Return of the Northern Lights

We are huddled together in three vehicles on a quiet road outside the city of Churchill, Manitoba for our last night. It is 10pm and there are no signs of the Northern Lights. It's a clear, starry night so we sit and hope. We are all staring out into the darkness. No-one is getting out yet because we want to retain our body heat for when the lights arrive. It's -32C out there and we're in no hurry to cool down. Then after 20 minutes our guide shouts out - "Oh wow, here they come" and we all gaze up to see the start of the show. Green ribbons of light are appearing in the black night sky.

The first signs of the lights at 10.20pm

Then suddenly everyone is outside wrestling with their tripods and feeling excited. It is fiercely cold and windy but we don't feel it at first because we are focused on the Northern Lights. They have come back - just two nights since we went out on the tundra in a buggy. Tonight I'm better prepared. I have liner gloves under my mittens, a warmer balaclava and a whole new bunch of settings to try on the camera.
Plane trail in the green cloud

We are not disappointed. The lights start to balloon upwards and I'm reminded of the Wizard of Oz. You can see the trail of a plane in the photo above. My camera was set for a long exposure, much like us poor photographers who froze to bits taking pictures. My hands and feet suffered most. My Canada Goose jacket kept my body warm but I wished I'd rented some Arctic-appropriate boots and gloves.
Power lines lit up by the power of nature

 We dive into the cars every now and then to warm up and I'm disturbed to see another snapper with completely frozen hair. Then someone mentions my eyebrows are all white with frost. My reading glasses which I must put on to study my camera screen are permanently frozen and pretty useless. So much of this cold, dark experience is guess work but the resulting pictures are worth the pain. Our guide Doug tells us Frontiers North Adventures usually get around a 75pc success rate when it comes to seeing the lights.

We feel lucky - two out of three nights and we saw them. I'm so cold I can hardly speak. I'm worried about my feet as I'm losing feeling in them at regular intervals throughout the night.    But I leap back out again and try doing exercises as my shutter opens to the skies. I am a demented aerobics instructor under the Northern Lights and I am happy. 
Dear England, Love Canada's Facebook page has lots more pics!
We travelled with Frontiers North Adventures who will transport you from Winnipeg two hours North to Churchill. 
Packages include dog-sledding, city tours, snowshoeing as well as viewing the lights out on the tundra in a comfortable and warm buggy. Packages including the flight to Churchill from Winnipeg are around $3-4000. There are no guarantees but January to March is the best time to try and see them. Churchill is said to be the third best place in the world in which to view the Aurora Borealis. (Alaska is no 1 and Northwest Territories, second.) But you can do the trip on a budget. A cabin on a train to Churchill takes two days from Winnipeg and I met tourists who did just that and loved it. Hotels such as the Tundra Inn do their own packages. My advice would be to rent warm-weather gear and  learn as much as you can about photographing the lights before you come.

More info 

More on Churchill, Manitoba.

Our trip is with Frontiers North

Learn more about Travel Manitoba

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  1. Anne, these pictures are completely awesome ! - sarah x


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