GuideGunnar's Northern lights chase including bonfire experience

Chasing the Northern Lights from Tromsø with GuideGunnar

On our visit to Tromsø in early September 2018, we went on an Aurora Chase with GuideGunnar, one of Norway’s most innovative and experienced tour guides.

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“How do you sleep during the Midnight Sun?” I asked GuideGunnar.

“I close my eyes,” he said, tongue-in-cheek, eliciting a laugh from us as we waited for the Northern Lights to appear at Rekvikeidet, a chilly, open plateau near Tromvik.

Arun and I shivered in the icy winds, looking to the heavens for a glimpse of the elusive Lady Aurora until I decided to stop torturing myself and put on one of the thermo suits that GuideGunnar had offered us. Arun took one too, and we both felt much more comfortable.

It was after 10 pm on the 5th of September 2018, and the long days and short nights of autumn meant we had to leave an hour later than usual on our Tromsø Aurora chase.

The Northern Lights Tromsø tour left from Guides Central, which turned out to be just behind our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With.

We were expected to report at 7.45 pm, so we left just a few minutes before that and climbed up the stairs of the two-storey building to where GuideGunnar was waiting.

Guide Gunnar sits near a photograph of himself as a young man
Guide Gunnar sits near a photograph of himself as a young man

He welcomed us and told us that one other couple would be accompanying us, so there’d be just four of us tourists on his small Northern Lights group tour from Tromsø.

The young Chinese couple who came in turned out to be from Hong Kong. They didn’t speak much, except to giggle and whisper to each other during the tour.

I was very curious to learn more, so I paid close attention when GuideGunnar told us what to expect on our Northern Lights Tromsø bus tour.

GuideGunnar Aurora Tour bus
GuideGunnar’s Aurora Tour bus

He explained that depending on the weather and if the clouds came in, we may have to drive for hours, and even cross the border into Finland, if necessary.

He also told us a bit about the history of Tromsø, which played a big role in World War II (more on that in another blog) and was generous in sharing his in-depth, local knowledge.

We told him about our upcoming trip to Lyngen North, and he said he knew Ola, and that his grandfather would probably be able to tell us more about the war since the Germans had built the Spåkenes kystfort in the area.

Because it was still early and quite bright, Gunnar took us first to a spot where some wild reindeer had been spotted, and we could see them grazing from afar.

Reindeer graze in a far away field
Reindeer graze in a faraway field

When I asked him, which supermarket was the best place to pick up provisions, he recommended the Eide Handel in Eidkjosen, where you can get the best quality produce. He even took a detour to Eidkjosen so we could pick up some stuff.

Eide Handel, the premium supermarket in Eidkjosen
Eide Handel, the premium supermarket in Eidkjosen

Since we didn’t want to be lugging big bags around on our Northern Lights chase from Tromsø, we didn’t pick up any provisions. Instead, Arun picked up some premium tobacco called Snus. Gunnar found this very funny, considering that the supermarket had some of the best produce available.

Our next stop was a scenic spot called Henrikvika by Kaldfjord, where we stopped to take photos of the beautiful bay at twilight.

View of the fjord at Henrikvika by Kaldfjord
View of the fjord at Henrikvika by Kaldfjord

After that, we made a stop at the fishing village of Ersfjordbotn, and enjoyed the sunset while Gunnar chatted with a fisherman.

Sunset at Ersfjordbotn
Sunset at Ersfjordbotn

Next, we drove to the top of a hill at Grøtfjord, where we waited by the side of the road wearing the luminous, reflective wristbands that Gunnar had given us for night safety.

Brilliant sunset at Grøtfjord
Brilliant sunset at Grøtfjord

We spent quite a while here, watching for the Aurora borealis and enjoying the fabulous view of the bay and the long sunset until Gunnar decided that it wasn’t happening and decided to take us to another location.

This involved a drive on some roads that seemed a bit unfinished, to an open and windy plateau where we would have the best chance of spotting the lights.

Our Aurora Chase Route with GuideGunnar
Our Aurora Chase Route with GuideGunnar

Here, GuideGunnar provided us with tripods, helped us set up the cameras, and gave us an impromptu lesson in Northern Lights photography. He set the camera to manual, increased the exposure time, and set the ISO to 800, telling us to change it as needed.

Since I had no experience with night photography, his guidance proved invaluable as darkness fell and the first wispy threads of the Aurora made their appearance on the horizon.

My first attempts at photographing the Northern Lights
My first attempts at photographing the Northern Lights

The Aurora borealis, when it is weak (GuideGunnar rated that night’s Aurora activity as 2/10) looks like translucent clouds with little to no color to the naked eye. It’s only when photographed through the DSLR that the greens and purples appear.

Once I got comfortable with adjusting the camera settings to capture more light, I got much better photos.

The Northern Lights in early September near Tromsø
The Northern Lights in early September near Tromsø

I even tried my hand at some Milky Way photography when the Aurora took a break. It didn’t turn out too bad, even if I say so myself. 🙂

My attempts at photographing the Milky Way
My attempts at photographing the Milky Way

GuideGunnar set up a campfire for us and served us a delicious snack called Skattøra Lefse – Arctic Norway’s traditional and locally made pastry with cream and sweet goat cheese.

Campfire under the Northern Lights. What more could one ask for
Campfire under the Northern Lights. What more could one ask for! © GuideGunnar2018

Since I’d taken a liking to the Norwegian brown cheese or Brunost, I enjoyed it thoroughly. He also served some hot blackcurrant jus, which was very welcome on that chilly night.

As we sat around the campfire in our thermo suits, Arun and I lay back in the grass and watched satellites drift slowly across the sky. With no light pollution, we could see them clearly. It was a rare sight for city folks like us.

GuideGunnar's photo of our Aurora Chase
GuideGunnar’s photo of our Aurora Chase. © GuideGunnar2018

Gunnar decided that we should wait till 1 am to see if the lights returned. Arun and I were still jet-lagged and exhausted by this time, and we had a Fjord sailing excursion planned the next morning, so we rested in the bus till it was time to go back.

According to Guide Gunnar’s Aurora blog, we covered 120 kilometers and spent 6.5 hours on our Northern Lights chase from Tromsø. It was our first excursion in Norway and a very enjoyable one.

Lady Aurora dances above while GuideGunnar takes a photo
Lady Aurora dances above while GuideGunnar takes a photo

Guide Gunnar was the perfect tour guide and his photography tips served me well when we stayed at Lyngen North. He also happens to be a local TV star in the Chasing the Northern Lights TV series.

Tips for your Northern Lights Chase in Tromsø with Guide Gunnar:

  1. The best time to see the Northern Lights is from early September to early April. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun does not rise above the horizon during the middle of winter (from around mid-November to mid-January). This is called the Polar Night.
  2. The Northern Lights are visible when darkness falls so you can see them from mid-August. The tour guides begin their Aurora chases at the beginning of September. However, when I tried to book an Aurora chase for my dates (5th and 6th September), Guide Gunnar was one of the few tour operators in Tromsø willing to take small groups on a tour before the 15th. That’s dedication!
  3. You can download the My Aurora Forecast app to see how likely you are to see the Aurora borealis and find out about solar wind activity (which is what causes the Northern Lights). However, no one can guarantee that you’ll see them. It takes a combination of good weather and solar wind activity to have a good chance of seeing them. Oh, and a good Aurora guide and a healthy dose of luck, too!
  4. The Northern Lights are most likely to shine often and strongest between 8 pm and 2 am, but it’s also possible to see them before and after this period.
  5. The nights can get pretty cold, even in early September, and when you’re chasing the Northern Lights outside Tromsø, the wind chill can get quite uncomfortable. Wear 2 to 3 layers of clothing when you go on a chase and if you’re freezing, don’t try to be brave and ride it out. Put on a thermo suit and stay warm, even if it looks a bit ridiculous.
  6. Guide Gunnar will show you a movie or two about the Northern Lights while he’s driving you on his bus. Soak it all in, including the fascinating science behind them and the strange beliefs and superstitions that people had about the lights in days gone by.
  7. For Northern Lights photography, you’ll need a DSLR or mirrorless camera. A mobile phone won’t cut it, no matter how good it is, as you need long exposures (some of mine were 30 seconds long). Guide Gunnar will provide a tripod so you don’t need to carry one. Follow his guidance on taking Aurora photos as he’s an expert on it.
GuideGunnar shared this photo of the Aurora borealis taken on another day
Guide Gunnar shared this Aurora borealis photo taken on another day. © GuideGunnar2018

Read all about Guide Gunnar’s Aurora Chase tours and watch his movie here. For a 5% discount on his tour, like his Facebook page and book directly on his Facebook app.

However, for the best discount on Guide Gunnar’s chases, you can book more than one chase, since you can’t be sure when you’ll see the Northern Lights. Here are the discounts he offers.

Northern Lights ChaseSavers:

  • Book 2 Chase dates and save NOK 500
  • Book 3 Chase dates and save NOK 1000

Some of the photographs in this post were provided by GuideGunnar and are indicated as such.

Also, read:

Watch the highlights from our Northern Lights guided tour from Tromsø (and some fabulous Aurora borealis photos from GuideGunnar) in the video below.

Chasing the Northern Lights From Tromsø With GuideGunnar

42 thoughts on “Chasing the Northern Lights from Tromsø with GuideGunnar”

  1. I’ve been to some cold places in my lifetime, but nothing beat that freezing night on the plateau in Norway’s untamed wilderness. And, of course, our first sight of the Northern lights added another layer of goosebumps. Those thermal suits literally saved our butts and other critical body parts. It was so far out that the road actually turned to gravel in the end – something rare in such a highly development-conscious country. Gunnar’s insightful commentary kept the whole experience lively throughout. This was literally a ‘chase’ – the travel plan was open and would take us wherever we were likely to catch the Aurora borealis.

  2. Jenny - TraveLynn Family

    We’re heading to Iceland next month and I cannot wait to see the Northern Lights. Has been on my bucket list for too long. You had some incredible sightings in Norway!

  3. We did a Northern Lights chase with Gunnar during our time in Tromso in 2012 and it was magical. We had been out the night before with another guide but too many clouds spoiled our chances of seeing them. Thankfully, the night we went with Gunnar we saw them for hours and I got quite a few good pictures. It was amazing to stand beneath them and watch. I was so impressed with Gunnar, and raved about him so much, that a work colleague went shortly after we returned and booked a night with him as well. When we return to Tromso in a few years time with our son we will definitely be booking our chases with him!

  4. I am heading to Iceland this December and I believe I can see the northern lights there. The photos you have put in your blog are epic. If I ever visit Tromso, I would surely contact GuideGunnar. Thanks for the share.

  5. Seeing the Northern Lights is definitely on my bucket list! It sounds like it was probably worth it to hire a knowledgeable guide to take you to good viewing areas and help with photo tips. I’m glad you got to take in such a spectacular show! It makes me motivated to go see them. (I live in Minnesota in the US, and in the northern part of the state you can see the northern lights.)

  6. You literally have to ‘chase’ those lights, eh? I don’t have much experience in night photography either so it would be great to have a guide tell me what to do and set up my camera for me! I’d probably travel in October, just to be more sure about the probability of seeing it and it’s really cool that you were such a small group of people, I think I’d prefer it that way. Lovely pics, considering it was your first attempt at night photography!

  7. I’ve been to Iceland twice and to north part of Canada and I only manged to see the Aurora at about 2 as well. I have yet to find it at a super high number. The chase continues for me, but one day I will find them! Glad you got to see some of it at least.

  8. I am so very jealous! I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights and to go with a guide like you had with GuideGunnar sounds perfect. I personally tried on my own while in Iceland but apparently I attract lots of clouds. Thus I struck out. But perhaps I would have better luck chasing the Northern Lights outside of Tromso!

  9. What an amazing experience! This is a dream of ours to do one day. The guide seemed to be very informative. I think your photos are amazing! You captured so many stars in your Milky Way photo.

  10. I just came back from Iceland where I saw northern lights for the first time in my life and I’m hooked now! Seems like Tromsø is my next destination and I gotta say, your first attempt at photographing them is pretty amazing. Would for sure love to do a tour with them!

  11. Wow what an experience! It would be a dream come true for me when I witness the Northern Lights. I will seriously have to learn some photography techniques to really capture the beauty. Lovely pictures 🙂

  12. Your experience sounds so exciting and earthly, in the sense – you got to see some remote areas of Norway, the wild untamed beauty of the country and such a clear view of the Northern Lights. Now I am confused about which country to visit for Northern Lights – was planning to do Finland next year October. Need to do some replanning now!

  13. Seeing the Northern Lights is at the top of my bucket list. I am not the best photographer so I would want to book a tour like this where you get photography tips.

  14. Loving the thorough post on sharing the experience, looks like it would great to do this tour with Gunnar, he’s obviously really committed to helping his guests experience the aurora. I know a lot of tours their blurb just says that if it’s not visible in the area they always take you to, tough luck, whereas he’s obviously willing to go the extra mile, literally, to help you see it!

  15. Amazing!!! Not only did you experience the Northern Lights but you were able to capture the beauty. I’m sure you guys will never forget it. A guide that can help you take pictures and feeds you is golden and my type of guy. I think this is the way to see those lights.

  16. I always want to see the Aurora Lights – thanks for this post. Gave me a huge relief when is the best time to go, camera to use and the Guide.

  17. It must have been an amazing experience to watch the Aurora. The Northern Lights are something that I want to see, it is in my grand bucket list. But whenever I read the experiences of others, I feel that I have been transported to that place. You guide was really one of the best. it makes the experiences much worthwhile. Loved your post, photography and all the tips.

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