Sleepless in Senja

Eric Kendall, 01 February, 2019
It's easy to think of the Northern Lights as solely a winter phenomenon, but in fact they're visible almost all year round, as Inntravel's Eric Kendall discovered recently...

On the face of it, Arctic Norway as a holiday destination ticks many boxes: tranquil, unspoiled, scenic grandeur in spades... What a great place to walk, relax, enjoy long breakfasts on a sunny deck, with crystal clear waters lapping craggy rocks, and picturesque fishing boats bobbing at anchor.

But don’t be fooled. It is all of the above, but so much more as well, which is where the trouble starts. Take a typical day on Senja, in early September, well after the fabled midnight sun has packed it in for the year. In theory, everyone can now get a bit of shut-eye at last, after shinning up a nearby mountain or whatever else they’ve filled their day with. The thing is, though the sun does set, it still comes bouncing back up again pretty early, lighting the harbour of Hamn i Senja in such a way that even non-photographers feel compelled to rouse themselves and start enjoying the day. This is not the place for a lie-in.

Which would be fine if it wasn’t for what happens at the end of the day, now and again, when it is actually dark. We were all set for a respectably early night, ready for the next day’s epic walking in the middle of the island, exploring the majestic Kaperdalen, a rugged, wide rocky valley running from forested lowland to high mountain country, along the north-east border of the Anderdalen National Park.

But as we strolled out of Hamn’s waterside dining room before turning in, and admired the way the rising moon reflected on the calm waters, the sky turned green and started to pulse. Either the wine had been more effective than usual, or this was the Aurora Borealis – more normally associated with winter, but in fact a year-round phenomenon which it merely needs to be properly dark to view.

Jackpot! When you consider that there are people who make Northern Lights ‘safaris’, travelling miles in the eternal dark of winter just for the chance of seeing them, this had to be a bit of treat, in our shirtsleeves. But not so fast: for it to be dark enough to see the Aurora in September, you must stay up late, and a good show can go on for hours. So even if you’re not shivering in a parka, astride the back of a snowmobile, chances are it is well past your bedtime. But the Northern Lights are not something you can easily turn your back on – not only would it seem a bit rude, but they really are very compelling. It’s like a huge slow-motion firework display with the sound turned off. All you can hear are your own ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and the lapping of waves on shore.

To cut a long story short, it was three o’clock before we got to bed, already sensing a glimmer of tomorrow’s (no – today’s!) sunrise, and wondering if a quick bit of star-gazing from the balcony, nightcap in hand, wouldn’t have been more compatible with a good solid eight hours.

Don’t think this kind of thing is a one-off, either. According to the Aurora-tracker app I downloaded to my phone, there was a moderate chance of seeing something most nights we were there. Even if the Aurora is a bit shy when you visit, just the chance that you might catch a glimpse of its eerie glow (who’d trust an app?) has you up half the night checking the skies.

So think carefully before signing up for the new ooh-aah Inntravel trip to Senja. You’ll need some stamina, and not just for the walking…

Further information

Senja – An Arctic Island
Soaring peaks, pristine sandy beaches and tranquil fishing villages... The little-known Arctic island of Senja has it all, and if you travel towards the end of the summer, you may even catch a glimpse of those famous Northern Lights.
More about our self-guided walking holidays in Senja, north Norway >
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