Booked it through Nordic Visitor who use the Iceland Excursions tour so I was picked up from my hotel and taken to their travel office to collect my ticket and join the tour bus. Have nothing against the organization of the tour but unfortunately I saw very little of the northern lights.
We drove for about an hour out of Reykjavik to the Reykanes Peninsula making a short stop at the airport along the way for toilets/food. The chosen viewing location struck me as being particularly odd for an event where it helps to have dark skies - so where did we pull up? - right next to a lighthouse! We did have a clear view over the sea towards the northern horizon, which helps - but with the light scanning across the sky every second. The site is obviously preferred by many of the tours as buses from other operators were also there. Some of them left after a while in search of alternative sites. The sea breeze is chilly so you need to be well wrapped up for standing outside for 2 hours. It was about 2am by the time I got back to my hotel.
Conditions were good, the sky was clear and moonless but what passed as the auroral display appeared only briefly and looked just like a small white cloud. Several members of our party missed it as by that time they had given up hope and gone in search of warmth back on the coach. You could only tell that it was the aurora by taking a photo which showed up as faintly green, and by observing the 'cloud' appearing and then disappearing again. I don't think the lighthouse was much of a problem really as we were still able to see what there was (stars were easily visible) and no doubt a more vivid display would have been obvious. It made me wonder whether it's worth the 4900 ISK to be driven somewhere with so much light pollution. Presumably a worthwhile display would have been just as visible from the city. Indeed I did witness a slightly better display the following night by walking up to the Pearl.
On a clear day It was noticeable that the tour operators made the most of the opportunity to drum up any last minute custom they could get for the northern lights tour from people doing their daytime tours, regardless of the chances of actually seeing anything. There's no failsafe way of knowing when the aurora will appear but you can get an indication by scanning the web for reports of a coronal mass ejection on the sun, which means the solar wind should reach Earth about a day and a half later when hopefully there should be a good show of northern lights - assuming it isn't cloudy! It shouldn't make much difference which operator you use and should be equally rewarding if you are in luck.
It was most annoying that there was a report of a coronal mass ejection the day I had to go home. I understand there was a much better display the following night, but of course I missed it.
Will just have to keep trying.
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