Chasing Aurora

August 15, 2016 26 Comments

“What next, a summer retreat in Arizona?” Those were the words of a friend of mine, when I told him that my idea of Christmas & New Years is a trip to the subzero temperatures of Alaska! No, I wasn’t planning a home production of Survivor, rather an attempt to view the masterly Northern Lights forced my hand on the schedule. These natural dancing light displays, also known as the Aurora borealis have always fascinated me and better time to view them in the Northern Hemisphere are the long dark nights of the winter. So, it had to be that – Winter, I was coming! So began one of the most adventurous weeks of my life. I spent a fair amount of time on research for the trip, so hopefully this blog can help some of you in planning a beautiful hassle free trip to a pristine white Alaska.

The main points on our itinerary was entry at Anchorage and exit from Fairbanks. And to snoop around various locations around these two cities.

We began by hitting Anchorage on Day 1 in the afternoon before sunset, flying Alaskan Airlines all along the West Coast. We were renting a 4X4 all wheel drive SUV, I’d say a must for driving on those snow clad roads at that time of the year. Since we were novices to driving in these conditions, we made it a point to arrive well before sunset and get used to the roads on the first day.

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We stayed at the cozy little bed and breakfast, Copper Whale Inn. This is a pretty unique location, that’s in Downtown Anchorage and also has some of the best natural views of the region. Our room fitted the bill perfectly, with amazing views across the Cook Inlet to the ice capped Alaska Range. The prices were pretty reasonable too, and so was the availability. If you are heading there in the summer, I’d suggest reserving far ahead of time though. The owners, were warm and friendly and it helped that they lived right across the street, since we did splendidly manage to lock ourselves out of our room!!

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We headed out on town for some food at the Glacier BrewHouse a few blocks down the road. The food was great – we ticked off Moose sausages at the first opportunity. And what was one glass of cognac soon turned into a little bar hopping expedition, since almost every second business was a quaint little watering hole.

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The next day, we took an early drive out to outside of Anchorage to take a flight seeing trip to Denali from the air. The views were breathtaking, and just the feeling of being in one of those planes with the chilly wind blowing from end to end was a great humbling force of nature. The sheer size and beauty of the ice fields that are the source of these glaciers puts into perspective all the climate change talk we’ve often had. I’d definitely recommend taking one of these tours. A must-do, there is no other way you can experience the vastness and enormity of Alaska. There are various ones available to different routes of glaciers, and some even allow you to land on the glacier. We were unable to land due to the weather conditions on the day, but if you’re lucky…that would be definitely an experience for a lifetime. We got back and then visited the Anchorage Smithsonian Arctic Museum. I had read a fair bit of the Alaskan history before the trip, but knowing some of the intricacies of Native Alaskan heritage was very moving and revealing.

Harding Icefield & the Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, Alaska

That night was New Year’s Eve and we somehow found this interesting house party-ish place that was basically a farm house off a street close to downtown. Looked non-descript from the outside, but once inside had a true lounge vibe, a large dance floor right next to sheets of snow, with hookah and drinks flowing next door. There was a costume theme too, since a whole bunch of people were in togas, pjs, and skirts. Our costume revealed our San Dieagan antecedents: 6 layers of clothing….each one thicker than the rest. Met a lot of locals and had some great conversations, always a good way to begin a new year!

Day 3 involved a decision to drive to Seward, a hundred odd miles south of Anchorage. We thought long and had about this one, since the road conditions weren’t great due to a storm the previous night. But this was our last day in Anchorage and we were really keen to see the Exit Glacier, a marvelous blue piece of roadside ice!! Look it up! So off we went. That drive from Anchorage to Seward was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve been on. And I frequently drive down the CA 101! The Chugach Mountains bathed in sheets of snow to one side and the Gulf of Alaska to the other, we were spoilt for choice when it came to a good view.  The drive was dangerous due to the icy roads, and soon enough we were driving through a snowstorm. There were moments when our car was literally swaying from side to side, but a few good driving skills kept us OK. All in the quest for the elusive Exit Glacier. We also visited the Seward sea life center before having yet another exhilarating drive back home to the inn.

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Day 4, we flew to Fair banks. We thought about driving up, but decided discretion is the better part of valor. The train would have been great too, but it just takes much longer. But for those who aren’t on a time crunch, do consider the train. We were staying at the world famous Chena Hot Springs resort outside in Fairbanks. The resort is literally at the end of the road, a road 30-40 miles off an exit on the freeway, through a very remote isolated single road. Mobile phone signal is nonexistent there, but just keep driving and you’ll hit the resort.

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This was what we were here for! The mysterious Northern Lights. The next three days/nights revolved around finding these colorful night time sky patterns. Late in the night, we took a Snow Mobile, a vehicle that looked straight out of a Bond movie, to the top of a mountain. We stayed up late, in what looked like a huge community tent and just waited! A note here about Aurora watching; it’s boring for the most part because all you’re doing is watching paint dry on the sky. But once the lights flicker on, its magic unraveling right in front of your eyes. And soon enough…..around 1am, the sky lit up and painted a canvas that will be hard to ever forget in my life.

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The week we were there, each day had 6 hrs of daylight. Luckily, the hot springs there, were a great place to unwind at. Imagine moving from -20 ambient temperature to a hot steaming bath right in the middle of the mountains. We guys loved the experience and spent awfully long stretches of time there. The fun part was when you leave the pool and the water droplets on your body and hair freeze immediately…..made for quite a few crazy selfies.

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The resort also had other activities, a big dog mushing course….that the dog lover in me immediately took to. I have grown up around big dogs, and being around a few dozen odd huskies put me right in my comfort zone!

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For anybody visiting Fairbanks, even if you’re not staying at the Chena Hot Springs, I’d definitely recommend a day trip there to visit the actual hot springs, and the very unique Ice Museum. A huge room of multiple intricately made ice sculptures.

On the last day, we also got to visit Santa Claus House on 101 St. Nicholas Dr., North Pole :).  It’s a place that honestly rewinds you to the kid in you, that longed for Christmas gifts and lived in the magical world of chimneys, sleighs, and jingle bells all around!  Here, you can also arrange to send personalized letters from Santa every year to your friends, relatives, kids…anywhere in the world. That was quite an apt end, to what was truly a magical trip. The thrills, the adrenalin, the calmness of nature that spellbounds you, the adversities. The trip had it all, and would gladly plug it for anyone looking for a winter trip that’s a little edgy, but has a brilliant fulfilling trade-off.

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DSC01161ICE ICE BABY – A martini glass being made from ice, at the Ice Museum, Chena Hot Springs

DSC01350Magical skies of Alaska!! DSC01282  Santa Claus house @ North Pole, Alaska

Please do comment here, I’d love to know your views on this post and your experiences travelling.

Some useful links:
Chena Hot Springs Resort
Aurora Borealis Lodge (Another option to stay in Fair banks)
Copper Whale Inn, Anchorage

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26 Comments

  1. Reply

    Abigail

    August 15, 2016

    I am glad I stumbled upon this one. Have been thinking about doing a trip to Fairbanks in December. We will check out Chena.

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 16, 2016

      Thank you. you should definitely check Chena

  2. Reply

    vidya

    August 16, 2016

    Love this post.
    http://tipsoye.com/

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 16, 2016

      Thanks Vidya
      xo
      Anju

  3. Reply

    Sharon Wu

    August 16, 2016

    Wow, gorgeous photos! Makes me miss my winter road trip across the United States last December. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us dear xo, sharon

    http://www.stylelullaby.com/beauty/brassy-hair-be-gone/

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 16, 2016

      Thanks Sharon,
      Love

  4. Reply

    Meredith

    August 16, 2016

    A lot of useful information. Good stuff

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 17, 2016

      Thanks sweetheart
      xo
      Anju

  5. Reply

    Ananya

    August 17, 2016

    Lovely post. Have to plan a trip to see northern lights. Its been on my checklist for a while.

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 17, 2016

      I am glad you liked it Ananya 🙂
      Love
      Anju

  6. Reply

    Anonymous

    August 17, 2016

    My alaskan friend has been trying to get me up there for ages!! I might go now after seeing your beautiful photos! I saw northern lights in Iceland, it was definitely a bucket list experience!
    cheers,
    Diana
    http://www.seaofblush.com

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 17, 2016

      I agree, watching northern lights is a surreal experience. I want to see it again in Finnish laplands or Iceland
      xo
      Anju

  7. Reply

    Christina Braccia

    August 17, 2016

    oh my goodness! This is so beautiful. I have wanted to go for aurora too. Your photos are amazing and I applaud you for braving the temps.

    xo Christina
    http://www.christinabeex3.com/

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 18, 2016

      Thanks Christina. Yes it was unbearably cold, but well worth it once we got to see the lights 🙂
      xoxo
      Anju

  8. Reply

    rosie

    August 18, 2016

    all I can say is WOW just WOW. These pictures are awesome

    Life is just Rosie

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 18, 2016

      Thanks sweetheart 🙂

  9. Reply

    Andreea Birsan

    August 22, 2016

    Gorgeous and touching photos! Great job, babe! x

    Have a great week,
    Andreea
    http://couturezilla.com/

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 23, 2016

      Thanks so much Andrea

  10. Reply

    Aldora

    August 23, 2016

    WHOA what incredible pictures you took Anju! They are jaw-dropping incredible and you can consider selling them as desktop wallpapers *hehe*

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 23, 2016

      Haha. Thanks a ton Aldora. You are very kind darling
      xoxo
      Anju

  11. Reply

    Saabri

    August 25, 2016

    OH MY GOD!!!!
    oops did it come out just the way Janice from Friends says it 😉
    What a breathtaking post this is !!!!! Thanks for sharing such stunning pictures with us. I was literally gasping with each picture you posted.
    xoxo,
    Saabri
    http://www.phashionbug.com

    • Reply

      Anju

      August 25, 2016

      Thanks doll 🙂
      xoxo
      Anju

  12. Reply

    Harsha

    September 13, 2016

    Very informative post Anju! We are planning a trip to Alaska this December. I totally got influenced by the santa claus house 🙂 and Northern lights has been in our check list forever now. Plus my husband is a great photographer. I am still debating on if we should do a 5 day or 7 day trip. Keep posting more travel blogs. Great going!

    • Reply

      Anju

      September 13, 2016

      Thanks Harsha for taking the time to comment. Northern lights is just breath taking. Pictures cannot capture the beauty when the solar activity is medium to high. You should definitely go. I would plan a trip for 7 days if you are visiting more than 2 cities. Only catch about watching Aurora is, there aren’t many accurate models which predict the intensity. So its a lot of waiting, but well worth it. Don’t forget to carry a ton of clothes for layering 🙂

  13. Reply

    honeywhatscooking

    December 15, 2016

    You write really really well Anju. You’re so brave to do that drive, I would be so scared on icy roads.

    • Reply

      Anju

      December 15, 2016

      But it was a lot of fun

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