Whitehorse


7
Mar 13

On the hunt for Northern Lights in the Yukon

All the conditions were perfect. It should have been a dazzling display...

All the conditions were perfect. It should have been a dazzling display…

One of the major draws of the Yukon is the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. I’ve dreamed of watching the night sky dance with colour since I was a child. I had high hopes for this trip to Whitehorse; there were “elevated activity” signs on the aurora forecast site, the skies were clear and all the conditions seemed right. But nature is a fickle thing and it turns out that the Yukon Northern Lights have decidedly diva-ish tendencies.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed when they failed to show, but compared to last time when I tried my luck in Iceland and froze my butt off shivering outside a bus in a deserted field, this trip was definitely more welcoming. Unlike many Aurora tours, instead of chasing the lights, Northern Tales have a camp set up, around half an hour beyond Whitehorse, far from the light pollution of the town. All the creature comforts that you could possibly need are there, from a crackling campfire to heated yurts and a slightly alarming drop-toilet.

There was something rather comforting about being tucked away in the warm, our hosts were boiling maple syrup on the stove to make maple taffy lollies, I sat and warmed my hands on a mug of cocoa and felt, well, not as sad as I thought I’d feel. I kept popping outside, to sit on a chair in the snowy field, to get my frosty fix of staring at the sky and feeling the bitter bite of cold air. After all, if you get a great reward like dancing lights in the sky shouldn’t you have to suffer a little first? I stared until my eyeballs got cold; every once in a while, I could see the clouds part; the stars twinkled and the more I stared, the more convinced I was that I could see… something. It felt like the sky sighing. Something moving and shifting and shimmering. And then disappearing again.

Turns out I am terrible at drawing hearts

Turns out I am terrible at drawing hearts

Our hosts were phenomenal; born cheerleaders and optimists, we stayed out till past 1am, hoping that our diva would show. They made snacks and hot drinks and even entertained us shooting slow-mo light shots… but no northern lights. I just read this morning that according to NASA, the ‘Solar Maximum’ – the summit of the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity, which gives the best Northern Lights – has shifted from May to autumn. That means it’s not over yet between me and my quest to see those dancing lights. If there’s a yurt and a campfire, turns out I’m happy to keep on chasing…

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Yukon. My views are 100% my own.

Travel Yukon


3
Mar 13

The Yukon: What to do in Whitehorse

Transformative. That’s how a friend recently described the Yukon and I think she’s right. You get the first clue that things aren’t going to be business as normal at the airport gate. As I sat, checking my phone and sipping coffee, I realised that almost everyone around me was chatting to each other. Was it a group outing? No. It’s just one of those places where everyone seems to know everyone and if they don’t – well, they’ll introduce themselves.

Even the carrier, Air North, are hands down the most friendly I have ever flown with; ridiculously polite and cheery, they handed out fresh baked banana and maple loaf for breakfast onboard which set me up for arriving in Whitehorse with a smile on my face. One of Canada’s three territories, far up north, the Yukon experiences brutal sub-arctic weather. Snow blankets the ground for months on end. Biting sub-zero temperatures are normal for months. The days are short throughout winter; you need layer after layer of clothing to simply get down the street without freezing. Thick soled boots, warm gloves, a hat. Just getting ready to go out is exhausting.

Out for an early-morning walk, crunching through the snow

Out for an early-morning walk, crunching through the snow

But oh! When you do… there is so much to be excited about. I found the light extraordinary, the colours dazzling, the strange physical sensation of feeling painfully cold oddly exhilarating. There’s a lot to do around Whitehorse; from Northern Lights spotting and learning to dog mush to going ice fishing or taking a plane sightseeing over a glacier. But don’t discount Whitehorse as a place to explore, it’s full of surprises

1. I’ve written before about my long-suffering journey to find some decent coffee out here in Vancouver… sorry, Canada, you roast your beans too much for me! All the coffee that people rave about seems… burnt to me. So try to picture my delight when I took a sip of Bean North at the uber-funky Baked cafe and discovered heavenly just-right, perfect-roast coffee. I may have to get my beans sent from the Yukon in future as these are superb.

BEST coffee in Canada to date. Thanks, Bean North!

BEST coffee in Canada to date. Thanks, Bean North!

2. Bear with me on this. It could have been post-dog sledding-euphoria, or maybe just the giddy come-down after the amazing start of the Yukon Quest race but I really recommend you visit Duffy’s Pet Store on Alexander to check out their harness and dog bootie room! OK – where else in the world are you going to have the chance to browse harnesses for your dog? I spent a happy ten minutes imaging that Freddie was a sled-dog, we’d go whizzing across the tundra! I could imagine his little paws in the fluorescent booties, alas (or possibly for the best) after the Quest they were all out and only had the sensible black ones, so after one last moment of sled-fantasy, I left, bootie-less.

How could I not fall in love with this as a look for my dog, Freddie?

How could I not fall in love with this as a look for my dog, Freddie?

3. You don’t expect to discover fiery Caribbean cooking in the frozen north and yet walk into Antoinette’s on 4th Avenue and that’s exactly what you’ll find. I loved the funky dining room – bold reds on the wall and colourful art work – and the spicy flavours were just what I needed to warm up. The lime and chilli-spiked king prawns were so damn good I found myself greedily sucking the shells to get the last juicy drops. Gorgeous.

4. I’m a sucker for a local museum. I like the contents to be as random as possible, I love the feeling of being catapulted into another world entirely, getting to see other people’s interests and obsessions. In fact my favourite museums of all are those that clearly are the result of an enraged partner bellowing, ‘That’s ENOUGH! Get this crap out of my house’ and the collector yelling back ‘I’ll start a MUSEUM… It’s not crap, I’ll show you… I’ll show everyone!’ -  I’d like to point to the Chocolate Museum in Biarritz as a particularly fine example of this – all moulds and posters and no apparent point. I was fascinated by it. The Macbride Museum takes this to a glorious daft place with the ‘Cluttertorium’ I read the sign “…from the 1950s to the 1970s the museum simply put as many artifacts as it could in a random display… the Cluttertorium is designed to give visitors access to portions of the collection” and scrambled down the stairs. Fantastic! A pair of joke underpants, a plait of hair, spectacles… no rhyme, reason or connection except the Yukon. I adored it.

Any day I get to go to a museum like this is my best day.

Any day I get to go to a museum like this is my best day.

5. Using local products, inspired by the northern boreal forest, the Aroma Borealis herb shop sells gorgeous hand-made skin care and herb teas and makes for a good stop-off for gifts. I love their ethos of using Northern wild plants alongside organically-grown herbs and essential oils from around the world to create natural herbal bodycare. The Sweet Slumber crystal rock salt bath salts are fantastic.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Yukon, as always, my views are 100% my own.

Find out more: Travel Yukon

 

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