Chasing reindeer and Northern Lights in Finland’s Lapland

“Oh look!” I shiver with excitement, pointing towards the horizon beyond Lake Rukajärvi, where promising flickers of light hovered in the sky. “Is that it?”

Ruka-Kuusamo, Finland, Lapland, Finnish Lapland

We squint our eyes, waiting for the big reveal, only to realise a moment later that it was simply a reflection of the headlights from a passing plane.

We have been chasing the elusive Northern Lights for a couple of years now. They say its 30 percent location, 70 percent luck. Not only will we need a clear sky, we will also need somewhere that lacks light pollution. On top of that, we need the help of the solar winds to carry the lights our way.

On this particular night, the solar winds were blowing elsewhere and we are left light-less.

Staying hopeful, we keep our eyes peeled for the rest of the night, for as long as we can stay awake. Approaching midnight and feeling disappointed, we crunch snow under our feet and stomp through the forest back to our cabin, resolved to try again the next day.

Wilderness glass cabins at Iisakki Glass Village
Iisakki Glass Village

We had arrived earlier that day in the Ruka-Kuusamo area of Finnish Lapland and at three in the afternoon, the sky above is already midnight black. It is an unfamiliar world and the darkness can be unforgivingly disorientating. At the same time, we find the darkness assuring, for surely this would be the perfect environment for the northern lights to appear?

We check in to one of Finland’s newest glass accommodations, Iisakki Glass Village on the shores of Lake Rukajärvi in southern Lapland. Opened in December 2017, these wilderness cabins not only have glass walls and roof for easier access to the lights, they are also self-contained, giving guests the option to self-cater. Surrounded by fairytale pine forests frozen in snow, away from the nearest big town, the location is perfect.

Lapland

We skip the hard work of self-catering and join the village for a Lappish Wild Food dinner in the cosy atmosphere of a warm, traditional log cabin that serves as the reception and restaurant.

On the menu is reindeer salami and reindeer stew, as well as locally caught river fish and Lappish cheese with cloudberry compote, which gives us a sample of the cuisine enjoyed by the people in this part of the world.

While there are once again no northern lights on this night, we retreat happy and full back to our cabin and sleep under a blanket of stars visible from the glass roof.

Looking for Rudolph
Kujalan Porotila, reindeer farm, Finland

Next day, the sun rises around 11am, casting a low pink hue across the tree lines of the forest. From the snow-covered drooping tips of pines to the frozen surface of the lake, everything seems magical in this frozen wonderland.

Besides the Northern Lights, reindeer also create the poster image of Finnish Lapland.

We visit Kujalan Porotila, a family reindeer farm run by Juha Kujala and his 19-year-old son Oskari. Reindeer herding is as much a tradition in this part of Finland for both the indigenous Sami people as well as the Finns, and the Kujala family have been reindeer herders for six generations since 1860.

Sleigh ride, reindeer, Finland

“This little boy is called ‘Dude’”, Oskari introduces us to the reindeer that will lead us on a short sleigh ride around the farm, “Be careful, he is quite a charmer!”

Dude pulls us along on the icy path under a dim midday sun, stopping occasionally to nuzzle at Oskari’s gloved hands seeking pats. From the vantage of our seats, I could sense the bond between the reindeer and its herder. We stop at a viewing point for photographs, and Dude nudges at my thighs. I sink my hands into his thick coat and give him a scratch as I chat with Oskari about life as a herder.

Reindeer, sleigh ride, Finland

Leaving Dude to graze hay after our return to the farmyard, we visit the field where female reindeers roam. A dozen or so cows gather around us, sniffing my backpack for food and Oskari tenderly gives each one a tickle under their ears. I ask him whether he’d leave this behind for a more exciting life in a bigger city.

“It’s my life,” he says, “I think whatever I do in life, I’ll always end up coming back here.”

Silent nights
Iisakki Glass Village

Back at Iisakki Glass Village, we relieve the chill in our bones with a session of lakeside sauna, before settling back into our cabin for northern lights spotting. The stars above splash glitter in the clear sky and apart from a couple of forest birds braving the cold to sing us lullabies, all is still and silent around us.

We wait. An hour. Two hours. Not a flicker. But, we lie in our bed smiling and fall asleep accompanied by the stars. •

Photography by Amy McPherson, Kujalan Porotila and Iisakki Glass Village.

TRAVEL FACTS

Getting there
Qantas has fares from major Australian cities to Helsinki via Singapore. From Helsinki, Finnair and Norwegian airlines both have scheduled flights to Ruka-Kuusamo, the gateway airport to the Finnish Lapland.
qantas.com
finnair.com

Reindeer farm
Kujalan Porotila is situated south of Iisakki Glass Village and can be visited all year around. Call ahead to check availability for reindeer sleigh rides.
kujalanporotila.com

Where to stay
The Iisakki Glass Village is situated half way between the ski resort town of Ruka and Kuusamo. The wood log cabins have glass walls and ceiling to give guest the opportunity to feel immersed in the  surrounding wilderness at the same time, view the northern lights from the comfort of own bed.
iisakkiglassvillage.fi/en

Further information
ruka.fi/en/

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