„Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.“
Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man
Really not everybody seems to enjoy a trip during winter to northern Norway. It’s cold, it’s dark. Apart from those obvious advantages, you do not get mosquitoes as well. Really, what is the downside? So once more, we set course to the Arctic. And just to make sure it would get completely dark, we targeted the time of new moon. All this for the simple reason: To feel the thrill of chasing northern lights again.
In contrast to the long, endless roads in Finland, we plotted a route along the coast of Norway. The E6 will take you from Oslo all along the way to the north and you can select some smaller roads directly on the coast if weather and timing permits. There are some critical elements to this, in between Oslo and Trondheim, you have to cross the mountains along Jotunheimen and Rondane and later on the Saltfjellet mountain plateau. With a ferry to catch we heard the clock ticking, luckily the weather held. Not that our Amazebra was afraid, but we did not have much buffer time. Also because we booked a workshop up in Tromsø, we are always eager to learn something new about photography.
So after Christmas, the Amazebra was woken up early and we drove to Kiel in Germany, first leg was a trip with the Color Line aboard the Color Fantasy, more a cruise ship than a ferry. We arrived at the docks early and although we booked a four class cabin, our ticket said Owner Suite. Apparently we have received an upgrade, sure due to the charm of our truck when we checked in. Entering the cabin was a shocking experience, especially after all the smaller rooms we had before. For some time, we were afraid that somebody might come and tell us that there was a mistake and we had to leave, so we were even reluctant to drop our jackets – so overwhelming was the luxury of what we saw. The cabin included a living room, a bedroom and a bath all with a fantastic view and quite a lot of space. After dinner, we just went back to it and enjoyed a nice bottle of whine all while admiring the view.
Road conditions in Norway have been great. Although it was cold and sometimes we had quite some snow, in general it was not that difficult to drive. Depending on your equipment naturally, winter tires are a must have. We wanted to pack snow chains, but were unable to find a set fitting the wheels even though we started planning months ahead again.
With the sun still being available a little bit we had some fantastic time in the mountains at the start of the long drive up north.
The Saltfjellet mountain plateau was simply breathtaking, this is where you pass the Arctic Circle. Without trees, it was very windy as well, windchill added to the temperatures so that we were thankful to have equipment fitting polar expeditions. We saw quite a lot of reindeer as well.
Now the Amazebra was already pretty well equipped, but still we had room for improvement. Mighty MFK in Switzerland had told us that the wheels we used before had to be removed as apparently the tires are not fitting the rims. So we had to purchase a new set and were happy with the new BFGoodrich AT KO2 which have been developed with performance requirements targeting snow as well. We also removed the back seats of the car and installed mounts to better secure our camera equipment. Our choice of gluing some padding to it resulted in quite a heavy smell though, so most of the time we had to leave the window open for a little bit. Preparations as well included removing rust from the underbody plating and rocksliders and giving them a fresh coating which was quite a lot of work.
We crossed the ocean in between mainland Norway and the Lofoten with a ferry from Bodø to Svolvær using the Hurtigruten. The Lofoten are a great place to visit in winter, although there are many more settlements then we anticipated. One of the first photo-stops we did was for this surrealistic lake, half covered with ice.
We got a pretty strong storm as well. And getting to the waterline was a bit difficult especially because the rocks are slippery.
The small zebra decided to stay in the car and look at all of this from a safe distance. Although we suspected that it was just waiting for us to leave the car so that it could have a party with some friends.
On New Year’s Eve we killed the traditional bottle of french champagne standing on the balcony of the room we booked. Which was a great choice, the view to the harbor was fantastic and we had some great sight to the famous cruise ships of the Hurtigruten as well. Midnight, they sounded their horns and the fireworks erupting afterwards all over the city was one of the most intense I ever saw. Just in case you wonder about the strange streaks on some of the pictures, this is seagulls flying through while doing long exposures.
But not only did we get fireworks, the Aurora Borealis was showing up as well. Not for long and also it was hidden by clouds, but it was a real strong one and a taste of the sights we hoped to still witness later on.
The next morning, we were greeted by a great day, first one of the new year.
And we also found some Norwegian people surfing! Seems to be a tradition for this day, but a real cold one. We stopped because there was a number of photographers on the coast and wondered what caught their interest. Once we realized there were people in the ocean, we took out cameras as well.
We drove all the way to the tip of the land tongue. Coupled with a fantastic sunset at around 2pm.
Likely one of the shortest names for a place is Å, right at the tip of the Lofoten. It is the end of the road as well. The parking spots are a good indicator to the number of tourists visiting the place during summer, but on this day, we were all alone. Funnily, there is another town called Bø, so we actually drove from Å to Bø.
Several small harbors showed beautiful sceneries, but without of the tourists, life would be likely pretty tough.
Driving all over the place revealed several marvelous spots, we decided to return to the Lofoten some other time to really enjoy more of the landscape.
One of the best places was Husjordøya, an ancient settlement from the iron age. Some of the jetsam is definitely not ancient, but the old burial cairn is impressive even in winter
There is also a lot of wildlife, we saw a big bird of prey. Unluckily, it was too fast and too far away for our cameras. But there were other traces as well, the seabirds obviously enjoy the seafood, cracking them open on top of the moss covered rocks and we found footprints of a fox as well plus the obvious signs from it digging for small game.
On our way to Narvik, we found some more great places. We also discovered that the camouflage of the Zebra actually works surprisingly quite well in the snow covered landscape.
In Narvik, we asked at the reception where we would be able to find some good spots for doing photos of the polar light. The hints they gave us were fantastic and although the lights have not been strong in this night, there were still plenty and we could get used again to operate our equipment in the dark.
One of the best encounters we had was with a pack of wolves. And some lynxes including cubs. And elk. Well, we visited the Polar Park, the world’s most northern wildlife center. Especially the wolves are a great sight, you can even visit them within their confinements. Unluckily, this needed a reservation and as we found the park out of coincidence, we could just have a look. Still impressive.
One of the animals actually took offense that we got so close. It made a jump from several meters away right at us and crashed paws first into the fence. Obviously it was very much aware of it and was completely unhurt, basically this was just a signal that yes, now we are close enough. This jump was so powerful and came so out of nowhere, I am sure that this would have proven lethal if for real. Truly a ferocious beast and a powerful hunter. I felt a lot of respect for it and was deeply impressed.
Arriving in Tromsø, we found that our guide for the workshop was already there as well one night before of the official start. So we took the opportunity and went out already to start photography of the Aurora. And what a night it was. Although it started slow.
After some time, it became one of the strongest lights I ever saw. The cameras worked like crazy and I could do two very good timelapse movies as well – my major target for the trip.
The absence of the moon was very good as well, you get a truly black sky with tons of stars and shooting starts.
The next nights were fantastic as well.
This time, we had 3 DSLRs each to operate. One I places on the huge Gitzo Tripod using my 8mm Fisheye, remotely controlled by laptop and the timelapses turned out to be amazing. Still I was not prepared for the larger amount of work to do with 3 cameras, my gloves have been too thin. I ended up with cold burns, having blisters on my fingertips. Later on, I lost a screw from the dolly and had to search for it for over half an hour (luckily I found it), but back to the hotel room I had blood running down my knees. It did not matter, I bought two new sets of gloves in town and just ignored the pain – the opportunity was too good to miss.
We also did some excursions during the day. Sleeping is totally overrated anyway. The light is just beautiful up there in winter.
And it’s cold. The ocean is slowly freezing over.
Tromsø itself again was a great centerpoint for what we did up there. It does offer high quality accommodation, has a number of good shops offering equipment and souvenirs. I bought a hand made knife in one created by the Sami people, a beautiful piece of workmanship.
During the next nights we traveled to various different places. And close to every night, we were lucky. Polar lights and no clouds. We did thousands of photographs.
As well, we traveled to the fjords to capture the Aurora including it’s reflection in the water.
From previous trips we remembered where to meet with tame reindeer. Well, they are tame if you bring bread.
We did not see many coronas, but I could capture a brief one. Those pictures are unedited like most of the others. I like them without Photoshop, although it is impressive how much more details and color you can still squeeze out of those pictures. But I want to preserve the natural state as much as possible.
The next days, it started to snow quite heavily. That restricted us to daytime activity, but there are many things to photograph. And we did work on our skills as well, especially using filters. Still I like the strong contrast in between sky and ground, the dynamic range the Nikon cameras can cover is superb.
We also visited the reindeer several more times. If weather stops you from doing photography, you are not prepared well.
With the fresh snow, the landscape is breathtaking.
On the day we left Tromsø, we had some strong lights which were visible even above the city.
This time, weather was much better on our way back. I spent most of the time sorting the many pictures on my hard drives, assembling the timelapse movies and also simply using the time to relax. The trip is supposed to be a vacation, although it borders more on being an adventure. I felt happy heading home again, with the confidence of another successful trip resulting in great pictures not only on the hard drive, but residing in my head as well.