Hurtigruten’s In Search of the Northern Lights voyage runs through early April. // © 2016 Hurtigruten
Feature image (above): Passengers can opt for a wake-up call in the middle of the night if conditions are favorable for Aurora Borealis viewings. // © 2016 Hurtigruten
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a fascination with the Northern Lights — hoping that one day I’d throw my head back to find swirls of pink, green and violet, as delicate as cotton candy, dancing and flickering in the night sky. With the Aurora Borealis’ 11-year solar cycle coming to an end this winter and the prospect of the lights dimming for a decade, I knew I’d have to act fast to make this childhood dream a reality. Thankfully, I discovered Hurtigruten’s In Search of the Northern Lights voyages in Norway, as well as its range of daily departures from Bergen to Kirkenes, Norway — all of which provide opportunities for viewing the Aurora Borealis.
I selected a seven-day Expedition Voyage, sailing northbound from Bergen and stopping in Tromso, Bodo, Trondheim and Alesund before ending in Kirkenes.
It became clear from the start that the majority of guests had the same goal in mind as I did. Thankfully, Hurtigruten helps make Northern Lights viewing a priority.
Each cabin features a telephone with a broadcast function that, if switched on, will act as a Northern Lights wake-up call. If there happens to be a strong sighting in the middle of the night, guests who opt in will hear an announcement. Those who prefer a good night’s sleep won’t hear a thing (but they will hear about what they missed come breakfast time). The Expedition Team also gives daily updates about the Northern Lights weather conditions, as well as an in-depth lecture about the phenomenon, which has played an important role in the mythology of many Arctic cultures, from the Eskimos in Canada to the nomadic Sami people.
As our ship, Nordnorge, approached the Arctic Circle, chances for spotting the Aurora Borealis increased. I found that beginning the itinerary in the south (from Bergen) made the sailing more exciting, as anticipation for seeing the Northern Lights built and reached a crescendo toward the end of the sailing, when viewing was best. Of course, no matter how strong the solar activity is on any given night, it takes a clear sky to see nature’s fireworks show in all its glory.
When I wasn’t shivering on the aft deck of the ship, clutching my tripod and gazing upward, I was hanging out with Americans and Brits at the bar, listening to a lecture or out on one of many shore excursions organized by Hurtigruten’s friendly Expedition Team.
New as of last month, the Expedition Team offers complimentary guided walks in select ports, as well as a Hiking Pass program (approximately $175 per person). The Hiking Pass includes four guided hikes that can last between 1.5 to four hours in port.
Regardless of whether guests opt for a hike or a dogsledding excursion, keep in mind that the excursion will take up most of the time in port. So, if your clients are the types who like to get a taste of local life, suggest that they explore the port by foot rather than by booking an excursion.
Built in the mid-1990s, Nordnorge appeared to be a bit worn, most notably in my outside cabin, and ready for an upgrade. Fortunately, Nordnorge, as well as Hurtigruten’s three other Norwegian coastal ships, will undergo renovations this year. Expect refreshed common areas, including the cafe and bistro areas, and a new design concept that the line is calling “New Arctic Interior.”
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering, “Well, did she see the darn Northern Lights or not?” After much perseverance and hours spent on deck, yes, I caught a glimpse, although the overcast weather made it difficult to see the Aurora Borealis in its full splendor. In any event, I was able to get some pretty good photos on my digital camera thanks to some handy tips provided by the Expedition Team.
For anyone who has the Aurora Borealis on his or her bucket list this year, the door certainly hasn’t closed yet — Hurtigruten’s In Search of the Northern Lights itineraries run through early April. The line is currently offering an airfare-inclusive special, from $1,907 per person, which includes a night at Bergen Clarion Hotel Admiral and a night at a standard-class hotel in Tromso. The package also includes a six-day sailing, all onboard meals, airport transfers and a chance to see one of Earth’s most sought-after natural wonders.