“I think we should go.” I look up from my VSCO-cam activities on my phone. Marlien looks determined, she made up her mind. We’ve been trying to decide whether we should go to sleep or go out. I nod. “Okay. Let’s get some towels.” We fill in the coordinates in Google Maps, gather our improvised bathing suits and towels and step in the car. It’s 10pm, dead quiet and the sky is dark and clear. They said it was a 3 out of 9 chance to see the Northern Lights tonight, but that’s good enough for us. The dream of seeing and photographing the magical lights is too strong to go to bed now, even though we’re tired of a full day of exploring, hiking and driving more than 300km across the Icelandic Southern coast line.
“Marly, have you considered that if these coordinates aren’t right, we’re now parked in someone’s backyard and walking through a random field we can’t see more of than a couple feet ahead?”
I see the little flashlight beam in front of me pause for a second, and continue moving forward. “Sssssh. I hear water! This must be it.”
It wasn’t. It was indeed a random field, and the backyard of a stranger. It was only after we asked a local with a very strong French accent that we found the place we were looking for. Thanks Pinterest, your directions aren’t as reliable as your inspiration.
“Look at it!” I’m half-undressed, with only my sweater still protecting me against the cold. Marlien is already sitting in the hot tub that’s heated by water flowing from a hot spring nearby. We’re in the middle of nowhere, which makes the sky dark enough to see the littlest of stars. We make girlish screaming sounds out of excitement. “This is it! Oh my god, I can’t believe we’re actually seeing it!” Green streaks of light swim across the sky and a bundle of yellow and orange dances just above the silhouettes of the mountain peeks. I left my camera in the car, but I don’t care. Some things should just be witnessed by the naked eye.
Here we are. Somewhere close to the most Southern city of Iceland, watching the Milky way and the magical lights compete with each other over who’s the most impressive. It’s close to freezing, but this geothermal water is no joke. In fact, I almost pass out after sitting in the hot tub for 30 minutes because I’m so overheated. The heat lingers underneath our skin long after we leave the baths. Now we’re no longer bothered by the cold, I can take the time for some long exposures to capture the Northern Lights that come and go. It is true that on the pictures it looks a lot more dramatic than in real life, because the camera has 30 seconds to capture all the light in the sky. But Northern Lights hunting is an experience more than a two dimensional capture. An experience I will never forget.
Oh, and just in case you find yourself at Hofn and want to visit these geothermal hot tubs, these are the real coordinates: 64°23’32.6″N 15°20’34.9″W. These are as good as I could get them, just take the exit where you see the blue container-like building and park your car where there’s a sign that explains that if you boil alive, it’s at your own risk. Don’t forget to take 500 ISK per person with you to honor the trust-based fee.
You can check this website for an Aurora forecast.
The upper-right box shows you the chance that the lights appear and the map shows how cloudy or clear the sky will be. The most ideal situation is if the aurora forecast bar says anything between 4-9 and the area you’re at is colored white around midnight. If you’re really committed and you’re one of those people that can function without sleeping, the best time to go Aurora hunting is after the moon sets, because the sky will be at its darkest at that point.