This Malaysian traveller went on her first 'Aurora Chasing' trip to Iceland


The reader managed to take this shot of the Northern Lights dancing against a starry night with just her smartphone. — Photos: ANGIE LIM

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“Where is the Aurora Borealis?” Someone in our travel group asked our experienced guide, Loo – an “Aurora Chaser” – after waiting about half an hour at a dark area in freezing temperatures near the Grand Hotel in Reykjavik, Iceland.

A constellation of stars spread over the cloudless sky with no evidence of rain – it was the perfect condition for spotting the green hues of the Northern Lights but alas, there was no sign of this phenomenon.

The term “Aurora Chasing” basically means to follow the swift movement and shifting of the lights, which was what we had hoped to do that night. But our group was disappointed as we had travelled almost 20 hours from Kuala Lumpur to Reykjavik that day, only to be greeted by ... just a regular-looking night sky.

The month of November was supposed to be the peak season for spotting the Northern Lights in Europe. And yet, we saw nothing that night.

Everyone was silent as we travelled the short distance back to our hotel, and retreated to our rooms.

Feeling refreshed the next day, I was resolute in enjoying every second of my time in Iceland – with or without spotting the Northern Lights as nature is unpredictable.

The “Golden Circle” route with the Thingvellir National Park in Selfoss, east of Reykjavik, was our first stop. Golden Circle is a term used to denote must-see places for visitors to Iceland. The park sits in a rift valley whose creation was caused by the separation of two tectonic plates. It was surrounded by rocky cliffs and fissures. Geographically, Iceland sits on tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes and volcanos.

The reader (far right) and her tour group on their zodiac boat ride in Iceland.The reader (far right) and her tour group on their zodiac boat ride in Iceland.

As such, the landscape mainly feature volcanic rocks, snowy mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and black sand or volcanic ash accumulated over a period of time. The overall brown hue of the sparse vegetation in late autumn exuded a sepia-toned atmosphere with a yesteryear feel.

Volcanic soil is naturally very fertile but the lack of foliage is due to the gale winds. Imagine travelling in a mini bus and getting hit by the cross winds, causing the vehicle to shake. Everyone in the group felt it. Fortunately, our guide was experienced enough to ensure that we were safe, and calmed us down.

Later that day, we visited a geothermal geyser and the commanding Gulfoss waterfall as part of the Golden Circle tour.

Next up was Anarstapi, located in the Shaefellsnes area. It is a small fishing village nestled at the foot of Mount Stapafell. Anarstapi boasts of cliffs and dramatic stone formations shaped like an arch. We strolled along the coastline after an appetising lunch as the view was majestic.

You can also see the Basalt columns from inside a cave at the Black Sand Beach.You can also see the Basalt columns from inside a cave at the Black Sand Beach.

An hour’s drive later, we came across the most photographed mountain in Iceland – Kirkjufell (463m) or Wizard Hat Mountain. The descent to the best photo stop area is said to be potentially slippery, so do be cautious when you get the chance to go here.

We also journeyed to the southern side of Iceland. Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls are some of the popular attractions here. Visitors are able to walk behind the flowing waters of Seljalanfoss and a short climb up several flight of stairs will lead one to a high viewpoint of the Skogafoss.

The Black Sand Beach, Reynisfjara, is another must-visit place. The sand is black because of the accumulation of volcanic ash. Be mindful that swimming is prohibited due to the strong undercurrents.

I was curious about the Basalt columns and cave located on one side of the beach. A quick web search satisfied my curiosity: “Basalt columns are natural pillars made of hardened lava, caused by the contraction of volcanic rock as it cools”, read one website. This was my first time seeing this natural wonder in real life.

There is much to see and experience on the southern side.

We took a dinghy ride at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon to have close-up views of the glacier and icebergs with a very friendly and informative guide who not only steered the boat but also assisted us in taking good photos. Nearby, the Diamond Beach was scattered with ice chunks originating from the glacier. The ice here sort of glitters, hence the name, Diamond Beach.

While it is no wonder that Iceland has lots of ice and glacier, I was quite surprised that it is also one of the few countries in the world with the most active volcanos. As such, the icebergs, ice chunks and glacier have streaks of black volcanic ash trapped within them.

Basalt columns are made of hardened lava, which can be found aplenty in Iceland.Basalt columns are made of hardened lava, which can be found aplenty in Iceland.

A calming dip in the geothermal spa at the Blue Lagoon in Grindavik marked the perfect ending to my Iceland sojourn. I had a marvellous time; Iceland is postcard perfect!

Back to the Aurora Borealis. Did we manage to see it? Yes!

In fact, nature’s splendour was on full display in the night sky for all the remaining nights during our stay in Iceland, transfixing and mesmerising us. The experience was magical and I might just “chase” the lights again one day.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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