As I write this, I’m up in Yellowknife on an aurora-hunting mission. I’ve got two tours planned, meaning two chances to watch and photograph some of Mother Nature’s finest entertainment in the night sky. According to Wikipedia, Aurora Borealis is named “after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Galileo in 1619”.
I’ve had past luck viewing them in both Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon, however Yellowknife is billed as the Aurora Capital of the World, so I aim to leave without disappointment.
Despite a cloudy start to the week, there is promise on Friday night when cloud levels are forecast to be a lot lower than they’ve been. The local Yellowknife paper’s even had a front-page article featuring more than a few disappointed visitors to these parts lately.
There’s enough days to view the Aurora Borealis here — 250 days per year to be precise. This season’s been somewhat an anomaly as locals haven’t seen this much cloud cover in years.
Back to the tours.
Aurora Village is one of the region’s most iconic experiences: viewing the auroras in a small out-of-town space populated by teepees. From the comfort of your wood-burning stove teepee, you chill and wait for the show to start.
Once our group’s assembled inside The Explorer Hotel lobby, we’re each assigned a teepee number and soon board the Aurora Village bus for a half hour ride. Aurora viewing is dependent on two things: the level of solar activity and clear skies.
Aurora Village offers dinner onsite in its cute and cozy wood-paneled restaurant where we enjoy a three-course dinner before dispersing to our teepees for the evening.
Locally-caught fish, meats and bannock compliment assorted greens, chowder and a choice of two desserts (wine, beer and spirits also available).
Teepees consist of several picnic tables and a wood-burning stove and hot drinks area to warm up during the night. While this particular evening isn’t that cold (-6C/21F), the frustration lies in the cloud cover. And it stays cloudy for the entire time, right up until 12:45 when we’re collected to head back to the bus and ultimately to a warm bed back at the hotel.
A few guests opt to pay more and get a time extension to stay a couple more hours, meaning they *may* get lucky if the clouds dissipate. I choose to call it a night. Those pesky clouds refused to give way to what would likely have been a colourful experience as solar activity predictions were high.
Aurora Village viewing tours cost $120 (first night; second night onwards $95 plus GST). Dinner is an additional cost. Tour prices include return bus transport. You can also rent cold-weather gear for winter aurora tours from their convenient downtown Yellowknife location.
The Aurora Ninja Photo Tour is run by a Hong Kong-born couple, David and Wynne. They’ve taken an entirely unique approach to aurora tours. I was picked up at my hotel in a van then whisked off to several locations during the night, many off the grid.
This is a great way to get in a variety of viewing spots and backgrounds for photographing the auroras. Based on experience, David and Wynne seem to know exactly where to find ‘em too. We’re lucky to get that clear, cold night perfect for the auroras.
And in true ninja fashion, David can fiddle with camera settings in the dark night. Both are on hand to answer questions, check to see if you’re getting the best capture possible and also take the time to have us pose in front of their own cameras with an aurora backdrop.
David also shares the most important piece of advice all evening, and I try hard not to forget it: “LOOK and ENJOY! It’s not always about the pictures.” He’s so right too, as I close my eyes the next few days, playing back the dancing auroras and gorgeous shapes created by their mystical nature.
That’s about the best word I can come up with to describe what I’m seeing above. Whether it’s along an open highway or on a frozen lake, the auroras are simply…ridiculously cool. Northwest Territories Tourism’s hashtag #SpectacularNWT is bang-on when it comes to the auroras.
If you bring along a USB stick or SD card, they’ll upload all the night’s shots and deliver it to your hotel the next day. According to Wynne, they’re the only tour operators in the area that will come out of the van and spend time with their guests.
Around 1:30 am, I’m asked if I’d like a snack. I won’t spoil the surprise, but our night also includes a locally-made parting gift adding to the charm of David and Wynne’s personalities. A three-to-four-hour tour costs $95 and is well worth booking in advance as they keep the groups small.
Our two vans were divided into English and Chinese-speaking guests. The couple also plan on opening up a B&B-style inn shortly. Together with aurora tours, camera, tripod and cold-weather gear rentals already on offer, this will make for a complete nature lover’s package worth checking out.
I sure hope to return here to go out with them on another aurora hunt (and back to the teepees on a clear night!).
Visit Aurora Ninja online for details and other tour options. I was a guest of both Aurora Village and Aurora Ninja Photo Tours courtesy of Northwest Territories Tourism. Opinions, as always, are my own.