For a total escape from urban life, it’s hard find a more immediate and dramatic contrast than the pristine northern expanses of Iceland.
At the same time, Iceland itself is a place of remarkable contrasts, living up to its name with magnificent glaciers and ice fields, yet equally famed for its steaming geysers, hot springs and active volcanoes – not to mention green valleys dotted with horses and sheep. And then there’s the even more fundamental contrast between a profound, otherworldly sense of remoteness and the fact that this small island nation at the edge of the Arctic Sea is so conveniently accessible to travelers.
We’ve woven together all of these fascinating contradictions to create TravelQuest’s autumn 2013 journey across landscapes of fire and ice to view the aurora borealis. Where better than in a land of paradoxes to experience the unreal spectacle of shimmering, multi-hued northern lights flaring across the blackness of arctic skies?
Beauty, Day and Night
The key to our Iceland adventure lies in its balance of wonders: the surreal beauty of the natural environment by day, and the unforgettable light show (conditions permitting) of the aurora by night. Because it’s such a small country, we’re able to cover an extraordinary diversity of landscapes from our home bases in the Icelandic Highlands, on the southern coast and in the capital, Reykjavík. But precisely because Iceland is so compact, we can keep our days of exploring comparatively short – eight hours at the most – so you’ll have plenty of time for viewing and photographing the amazing celestial lights from the dark grounds of country hotels. And whenever you decide to turn in, count on a relaxing night’s rest, as no activities will get under way before 10:00 the next morning.
A Unique Opportunity
The aurora’s eerie, constantly changing light show is created when charged particles from the Sun slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, literally electrifying it. Because of our planet’s magnetic field, the phenomenon occurs within a pair of ovals around the north and south magnetic poles. Therefore Iceland, which typically lies under the shifting northern auroral oval, is blessed with frequent and spectacular displays.
The northern lights can take many forms: undulating curtains, pulsing rays or dramatic overhead coronas. As for colors, they range from subtle to vibrant – predominantly hues of green, but with occasional splashes of blue, red and purple. When solar activity reaches its maximum in 2013, the aurora should be particularly active. However, some scientists believe that the Sun is no longer behaving in ways that we’ve come to perceive as usual, with the result that the peak of the current solar cycle may be lower than normal. For the best chance to experience the haunting beauty of the aurora, you really have to travel to where the lights nearly always dance – in the vast, clear night skies above Iceland.