Days – where the sun never sets (midnight sun), and polar nights where the sun never rises (sunless night) during the summer and winter solstices.
By noon, I had officially crossed the arctic circle, earned my reindeer sleigh-driving license and shared my Christmas wishes in Santa’s ears. I spent the rest of the afternoon organising special Santa Claus surprises to my close friends’ children to arrive the next Christmas. That evening, we headed to snowcastle for dinner at the snowhotel, keeping our fingers crossed that we would be able to catch the Aurora Borealis in the skies. alas, the skies were cloudy and the Aurora Borealis was hidden from view. Instead, we had the gorgeous ice carvings of the snow hotel, an ice chapel and sauna in an igloo to entertain us that night.
After hearing from several locals that many tourists have come in search of the northern Lights, only to leave without a glimpse, I was worried that I too, would depart disappointed.
Thankfully, I had planned weeks of stay in Lapland. To increase my chances, I took a local public bus from Rovaniemi to Munio which is two hours deeper into the arctic north. I booked a little log cabin next to Pallas-Ylläs national park directly by the beautiful Lake Jerisjärvi to spend our remaining two weeks in Lapland. As we moved further away from touristy Rovaniemi, we started to feel more in tune with the real adventures of Lapland. At our final destination, we were an hour’s drive away from the nearest mini-mart and were surrounded by the beauty of the Sampi landscapes. This vast and rugged landscape makes the perfect playground for us to do some off-the-beaten track exploring. In my time there, ispent the days snow shoe walking, cross country skiing, tobogganing down slopes, ice-fishing, snowmobiling and making new friends
Every activity was a thrill and an unforgettable experience. Soon I was pretty good at snowmobiling across the lakes and forests. It is the vehicle of choice in such extreme weather. The temperatures were also starting to dip pretty quickly and -30cwas the norm. By the end of the two weeks, my body could almost handle the extreme temperatures of -40c.
My experience in Lapland was highly educational and the most valuable learning experience came from handling huskies for sledding. I love dogs and being able to understand how these intelligent, strong and loyal dogs operate within their packs was highly fascinating. They love to run and hate it when I stopped or slowed them during sharp cornering. The expansive Lapland winter landscape is perfect for their explosive energy and it’s on these exciting expeditions where I work closely with the dogs that I enjoy myself the most.
Despite all my exciting day activities, it’s the night that keeps my mind occupied with hopes of spotting the northern Lights. My first encounter with the “Tricky Lady” as the Aurora Borealis is also known, happened while I was snowmobiling deep into the ancient ice forest. I saw a movement of light in the sky. It was so subtle that I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me. stopping my vehicle and getting off, that small subtle light started to glow stronger and weave itself across the sky. We were caught completely off guard and did not have time to do much but gaze in wonder.
I was more prepared for my subsequent encounters with the Tricky Lady which seemed to tease me constantly by making me anxious and completely frozen before lighting up the skies. No matter how many times I spot the Aurora Borealis, each time is just as exciting and as wondrous. The heavens open up to the most magical and majestic natural dancing light show in the world! The swirling celestial display is a spectacle that should not be missed in one’s lifetime. i’m glad that I was blessed enough to experience the magic.
I’ve gained a lifetime of memories in this one trip. if you are keen on catching this elusive phenomenon, the best months to go are between October to March.