The Northern Lights are a sight that never gets old, even if you‘ve lived in Iceland your whole life. However, where and how you view this natural phenomenon is very important and getting out of the city lights is crucial for the optimal experience.
Northern Lights activity in Iceland has been unusually high in the past few weeks and therefore we thought it would be ideal to seize the opportunity and head out of Reykjavik on the night that they were supposed to be strongest. Coincidentally that turned out to be the same night Reykjavik‘s city council decided to turn off the city lights to give people a better viewing opportunity. But never mind that, we were going in a super jeep! A super jeep is a modified 4wd jeep with large wheels especially equipped for Iceland’s rugged terrain. Being in one makes you feel like you can drive up any mountain or over any river that’s in your way.
We were picked up by our guide Logi, a stout Icelandic man that had just come from guiding a 12 hour tour of the interior but was still brimming with enthusiasm for our trip. Getting into a super jeep is a bit tricky for those of us not blessed with legs a mile long, but once we‘d climbed aboard, the cushy leather seats make you feel like a VIP. We headed out of the city, towards the Heidmork area, along with more cars that you usually see on the streets at this time of night. Clearly the excitement over tonight’s Northern Lights forecast was contagious.
The lights were expected to start around 10pm but at ten minutes past, the sky was still resolutely, stubbornly black. We decided to give up on Heidmork and headed to Kaldidalur, an isolated valley close to Þingvellir national park. Standing in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere under the starry sky would almost have been enough to make the evening special, but we didn‘t have to wait long until the main event, the Aurora Borealis made an appearance. And what a show! A large belt of white light appeared first, spectacular in its own way, but then it started dancing across the sky and other colors started appearing. Red, purple and green flashed in wavy ribbons and we witnessed something called a crown, when the lights reach downwards, so close it feels like you can touch them. Our group‘s oooohs and aaaaaahs echoed across the valley as people scrambled to snap photographs while simultaneously staring transfixed at the sky so as not to miss a thing. Luckily for me Logi had his own camera set up and calmly took pictures to send to the group, since my unsteady hand only managed to take a few blurry photos.
We couldn‘t get enough of the lights above us, but there was no denying it was starting to get a little chilly, in spite of our warm, layered clothing. Having thought of everything yet again, our lovely guides had brought hot chocolate, and even a little something to strengthen it for those who were extra cold. Boosted by the warm, sugary chocolate we were able to enjoy the Northern Lights a bit longer, even though they had started to fade by then. That‘s the beauty of this stunning natural phenomenon, it‘s fleeting nature makes you feel lucky to have witnessed it.
It was a happy group that headed back to Reykjavik just after midnight. The city had turned the streetlights back on and life had resumed its regular speed, but for us in the super jeeps, life would always be a little bit changed and the memory of the unique display of light particles we‘d witnessed will stay with us for years to come.