Viewing the elusive Northern Lights is something high on many people’s must-do travel lists. To make his trip to see the aurora borealis even more special, Carl Wild went winter camping, staying in tipis and tents…and jumped naked into a freezing lake.
The Greeks saw the aurora borealis as the goddess of the dawn, riding her chariot across the heavens to announce the arrival of another day. The local Sami cultures across Scandinavia believe that the lights emanate from the souls of the dead and should be treated with immense respect; the Chinese view the lights as fire-breathing dragons and the Fox tribe in North America believe the lights to be the ghosts of slain enemies.
I wanted to stay in remote areas to minimise any light pollution and to camp under the stars.
I started in Lulea, the biggest city in Swedish Lapland, and picked up a hire car for the 70km drive to Aurora Safari Camp. On the way, I managed to get stuck in a snowdrift in a bone chilling -35oC. As the camp owners came to dig me out, I got my first sight of a faint emerald veil in the sky.
The camp is quite luxurious and is mainly let out for private parties. I stayed in one of the cosy tipis and joined other guests for dinner and drinks in a central tent. After the meal, it was off to the floating sauna and a naked plunge into the ice-covered lake with the aurora borealis all around me.
Although there was lots to do – from dog-sledding and snowmobile tours to photography workshops and tastings – my plans took me next to Camp Alta deep inside the Arctic Circle.
The long drive was breathtaking. This area is one of the last true wilderness areas in Europe and the camp is a made up of cabins of various sizes, a barbecue hut, another floating sauna and space for motorhomes and campervans too. Everything has been handcrafted by the host family and there are all kinds of activities, incuding canoeing and cross-country skiing.
I decided to take the guided Northern Lights tour to Abisko National Park to see if I could capture the lights on camera. Abisko is thought to be one of the best places in Sweden to see the Northern lights because the sky is generally cloud-free.
After the journey to the park, we trekked into the forest and laid down on the ground to – hopefully – see the light display. And how mesmerising – curtains of beautiful green light began to dance, tremble and paint the night sky. Despite the challenging photographic conditions, I managed to capture the display and complete one of my life-long ambitions.
For the final part of my tour, I travelled back 80km south to Gallivare and Sapmi Nature Camp in the world heritage site of Laponi. The camp is in a remote reindeer-grazing area and a fantastic place for star-gazing and spotting the Northern Lights.
The trip to Arctic Sweden proved to be one of the most magical trips of my life. The beauty of the wilderness, the natural surroundings and the remoteness of the location mean you can reconnect with yourself and nature. The biting arctic temperatures are easily offset by the warmth, friendliness and hospitality of the people I met along the way.
Huge thanks to Carl for sharing his experiences with us. If you’re thinking of exploring the Scandinavian wilderness, we’ve found the Wild Guide a real treasure trove. There are more travel guides listed below, but this one (and the rest of the Wild series) is fantastic.