SINGAPORE – Like many travellers around the world, chasing the Northern Lights is on my bucket list and I was set to tick it off last year.
But the coronavirus pandemic struck and my plans for a Nordic trip flew out the window.
So, I am thrilled when I find out I can see the aurora borealis from my room instead.
Last month, I signed up for a 11/2-hour virtual tour, an Airbnb Online Experience called Aurora Hunting in Iceland.
To get into the mood, I scheduled a private trip at midnight, switched off the lights in my room and lowered the air-con temperature to 23 deg C.
For starters, the host Briton Danny T. Kaze – who is based in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik – gives me the lowdown on how the Northern Lights are formed, their colours and the best way to catch them.
Though it can get technical, the 37-year-old tour guide and photographer makes the information easy to digest.
To spice things up, he plays a recording of the sounds emitted by the Northern Lights by the European Space Agency. The noises, which sound like radio static or birds chirping, are inaudible from Earth.
As I have missed the Aurora season, which lasts from late August to early April, Mr Kaze could not take me on an actual live-stream hunt. Instead, he has put together videos of his past hunts.
On one hunt which lasted 13 hours, he is dressed in an all-weather bodysuit to battle the minus 20 deg C cold. He leaves Reykjavik and drives three hours towards the south of Iceland.
He is in search of dark, cloudless skies – the best conditions to see the lights.
At his first stop, the sky is peppered with stars – a sign that there is a great chance of catching the lights, he says.
Indeed, as he treks to the best spot, faint green streaks begin to illuminate the dark sky, which then explode into bursts of fluorescent green with hints of pink.
I feel as if I were watching a light show. It is magical and reminds me of how incredible our planet is.
The waves of lights are filmed so up close that they appear to be swaying right above my head and within my reach.
On Mr Kaze’s drive home, the lights make their final appearance, erupting into thick strokes of neon green. They dance across the whole sky, brighter than before.
Mr Kaze shows me a compilation video of his other hunts. The lights can appear in a singular long strip of green, or in a myriad of green streaks plastering the entire sky.
Although he makes the chase look easy, it is nothing close to that.
Besides luck, hours of planning and driving are spent in pursuit of these elusive lights, which may all come to naught when the conditions are not right. And not to forget the hours of waiting in the numbing cold.
But to be able to deliver such magical sights to travellers around the world inspires Mr Kaze, who has been a guide for five years. Like many other guides, he switched to virtual tours when Covid-19 hit.
“As a photographer, it is good to capture an image (of the lights), but it’s another thing to have some kind of connection with a stranger you just met,” he says. “The light show brings people together.”
He ends the tour with a five-question quiz. All the winners of the month stand a chance to join his other virtual tour – Golden Circle Tour of Iceland – for free. And since I got all the answers right, I qualify too.
I also get high-definition photos and videos at the end of the tour.
While I may not have experienced the adrenaline of a live Aurora hunt, the virtual tour is still spectacular and has cemented my determination to catch the phenomenon in person when borders reopen.
What: Virtual tour of chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland
Admission: $34 a person
Info: Tours run for 1.5 hours and private tours are available. Book at this website.