Experiencing the Aurora by Reindeer

The highlight of our short weekend visit to Rovaniemi was easily our “northern lights reindeer safari”. After exploring the city, we returned to our cabin to bundle up in every layer we’d brought on the trip for the forecasted -20 degree evening temperature. The KP was a little higher than the previous night (3), so I was hopeful we’d see the aurora with the help of our experienced guides. It was completely clear, so if they were out, we should be able to see them. Overall, the weather was looking really good for our week in Lapland, there was no snow in the forecast and it was calling for relatively clear days, but the KP forecast was looking low for most of the week, so I was really crossing my fingers to see anything.

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Before visiting, I assumed we’d have to stay up really late to see the aurora, but all the tours leave at 8pm and apparently early evening is the best time to see them, which was really fortunate for my sleep schedule. We got picked up for the tour, which was just the 5 of us, and on the way to the farm Katie swore she could see the lights from the bus window. They were pretty faint, but when we got to the reindeer farm, it became evident that the lights were indeed out and we crossed our fingers they would get a bit stronger.

We all loved the reindeer. There were 3 sleds for the 5 of us and our reindeer’s names were Sale, Kake, and Eetu. Seth and I were in the front with Sale (pronounced like Soleil) and he definitely had a personality. The reindeer are trained, but they also seem to just run when they want to and stop when they want to. Seth and I were bundled into the sleigh with *reindeer* pelts to keep us warm. It felt a bit morbid, but an important part of any animal trade is not letting any part of the animal go to waste, and we can’t deny they were very warm.

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We rode through the trees for a bit and came to a clearing where we could see the aurora! I was so stoked. It was not at all what I was expecting because it was pretty faint and looked like more of a greenish tinted cloud than anything else, but I was still excited to photograph it, so I hopped out of the sleigh to take some photos and was disappointed to discover I’d forgotten to take my camera clip off the camera when we were hiking and without the allen key to remove it, I couldn’t put the camera on the tripod. I can’t lie, I was heartbroken about it. This is not the first time this has happened to me and I had been so scrupulous to make sure I had every part of the tripod, including the allen key, but then we’d switched to Seth’s bag at the last minute and I forgot it. I wasn’t sure if this would be my only time to photograph the lights, so I was very disappointed, but I tried to just sit back and enjoy them with my eyes (a radial concept, I know).

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As we continued on the ride, I wiggled that damn clip with all my might until I finally got it wedged off the camera using brute force. The end result really worked in my favour though. Because of all the time I’d burned trying to sort out the issue, we arrived at a second clearing at the exact moment the aurora really started to light up. It split across the sky in several bands of green and we while they still weren’t super bright, we could see them dancing. I took pictures of them for as long as the group could stand the cold and was so thrilled by the experience.

After the ride, the guides take you back to a little cabin to warm up and roast sausages and drink hot cider. The group enjoyed the fire, but if you know me at all, you know I’m a bit obsessive about these kind of things, so I wasted no time in setting up my tripod again on a little viewing platform and kept photographing the lights. I don’t know if the guides were just trying to make us feel special or not, but they told us it was the first tour in 2 weeks where they’d seen the lights and that the lights tend to hang out just in the north, whereas tonight they were dancing all over the sky, making us very lucky. Initially I believed them, but I ended up seeing a much more vibrant and intense aurora later in the week, so maybe they were just humouring us. Either way, I was incredibly satisfied.

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The final part of our “safari” was feeding the reindeer. We got to go into the farm and feed them an entire block of lichen (their favourite food) through the fence. They were really cute and I felt totally high on life from the entire experience. The sky started to cloud in just as we were finishing the tour at 11pm and that ended the light show for the night, but it removed a lot of the pressure to see the aurora during the rest of the week. We did sauna again when we got back to the cabin before passing out in contentment.

The clouds stuck around for our final day in Rovaniemi, so we had a lazy morning before heading to Santa Claus Village. In addition to the plethora of Santa shops in town, Rovaniemi also has a Santa Park and a Santa Village. I’m not sure what they have at the park, but the village has free admission, so we opted for that one. We were a little bit skeptical about the village and assumed it would be very touristy, which it was, but it’s one of the biggest attractions in Rovaniemi, so I wanted to at least stop by. We started with a visit to the Christmas Store to pick up some souvenirs before exploring around. They have reindeer sleigh rides, dogsledding, tubing, as well as something called Snowman World, which I gathered is a bit of a snow hotel. It would be a great place to take kids. We didn’t really do much besides check out the shops, but I did enjoy a photo op on the official Arctic Circle. We were actually north of the Arctic Circle for the entire week we were in Lapland, but it was nice to get the commemorative photo.

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We learned that Rovaniemi more or less shuts down on Sundays when we returned to town for lunch and discovered most of the restaurants were closed. It took us a bit of wandering to find something that was both open and had seating for us and ended up returning to the waffle cafe, though this time I had bao buns and cauliflower instead!

Sadly, we all parted ways after that. Katie and her friends were flying back to Helsinki at 10pm to get back for school on Monday, and Seth and I were driving 2 hours north for the next part of our adventure. We still had one more night with Katie on the way back though, so we wished her a safe flight and started our drive north in mid-afternoon, hoping to get there before it got properly dark (around 6pm). 

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