Winter has proved to be the most colourful time of year for us to explore Northern Norway. The sun lingers low, creating a sunrise that lasts hours as it slowly blends into the sunset. If there’s clouds in the sky they’ll be stained pink or orange, and if it’s a crystal clear day, the horizon will be a candy-pink colour. Every morning we watch the snow capped mountains of the Lofoten Islands blush under the first rays of the day.
Even twilight looks more beautiful here than anywhere else and the sky turns an amazing royal blue colour. Once it’s pitch black, the stars pop out and sparkle, and if we’re lucky the night sky will be filled with dancing aurora.
We’ve had lots of clear nights though, so the aurora has been visible more nights than not and every show has been very different. Sometimes they were concentrated in small areas, like a green snake wiggling up from the horizon. Other times it can completely fill the sky with green smeared from left to right and patterns swirling around us.
It’s quite common to see a pale grey/green line along the horizon. Once we see it’s there we will regularly turn the lights off to check if they’ve gone crazy. One time I looked outside and saw nothing, I went to the bathroom for two minutes and came out to see green swirls spinning around the sky. It can literally come and go in a flash.
Sometimes there’s neon balls which dart through the sky leaving a trail of green behind them and when it’s really active multiple balls will almost chase one another. When the aurora is at its most active, all of the surroundings light up and it’s the most amazing thing to witness as the sky dances. My favourite part is when bizarre vertical lines appear, hundreds of them form a moving line through the sky like tumbling dominoes. It usually moves very fast and the edges can be a pink colour. Pictures really don’t do the aurora justice though, it’s a mind blowing sight to see in person…I’ve never tried mushrooms but I almost feel like I’m hallucinating when I see the sky turn pink and green.
We’ve also found that at our altitude (around 200km above the arctic circle) the ‘kp’ number (which is basically a rating to say how strong the aurora could be) really doesn’t effect us. We’ve had great shows with a kp of only 0.67 and sometimes when there’s been a kp of 4 we haven’t seen anything.
The northern lights are the main reason we came to the arctic for winter so we have certainly ticked that box. In fact our entire stay has been absolutely perfect here. We’ve loved living in such a tiny village, home to just 80 residents and only one shop. It would drive some people crazy living in such a remote spot but we love quiet places like this, plus we were treated to the best accommodation living in a luxury apartment on the end of the jetty. It’s certainly been one of our best volunteering positions.
The work was fun, and we spent most of our time at the old school where we painted the kids changing rooms, toilets and shower blocks. We then made dozens of racks and spent days organising our hosts tools, electrical gear etc into separate rooms. It was a very satisfying job seeing the pile of mess organised into designated rooms. Occasionally we cleaned apartments after guests, and we had some varied jobs like making a climbing wall in the gym and clearing a room piled to the roof with mess and turning it into a painting and craft room. Our hosts were very sweet and generous, allowing us to pick when we worked so we had a lot of freedom and time to enjoy the area.
What surprised us the most about our two months here was the drastic change in daylight hours. When we first arrived we had just 2.5 hours sun and it was low down and behind a hill so we didn’t see it for a few weeks, and as we are leaving there’s 10 hours of sun which is just crazy! It’s still bloomin’ cold and below zero most days though, but having the sun touch our skin now is a lovely feeling.
We’ve hiked most of the trails in the area, enjoying vantage points looking down on the sea filled with islands. We’ve paddle boarded along the turquoise waters when it was -6 degrees, we’ve been on a scenic boat trip and tried deep sea fishing and we even got taken out on our hosts rib boat which was so much fun. It was unbearably cold, but I couldn’t stop giggling as the wind pushed the skin on my cheeks back and we practically flew over the waves at around 70mph!! My hood blew off and my whole head had severe brain freeze, like I’d eaten a year supply of ice cream in one go. But even still, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face….maybe because it had frozen on!!
We are sad to be leaving this magical place though, I’ll miss living right by the sea, watching the tides change, ice sheets drifting past us, little sail boats creating ripples in the calm water and the big ferry coming precariously close to our window every morning as we ate breakfast. I’ll also miss the huge mountains that dominated the view and how they changed colour throughout the day, and watching the aurora fill the sky from our doorstep, and cold, windy nights witnessing it from the warmth of our apartment while we ate dinner. But what I’ll miss most is the colours.
Steigen sure is a beautiful area of Norway, and its rather untraveled compared to the neighbouring Lofoten’s. Part of me wants to tell everyone how great this region is, and the other half wants to keep it a secret. But now it’s time for us to pack our backpacks and head further north where we will be volunteering in Vesterålen.