Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Chasing Aurora Borealis

This trip was to achieve one of my life goals.  The planning started 1 year prior with intensive research.  Aurora Borealis can be seen in many other northern countries like Iceland, Finland, Alaska, Denmark, Scotland but why Norway?  You may asked.  I didn’t really mind the location as long as it has a high strike rate, if not the highest.  Travelling half the globe from New Zealand with two young kids in tow is already a huge and challenging undertaking itself I couldn’t bear coming back with disappointment.  Money aside.

I had my preference set on a cruise to lessen the holiday stress.  However, much to my disappointment, most cruise lines do not sail near any aurora location during winter times until I came across Hurtigruten.  A Norwegian cruise which has more than 100 years of sailing along Norway coast, crossing the arctic circle.  Adding to my excitement, they have one promise.  A guarantee to see aurora on their classic 12-day round trip Bergen-Kirkenes-Bergen voyage or a free ticket for your next ride! How’s that not convincing?  On top of that, they offers free young explorer programme on the ship for children aged 7-13.  My son is sorted!

Voyage map from www.hurtigruten.com

It’s booked.

So there.  All we need to do is sleep, eat, a bit of land excursions while waiting for the dance of light.

Fast forward a year later.  We packed and we flew a total of more than 24 hours with a 3-day stopover in Singapore.  We arrived Bergen on a rainy day.  The cruise check-in process was quick and smooth.  After a health and safety presentation, we boarded the cruise and to our two interconnecting cabins.

Hurtigruten has many cruise ships sailing the same voyage at different time.  All of them are working ship hence a much more simpler and smaller in size comparing to those luxurious giant monsters by Cunard, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean.  It’s an expedition rather than a pleasured voyage.  And also due to its smaller in size, a bumpy ride is inevitable especially when they crossed an open stretch of sea.

We were on MS Trollfjord with a capacity of approx. 800 passengers.  Facilities include 2-storey panorama lounge, bars, cafĂ©, library, restaurant, Jacuzzi, movie theatre, fitness room, playpen and a shop.  As you can see, pretty unsophisticated.  The crews were helpful, friendly, professional and all speak very good English.  Our interconnecting cabins were cleaned and of typical size.  Food wise, Norwegian loves their seafood so there were always fish/seafood on offer.  Food was by all accounts, delicious but as an Asian, 12 days of western food has proven just too much.  Rice were on the table on two occasions and trust me, my eyes almost popped out when I saw the mountain of white rice on the buffet. I’d never loved rice that much in my life! LOL

The ship made many stops in this voyage.  The shortest was 15 mins to pick up/drop off passengers/cars/cargo whereas the longest was 7 hours.  For any stop longer than 1 hour, Hurtigruten offers optional land excursions which passengers can signed up throughout the journey.  We joined 3.  The rest of the time we just wandered on our own.  Norway as a whole is very travel friendly despite the polar night.  We had only about 1 hour of weak twilight as we reached the northernmost town, Hammerfest.

We crossed the Arctic Circle on day 4 at 0700 hours.  As part of the tradition, we had the Arctic Circle ceremony whereby King Neptune poured icy water down your back.  Participation is optional of course.  Each passenger on board was given a certificate called Certificate of the Arctic Circle.

The Aurora made four appearances throughout our journey.  The first appearance occurred on Christmas day as the ship was leaving Tromso.  The announcement came while we were having dinner!  Off to the deck we went.  It started off as two simple green lines, and eventually grew into full swing.  I was living in the moment and totally in awe as it danced before me.


All in all, apart from seasickness which is mainly my fault as I didn’t bring seasick pills (and adamant not to get it on board for fear of side effects) and the bracelet was a total failed attempt, I was very pleased with Hurtigruten and how well organised the whole journey was.

A big ticket ticked off for me as 2017 was drawing to conclusion J

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