Where on earth are the top places to see the northern lights? The locals who grew up with the magic, reveal their secret spots and viewpoints.
Fed up with the usual travel experts? The ones who are eager to point you in the direction of the northern lights? What happens if you ask local wise Arctic people instead?
Northern Norway counts nearly 500,000 people, and here you’ll meet seven of them: a kayak paddler, a reindeer herder, a local radio employee, a surfer, a cultural coordinator at a hospital, a musician, and a taxi driver.
Wiggo Antonsen is a busy taxi driver in Longyearbyen, the administrative settlement of the Svalbard Islands which are situated halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. He is not only a local personality but also an international celebrity thanks to his stout participation in the popular BBC documentary series Life on the Edge.
”Some tourists believe they must travel to the end of the world to see the northern lights, but my motto is that there is no reason to go further than necessary. In the encompassing dark of Svalbard, the magic experience will be the same everywhere”, he says with a laugh inside his big, luxuriant beard.
Wiggo Antonsen recommends the northern lights app alert (Aurora Forecast 3D), "to avoid hits and misses.” Whilst you’re at it, he thinks you should prepare well to be able to take decent photographs of the northern lights. He strongly recommends bringing a tripod, “which will make a huge impact on the result. Trying to capture the northern lights is like striving to take a portrait of hyperactive children”, he says.
“But don’t ask me to help you. I am a taxi driver, not a photo specialist”, Wiggo states with another laugh.
"I get funny requests all the time, like when a tourist from India asked me to drive him to see a polar bear”, he tells.
“The profession of taxi driving hasn’t made me rich, but I’m here to stay.”
“The colder the better. When the temperatures are low, chances of a cloud-free sky are good”, he states.
Although both cold and compact, Karasjok has three hotels and camping alternatives with modern winter-friendly lodges. Norway’s main road E6 also runs through it.
“A one hour drive towards the city of Lakselv, you will find a signposted viewing point that is also a really good spot for seeing the northern lights”, Jon Mikkel says.
“In the other direction towards Finland, still by the E6 main road, you will stumble across similarly good viewpoints”, he adds, whilst pointing out that the locals never get tired of the northern lights. Although in January, when the sun finally marks the beginning of the end of the polar night, is considered as a greater happening.
In the daytime, Anita Andresen has an ordinary administrative office job. But as soon as she is off duty, she joins a group she simply calls her “paddling friends”.
All year round, sometimes several times a week, they gather to share their passion for kayaking. It can happen around the island of Kvaløya or in the archipelago of Lofoten.
“But few things beat the sensation of kayaking whilst you see the northern lights above you and at the same time beneath you in the water, the luminous effect of what we in Norwegian call ‘morild’”, Anita explains.
Morild is a so-called milky sea effect, a glowing phosphorescent phenomenon caused by bioluminescent planktons.
Nature photographer Kjell Bendik Pedersen works at Radio Nordkapp, a radio station full of charming, local stories with a loyal audience in the larger area around the world-famous viewpoint at The North Cape.
“At the beautiful Seibukta bay, there is a parking spot along the E69 road that is cleared of snow during winter. There, you can observe the northern lights in peaceful surroundings”, Kjell Bendik explains.
“I’m also a fan of the fjord of Tufjorden on the coast of the island of Magerøya, a viewpoint on the way to The North Cape, because the undisturbed landscape lets me work with time lapse without interruption”, he says.
Kjell Bendik lives in the area’s far biggest city, Honningsvåg with a population of around 2,000 people. But around The North Cape, you’ll also find small towns and places like Kåfjord, Repvåg, Skarsvåg, Nordvågen, Kjelvik, Valan, Gjesvær, and Kamøyvær.
In the vast county of Troms, you’ll find native Inger Lise Ebeltoft, a cultural coordinator at Tromsø’s hospital and former international top model in Milan, Paris, and New York. She has reunited with Tromsø and the northern lights of her childhood and youth.
Inger Lise sees a lot of opportunities to go to the countryside around Tromsø to avoid disturbing her northern light experience with urban lightings.
“For seeing the northern lights right northwest of Tromsø, I recommend driving approximately one hour to the charming, small village of Hansnes, and eventually to jump on the ferry to the large island of Vannøya or to the peaceful, smaller island of Karlsøy”, Inger Lise says.
“In the west of Tromsø you can go by car or bus to the vast island of Kvaløya, which has plenty of good, crowd-free spots, like the small towns of Kvaløyvågen and Skulsfjord, and the outermost beautiful peninsula of Sommarøy”, she continues.
In the opposite direction eastwards, you will find the fjord of Balsfjord, which is reachable within an hour even when you go all the way to its inner end and the village of Nordkjosbotn.
Inger Lise grew up lying on her back in the garden outside of her family’s house by the waterfront staring at the lights. “And for sure, I still find the northern lights mysteriously interesting, because they appear different every time”, she says.
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