Posts Tagged: aurora borealis

Sep 14

Challenge 8: See the Northern Lights


Image Credit:  Jenafor Azure

Image Credit: Jenafor Azure

It finally happened: I’ve been chasing the Aurora Borealis for years. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve dreamed of seeing those lights in the sky. I can vividly recall watching a cartoon about a little bear who skated under the northern lights. I couldn’t have been more than five but I remember thinking, “Woah: that looks amazing. I want to see that for real.’ Well – almost 40 years later I finally have.

See, my typical Northern Lights adventures involves driving for ages in a minibus, far away from any kind of warmth, coffee and civilisation wrapped up in chunky arctic-friendly clothing. Then my personal long, slow journey into disappointment: I freeze and feel my hopes fade away – and then, of course, the long bus journey home again, hoping my fingers won’t succumb to frostbite.


Gerald Azure, our incredibly kind and generous host at Blue Sky Mush

Gerald Azure, our incredibly kind and generous host at Blue Sky Mush

But not in Churchill. Manitoba. Oh no! Here at the edge of the edge of the world magical things just seem to happen with ease. That day we’d been dog carting (more of that in another post) at Blue Sky Mush and our hosts Jenafor and Gerald Azure had offered to pick us up and take us to see the lights. We got back at 10p.m., Jenafor was already there “They’re here!” she beamed.

Oh great, I thought – surely that means I’ll miss them again.

But no: a quick 10 minute journey to their place and I hopped out the van and looked up. I cried: I did. I wept like a baby when I saw them dancing in the sky, it took my breath away and filled my heart with pure wonder. It’s everything people say it will be and a little more amazing on top of that. It looks unreal: a green glowing flickering disco across the sky. It looks for all the world as though the sky was sighing in colour. You feel elated and fortunate, just so lucky to be standing there and able to see this natural wonder. I stood on their porch and stared and stared. Whenever I got cold – and I was only wearing a light fleece and a hat for protection!- I’d go inside the wood-fire lit warmth of their yurt.

lights2To celebrate our trip, Jenafor had even made us a cake in the shape of a beluga – and yes, oh – so much to come about those shiny white whales. It may have taken most of my life to get to see them but they were worth the wait: and who knew I’d finally get to see them in the summertime with a slice of cake?

I stayed as a guest of Tourism Manitoba and the Lazy Bear Lodge. Gerald and Jenafor of Blue Sky were kind enough to host us.  But as ever my words are 100% my own.

More info:

Blue Sky Mush [Official Site]

. Travel Manitoba [Official Site]


Mar 13

Discovering the Yukon spas and Takhini hot springs

I didn’t know that walking in the snow made such a crunching sound until I moved to Canada. Like the wrong type of leaves, I guess we always got the wrong type of snow. So, when I left the warmth of my cosy Yukon cabin to explore, I walked the trails happily listening to the unexpected sound of the snow.

Splendid isolation

Splendid isolation

I was staying at the Northern Lights Resort and Spa,  some 20km from Whitehorse. I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of those elusive lights, staying far from the glare of the city; I had an image of waking in the night and seeing them from my bed, actually – my ultimate Northern Lights Fantasy involves seeing them from a hot tub as snowflakes fall on my face. Alas, it wasn’t to be – first because the lights were covered by cloud and second I wasn’t allowed to use the tub after 10pm. I guess that’s what happens when you try and make fantasy reality. It pretty much never works out.

Perfect balcony view

Perfect balcony view

I had fun though, staying out in the wilderness; I loved seeing nothing but snow and forest, hearing the howls of excited sled dogs all riled up with the scent of the Yukon Quest in the air and it was great to sit down with locals and share a meal at the dinner table too; I even learned a new phrase; ‘shack wacky‘ which is the northern version of ‘cabin fever’ – a state bought on by too much winter and not enough daylight, which can apparently only be quelled by hard drinking and much dancing. I like these people.

Spa is an elastic term these days – it can be an all-singing, all-dancing palace of relaxation or it can be as simple as the hot tub, sauna and Swedish-style massage on offer here. A nice soft touch in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon. Or – it can even be an outdoors experience like I had at Takhini Hot Springs, a public pool fed by the natural hot spring. In February when we visited, snow lay all around, steam hung over the water and families were all enjoying the bone-warming heat in the middle of soul-crushingly cold weather. There’s nothing fancy here at all. The changing rooms are basic to say the least. Plastic strips separate the indoors area from the pool, you wade through, batting at the plastic as you go. This is far from a luxe experience, but oh! It was magical.


Spa Yukon-style

Spa Yukon-style

The sky was impossibly clear and blue that day, I kept my shoulders under the 40°C water until I felt dizzy with the heat and then went for it… scooted out of the pool, carefully avoiding slipping on the ice and threw myself backwards into a drift of snow. Trying hard not to shriek, I rubbed the snow on my face and arms then scampered back into the water. It felt wonderful; I could feel the blood pumping around my body, my arms and legs felt almost burnt by the hot/cold/hot change and I felt giddy with euphoria. Apparently they have late sessions till 2am in the winter and just like that, my fantasy changed. Forget a Jacuzzi – this was more like it – a huge shared hot spring where you could bob around and watch the magic of the Northern Lights zip across the sky – and if the lights don’t come, well, how often do you get to be in a hot spring surrounded by snow? That’s a real-life fantasy right there.

No. I'm not showing you me rolling in the snow...

No. I’m not showing you me rolling in the snow…

I travelled as a guest of Yukon Tourism and the Northern Lights Resort and Spa – as ever, my views are 100% my own.

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

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