Northern Lights Hunting in Lapland
Our 1st journey of 2017, we had started planning this trip almost a year in advance due to the high demand of glass igloo at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. We spent most of our time in Lapland and made our way back to Helsinki on the last day.
Our obvious purpose of the trip was to see the northern lights AKA aurora borealis in Lapland, Finland's northernmost region. We chose to go in winter, but according to the locals, autumn would also be a good time to hunt the aurora. After a 9-hour flight from Tokyo, we landed in Helsinki and switched to a local flight to Ivalo. Then it took us another 40 minutes by car to Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.
If you plan to stay in a glass igloo, reserve at least 8- 12 months in advance. 2 of us stayed in a big glass igloo for 4 people and I would recommend that. The smaller glass igloo for 2 people does not equip with toilet/ shower room and it is quite small. It is incredibly warm inside, although the shower room is a bit small, we had a great time there.
At Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, you can book all sort of day tours there: Snow Tank Safaris, Reindeer & Husky Safaris, etc. We took Reindeer Safaris in the afternoon and then Snow Tank for aurora hunting at night.
After 2 nights at Kakslauttanen, we took a bus and headed to our next stop in Rovaniemi. It is a nice, small town where Santa Claus Village is located. After leaving our gears at the hotel, we visited Arctic Snow Hotel and dined at the ice restaurant where food was quite decent. Note that you can also stay at a glass igloo here, it offers more privacy than the one in Kakslauttanen but does not have much open glass roof.
We also did another round of aurora hunting since we wanted to see it thru our eyes, not the camera. we took an aurora tour with Snowman Aurora Hunting, search for @aurorahuntingrovaniemi on facebook. He took us in a van where the group is limited to 8 people; an interesting chap, great photographer and definitely aurora enthusiast. He adjusts the location due to the aurora forecast and may cancel the tour if the chance is very low.
The Santa Claus Village has several winter activities including snowmobile, husky & reindeer safaris. I drove a snowmobile for the first time and really enjoyed the ride. It feels like riding a motorcycle on the snowfield. Do not forget to bring your driving license, otherwise you won't be allowed to drive. Then we took a 20-minutes husky safaris, there were 10 of them pulling us and they were fast! The access to this area is free, but it costs 40Euro to take a photo with Santa Claus, of course we paid for that!
We decided to take it easy on our 2nd night in Rovaniemi, however we had not yet seen the aurora clearly with our eyes, Karens registered for Aurora Alert thru SMS and Email. Thanks to her initiative, we got an SMS around 11PM and finally got a chance to see it.
Our original plan was to visit Kemi and take Sampo ice breaker, however they have continuously increased the price every year and it is ridiculously 400+Euro/ person for a 4-hour cruise, so we decided to skip Sampo. Another tourist attraction is SnowCastle of Kemi, it is quite similar to Arctic Snow Hotel in Rovaniemi where they have ice bar, ice chapel and rooms for stay.
Nearby the SnowCastle, there is a spot not many people know of, Santa's Seaside Office which took us about 12- 15 minutes on foot. Too bad that Santa was away when we arrived but the friendly elf was very kind to show us around and kept a good company.
After Kemi, we took another bus and spent a night in Oulu, one of the major cities in Finland. We then took the flight the next morning to Helsinki. There are several points of interest in the Finnish capital but due to the time limitation, we chose to visit Kamppi Chapel (wood church), Temppeliaukio Church (rock), Helsinki Cathedral and Old Market Hall. We also stopped by Flamingo Spa nearby the airport to try Finnish sauna before catching the plane home.
For those who may be interested in visiting Lapland/ Finland, here is a summary of the trip and other information, feel free to contact me if you need further information:
Day 1 Tokyo- Helsinki- Ivalo
Day 2 Ivalo
Day 3 Ivalo- Rovaniemi
Day 4 Rovaniemi
Day 5 Rovaniemi- Kemi- Oulu
Day 6- 7 Oulu- Helsinki- Tokyo
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort- 2 nights
CityNest (Airbnb)- 2 nights
Nice apartment, comfy stay, and great location in the center of Rovaniemi. Come with washing machine and room to dry clothes downstairs in the basement.
Radisson Blu Oulu- 1 night
Good location, about 10 mins taxi ride from the train station. Proper hotel to rest before our flight back to Helsinki.
We travelled intercity on local buses booked thru Matkahuolto and OnniBus. The only thing is that they don't really announce clearly where to get off (unless you go straight to the terminal station or fluent in Finnish). Better watch out for the time of arrival at your destination and ask the driver if you are unsure.
Nili (Rovaniemi): Nice & rustic ambience, friendly service and fine food. Better reserve in advance, price is on the high side (135Euro for two of us with few drinks during dinner).
Aitta Deli & Dine (Rovaniemi): Good value for lunch. 20Euro with all you can eat; salad, starters, breads, ham & fish, desserts, tea & coffee and one main dish as well.
Lapland Restaurant Kotahovi (Rovaniemi): Located in Santa Claus Village, great environment, the sautéed reindeer dish is tasty.
Hai Long (Rovaniemi): Supposedly Chinese food, not sure if I would agree. Decent decor, fair price and volume.
Pizzeria San Mario (Oulu): Bang for the buck, cozy & local place. Price includes salad bar. Good break from traditional Finnish food.
Soppakeittio (Helsinki): Popular soup restaurant, located in three market halls of Helsinki. Full of tourists and locals. Good soup for a cold winter day, not so comfy seating.
Karl Faser Cafe (Helsinki): Not far from Stockmann shopping mall. Modern classic cafe, choices of deli, desserts and souvenirs (chocolate products).
We were lucky that the weather in Lapland was relatively warm (Lapland standard), the coldest night we had was -20c during one of aurora hunting tours. I would highly recommend the down pants from Mont-Bell. It was the best $130 we have ever spent. It is super light and foldable. I survived in -20c with only two layers: Uniqlo Ultra Warm Long Johns and Mont-Bell Down Pants. If you plan to get a decent photo, bring a tripod and a real camera. Ziploc bags are a must if you don't want your camera lens to fog.