Whales and northern lights

Written by Sam Van den Haute aka CheckOutSam

At nine thirty me and a lot of other guests are picked up at the Scandic Ishvakshotel to spot all kinds of whales in the Norse waters. The bus is a lot bigger than yesterday. Whale safari's clearly are one of the most popular things to do in Tromsø among tourists.

Sam Van den Haute CheckoutSam

Hi, I'm Sam, the blogger behind CheckOutSam!

Sam Van den Haute has been a full-time world traveler for ten years and has therefore gained a lot of travel and lifestyle inspiration on all continents. Do you still have questions after reading this blog? Ask them in the comments section or send me a message at [email protected] and I'll be happy to help you wherever I can!

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Noorwegen walvis safariWe’re in luck, because the guide on the bus is very knowledgeable and likes to share everything he knows. He tells us more about whales, but also about the Sami. The original inhabitants of this region.

While driving, we see some beautiful reindeers grazing on the white planes, while a cold winterstorm rages over them.
Forty minutes later, the complete bus arrives at a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. After that, we get divided. 70% of the people booked a tour on a comfortable, big boat and the resting 30% goes spotting whales on rib boats. Rib boats are quite big, rubber boats that are suitable to sail over the Atlantic Ocean. So you do feel in boats like that.

I wanted to be a little more adventurous and thus chose the rib boat. Moreover, with those little boats you can get a lot closer to the whales most of the time.

In the warehouse, we were asked to put on a giant water and snow proof suit so that we wouldn’t be too cold while being on the boats who can speed up to 50 km/h.

The suits are ridiculously big, but very warm and that’s what counts of course… After everyone has their suits on, we hop inside the snowy boats.
I put myself in the back and once we start, I feel the snow pricking in my face because of the high speeds.

Noorwegen walvis tourIt doesn’t even take us five minutes to see the first whale backs and hear their blowholes. Seeing the back, fin or tail from such big animals for the first time is rather impressive. Only twenty meters away there’s a giant animal swimming. Cool! Once the boats get close to the whales, they shut down their motors. The animals don’t like the sounds and it makes them go away. We stop a couple of times more and see a lot of them dive under or swim by. After a while we head on to one of the most beautiful landscapes that I ever saw.

Because of the dark weather, it seems as if the world suddenly became black and white. The white snow in combination with the black frozen trees, the black rocks and even the black sea is bea-ti-ful. I have a hard time controlling my mouth from falling open. A lot of ooh’s en aah’s keep escaping.

On the foreground, some of the whales swim by while the dark clouds drop tons of snow over us.

I think it’s amazing. Now I truly am sure; Norway has some of the most beautiful nature that I’ve ever seen!

A little further, we see a couple of black fins protruding out of the water. “A male orka”. The guide explains.
If the fin is sharp, it’s a male. If it’s more round, it’s a female.

The rib boat next to us has a lot of luck, because on just a couple of metres away, the orka comes breathing for air.

“Damn it… I wish I was on that boat!” I thought.

Orka noorwegen walvissen spotten in tromsøBut the orka clearly is curious enough to come to our rubber boat too and check out his admirers.

When he noticed us, he goes a little further and greets one of the big boats. The giant orka even hits the boat for a second. Probably it is scared, because it swims away. The only thing we could still see was its giant black fin coming out of the water.

Full speed ahead, we return to the warehouse. A lot of people are complaining that they are cold, but how can you not expect that from a trip on the arctic waters?

I must be an exception, because I’m not cold at all. I even didn’t wear my gloves anymore.

When arriving at the waterhouse, we heat ourselves up with a delicious cup of fish soup and we all look at our pictures of backs, tales and blowholes from the whales. Luckily the orka also greeted us above water and that way we could al snap a great picture from an orka in the wild.

Back in the hostel, I heat up some macaroni in the microwave and chat a little with the other guests. The Dutch girl, Heleen, did a whale safari for the second day in a row today. Tomorrow, she does another one. She likes the animals and landscapes that much that she wants to see them again and again.

rubberen boot walvissen spotten noorwegenI can’t say she’s wrong. It truly was a beautiful experience.

At 6:30 PM, it’s time for my next tour starting from the Radison Blu hotel. This time I booked a northern lights tour with the company “Arctic Adventures”. It was highly recommended on Tripadvisor.

This trip was a lot costlier than my first aurora spotting tour. But I get a lot more in retour. With only six people in the bus, I get a very personal experience. Which of course I appreciate.

The friendly guide, takes us to his house a little outside of the city and explains very thoroughly how you can photograph the northern light in the best way possible.

Meanwhile, I’m already accustomed to the settings of my camera, but for people who have less experience this is an excellent addition. Once we had our short class, we get a set of special clothing that him and his wife arranged for us.

I hoist myself in the huge suit that is guaranteed to keep me warm and but my shoes in waterproof boots.

I took my tripod, but there are plenty of quality tripods available for the ones who didn’t take one with them.

Right before I started the trip, I was again scared that I wouldn’t see a lot of the aurora since the weather forecast wasn’t excellent. Especially during the whale trip, the weather was bad so that might’ve affected tonight…

It must’ve been my lucky day, because at night I couldn’t see one cloud left and thus the conditions for seeing the northern lights were best .

Noorderlicht tromso noorwegen

This time, it was only a thirty minutes drive. We stopped at a gorgeous lake, partly frozen, and when I stepped out of the van I couldn’t believe my eyes. The complete sky was filled with the greenish glow of the northern lights.

My whole body screamed it out of joy. “YES!” Thís were the northern lights! THÍS is what I expected it to be!

The first time seeing the northern lights was only two days ago and wasn’t very amazing. But what I saw today… Made everything better!

I put my camera on the tripod and shot pic after pic. From the little bridge I had a splendid overview over the beautiful landscape.

Suddenly, I hear a familiar sound. Again. I think it are the blowholes from whales.
All of a sudden, on only five metres from where I stand, a whale comes gasping for air.

Can this day even get better?! A beautiful northern light show, whales who swim by and temperatures that aren’t even that cold? Yes, it can.

noorderlicht in tromso noorwegenBecause at the next stop, we could also see the milky way together with the northern lights. Never in my life, I could see so many stars so easily. I even could see the big dipper and the little dipper! And honestly, I know nothing of stars.

The second location was a frozen lake with on it about half a metre snow. Around the lake, there were plenty of black trees and branches who appeared from the ground. Behind all of this, there was a giant mountain visible. It seemed as if the mountain was creating the mysterious glow itself.

When the aurora started to dance a little while later, I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore:


When the German, middle-aged woman who came on this tour three days in a row starts to yell things like “Aurora Borealis, ich liebe dich!” I know this must be a great evening.

Three hours have gone by while watching the beautiful lights. We get a little soup and some breadsticks before we go to our final stop;

“We will go to the sea.” Says the man.

Three places to see the aurora?! Wow! This really is a great trip. I’m happy to have paid a little extra, because it definitely was worth it.

The last place is as beautiful as the other two places, but completely different. A smal, wooden cabin stands at the seaside where the water gently touches the pebbles.

Behind the dark water, the northern lights paint majestic lines and stripes through the air. Every minute they seem to change and become stronger or less strong.

In the background, the heavens are still completely illuminated with thousands of stars. This night was amazing!

With a smile and cold fingers I get back in the van and get dropped off at 2 AM in front of my hostel.

I’m super tired. But I just can’t resist to look at my pictures. They are great. Even if I say so myself.

Aurora Borealis noorderlicht boven tromso noorwegen

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  1. Barry Flynn says:

    I wish i could be lucky as you. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Wonderful to read. Cheers

  2. Richard says:

    I have a trip booked for December to see whales an northern lights but I am concerned that it will be too dark to see whales. Can you tell me if there is still a little light to see them by even though the sun does not rise?

    • Hey Richard

      You shouldn’t worry, because there still is a little light. I was there in January myself.
      All tour companies plan their excursions regarding the light.
      It’ll be a magical experience!

      Have fun.

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