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How to see the Northern Lights

February 28, 2016

I have a curse when visiting destinations in search of a landmark or natural phenomenon.  The cliffs of Moher in Ireland were hidden by a sea fog.  The three sisters in the Blue Mountains were also covered by a fog.  A museum in Abu Dhabi was still under construction, despite being shown on a map.  And finally, hoping to see the Northern lights in Iceland proved unachievable as the conditions weren’t right.  I was hoping to break this curse on my trip up to the Yukon in Northern Canada.  This is how I went.

 

Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the ‘Northern Lights’ is pretty much on everyone’s bucket list.  There are only certain places in which the lights are visible and they can only be seen if the conditions are right.  Canada is one of those places.  The town I chose to seek the infamous lights out was Whitehorse.  The capital of the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse has direct flights from Vancouver with Air North and Air Canada.

 

Not knowing where to possibly see the lights or what to look for, we decided to book with a local company, Up North Adventures.  The cost of a tour is $125 per person and includes all transport, use of a heated hut, snacks and hot drinks and a knowledgeable guide.  The booking process was smooth and the employees were all keen to help out.  The tour started with our pick up, straight from our accommodation at around 9.30pm.  We were then whisked away to their location about a 25minute drive out of town and away from most of the light pollution.  This is where the waiting game began.

 

Unfortunately there is no switch to turn the lights on, however, this added to the excitement of what would appear before us and allow time to change the camera settings to achieve the best photo.  It was a cold night, about -11 degrees, but according to the locals it was quite warm (Whitehorse usually has a low of around -20).  I had worn about 6 layers and I felt like I needed more.  Let’ face it, I can’t handle the cold.  Luckily there are a couple of cabins with an indoor wood fired stove and hot chocolate.  I would find myself heading outside for 20 minutes before making a quick dash back inside to defrost.  Inside I would snack on pretzels, chips and peanuts and then take a couple of marshmallows to roast on the camp fire outside.  This proved a great time to meet all the other people on the tour and hear their travel stories.

 

 

It was about 1 AM when rumours began to work their way across the site that the Northern lights had started to appear.  Not seen by the naked eye, but showing up in a photo.  The excitement of finally breaking the curse was building up inside me.  Behind the camera I was taking a few snappy shots and smiled at the faintest sign of the lights.  All of a sudden, the Yukon opened up and the magic show in the air had started.  The lights which started out as a mere blip in the sky had transformed into a dancing display of nature at its best.  The smile was not wiped from my face as the pure joy of seeing the Northern lights had burst out into a dancing display of my own.  After a 20 minute display, we packed up our belongings and made our way back to the hotel by 2.30AM.

 

 

White horse has a few different providers to see the Northern lights.  One such company, who is the cheapest, is Who, What, Where tours.  Locally owned and run, Teena will step outside her front door and let you know if the conditions are right before taking you out into the cold night.  It can cost as little as $45 per person, up to $85.  Other company’s offering tours include: Arctic Range Adventures and Northern Tales

 

FAQ’s

When are they visible?

The Northern lights are most predominant between November and March. To get the best view, head to somewhere where there is no light pollution. I.e. away from town. 

 

Can I tell if they will be on display on a certain night?

You cannot say for definite if the lights will come out on a certain night.  Like the weather forecast, there is also a Northern lights forecast.  This is updated every 15 minutes and has many variables affecting the chance of seeing them.

 

How do I know it’s the Northern lights?

The lights slowly build.  It will start by looking like a cloud in the distance.  Then your cloud will begin to change colour and fill the night sky.  This all depends on the strength of the lights.  It is pale green in colour which transforms to a light yellow as it dances its way across your horizon.

 

How do take a great photo?

It’s time to put your camera in Manual mode and try a few settings.  Unfortunately there is no exact setting to get a great picture.  It all depends on your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture setting and of course, the light.  I like to keep my ISO as low as possible.  The higher the ISO setting, the grainier the photo.  Your shutter speed will need to be at least 4 seconds, but try not to go more than 15 seconds.  Set your aperture to the lowest possible setting.  A 1.8 F stop is recommended.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or get in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

Safe Travels!

 

 

 

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