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The hunt for the northern lights in northernmost Norway

Take a trip to the northernmost part of Norway in search of the fascinating northern lights.

Af Winnie Sørensen

Norway - Northern Norway, map - travel

Further north than Tromsø

At the airport we meet four women who are on their way to Tromsø. One has come all the way from Japan. The purpose of the visit to the northern Norwegian city is clear; they want to see the northern lights! For three of the women, it is even the third time they are heading north in search of the promised dancing light. We know that two other Danes later in the day will also set course for Tromsø, Norway.

We are also going to northern Norway. We're just going much further north than Tromsø. Specifically to the city of Alta in Finnmark. I have been told that Alta is just as far north Oslo, as Rome is south.

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Aurora borealis, northern lights and moose

Of course, we also hope to see the northern lights - although sometimes you would think it is not found anywhere else than in Tromsø. The city has really managed to market itself out in the world as the site of the 'aurora borealis'. However, our purpose of the visit is primarily to visit friends, and we have a number of other activities planned. That should prove to be quite reasonable.

It's almost dark when we land in Alta. The time is 14.10. The days are short in January so far north.

The next morning we wake up and stare out at moose in the backyard. I am happy. This summer I spent a whole day in Lille Vildmose with the sole purpose of seeing a moose. Need I say we did not see a single one? Now there are two outside my window!

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Alta's local museum

At 10.30 the sky is blue and the darkness of the night has finally disappeared. The sun only sneaks right up over the mountains and we only get a few rays in our face as we walk towards the city museum. The visit to Alta's local museum is very interesting, even though the many UNESCO-worthy petroglyphs are covered in snow.

What strikes me most, though, is how different the snow is here. Although it has been lying here for months, it is fine and white - and not gray and yellow like old snow in Denmark. It is regularly shown "filled up", I think.

As we walk back towards the city, it starts to get dark again. It's still early, but still it's quite clear that the days are increasing by 15 minutes a day!

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The light in the north and the northern lights in Norway

It is generally brighter here in the north than I had expected. I thought it was dark 24/7, but it's obviously only a few weeks in December that it's dark around the clock. My friends and colleagues otherwise thought I had gone crazy when I told them I was going to Northern Norway in January. I hate snow and am afraid of the dark. It honestly seemed a little silly.

We check weather forecasts and Northern Lights apps. It does not look promising. It must be completely cloudless before you can see the northern lights. Never mind. We've seen two moose. Everything is fine and we still have one night left.

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Dog sledding and scenic surroundings

The next day we have to ride a dog sled. We reckon that we will probably just be placed on a sled and pulled around the field. But no. First we need to be properly equipped. In Alta, various tour operators are fortunately aware that for most people, polar equipment is not part of the ordinary wardrobe, so you can borrow warm clothes and good boots everywhere.

We are equipped with boots that are better than our own and are shown in to the dogs. They waffle and howl and jump and can't wait to get going at all. Our friendly guide picks up a note and says, "yes, you two ladies should have Karsk and Binge and…"

We squint a little at each other as he explains how we get the harness on the dogs. It does not seem that he intends to help, so we find our dogs and get head and paws into the right holes. The dogs are very eager and we have to put all our efforts into keeping them. But they are happy and completely peaceful, and we get them dragged to our sleigh.

After a brief instruction in how to brake - and an admonition that no matter what happens, we must NEVER let go of the sled - there is departure.

We have our own sled and four dogs and we have to take turns driving. I drive first while my friend sits down on the seat. I drive straight into another sled. Bang! The dogs are completely indifferent. They only stop for one thing - the brake!

I brake frantically while remembering that I must never let go of the sled. The dogs finally stop - but it takes my whole body weight on the brake to keep them. As soon as I let go just a little bit, they storm forward again. No damage has been done and soon we will be speeding away. It's unbelievably beautiful.

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Icicles under the garden

We drive through the forest and beyond the fields. The sun shines dimly behind the mountain tops and gives a pink glow over the mountain. The trees are heavy with snow, the sky is light blue, and the only sound is the dogs, which are breathing, and the sleds of the sleigh, which are gliding across the snow. I'm about to toot. I feel like the luckiest person in the whole world. There are outbursts coming from the sled, suggesting that my friend is feeling the same way. It's freezing cold!

I learn that one's snot freezes to ice when the temperature hits about -15 degrees. You should not sniff in too much. Our hair freezes to ice - and after a while our toes and fingers do too. We switch halfway so we both try to drive. We drive for an hour.

The dogs apparently do not lose their breath at any point. Occasionally they stick their snout into a snowdrift, but they run on without a break.

When we get back to their kennel, we can see that they have icicles hanging under their chins. But they wag their tails while we take off our harnesses - and then throw themselves into a snowdrift. We also almost waggle with our tails - and gratefully accept the hot cup of coffee we are offered by the fire. We tell our Norwegian friends who have been waiting for us that we have agreed on something out there on the dog sled between the mountains.

We have agreed that it is the same with the Northern Lights. We do not care. There is nothing that can sting our dog sledding experience!

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Dog sled vs northern lights

I want to end the story here, but that would not be fair to Alta. There is a lot to do. For example, in the winter you can stay at the ice hotel, Sorrisniva. You can also visit the Sami and get a ride with reindeer sleigh. Wrapped tightly in reindeer skins on the sled, you drive through the countryside while waiting to see Santa Claus around the next corner.

Oh yeah. And then there was the northern lights. We saw it. She danced for us. And it was nice. Really nice. But it was not a dog sled.

Good trip on the hunt for the northern lights

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About the travel writer

Winnie Sørensen

Winnie Sørensen is a country expert RejsRejsRejs for Australia, to which she lost her heart 20 years ago. She has been back more than 10 times, and has traveled all over most of Australia. Winnie writes on Talesfromaustralia.com, lectures about the country, and generally likes to share her travel experiences with others who have a penchant for marsupials and all the other goodies from downunder. Winnie is an active traveler and works in the travel industry, so she gets to travel a lot, i.a. to Africa.

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