While spring is in the air here in Hamburg, it still seems the proper day to write about the last couple of perfect winter days I had. That is because this morning I woke up with a giant red zit on my nose. I thought I was beyond the age having to look like Rudolph but apparently not so I will take that perfect opportunity to tell you more about reindeer and how to plan a stay at Kakslauttanen.
As I mentioned before, I do not like the cold. I cannot stress this enough. Anything under 25 degrees is just not acceptable and can definitely not be considered warm or even good weather in my books. I didn't even like the movie Frozen. What can I say? Some like it hot. So I got many confused looks, including my own, when I declared I was going to the arctic circle to play in the snow. Even my sister who I thought would be ecstatic about me sending her husky pictures (she is a dog trainer) only replied - But what are YOU doing in the cold??
Quite frankly I didn't know either. Until I got to Ivalo after an almost missed connection, took a deep breath and took in some endless white. Snow everywhere drenched in sunshine, glistening, sparkling - Elsa would have a field day. So this was what I came for and all of a sudden it all made sense.
In case you want to experience a real life Frozen too, here are the logistics of how to get to Kakslauttanen, what to pack and what to do when you are heading north to see Santa.
Okay, I will be very honest - getting to Kakslauttanen is neither easy nor cheap. Lapland is vast and empty and you will have to cross some distance to get up north. The easiest way is to fly from Helsinki to Ivalo. During winter season, there are up to 3 daily flights with Finnair, in April is there is only one. For me, that meant to almost not make my connection or spend an extra night in Helsinki. I made it by sheer luck ad the next flight next day was already fully booked. I recommend looking into flights as soon as you book your rooms also to avoid stellar prices.
The alternative is to fly into Rovaniemi and take a 3.5-hour drive up to Kakslauttanen. Needless to say, that one should have some decent winter driving skills here!
Packing for the cold
During my last 6 months in Cape Town, I had a suitcase stolen from my flat which contained every single piece of warm clothing that I owned. Not that it was much to begin with because cold weather in Cape Town is relative but still. And even after two years in Germany, my wardrobe for the cold now contained hand-me-downs in form of an old moth-eaten cashmere jersey from my dad and a pair of boots from my friend. However even winter in Germany is relative when compared to the arctic and so I was quite at a loss what I should take. Luckily I had a friend who let me borrow a proper pair of boots and my brother who took pity on me. He declared he couldn't stand it any longer to see me in my dad's hand-me-down, and thus shoved one his Prada cashmere jerseys in my arms. I wore that jersey basically for my entire stay, day and night and so with that said - you don't need much more than one really warm jersey.
Someone more prepared than me may want to take some good thermal underwear and maybe some sort of ski pants. I resorted to yoga pants underneath skinny jeans which weren't ideal. Other than that, my parka with fur hood came in handy as did an oversized scarf. Again cashmere gloves and hat, while stylish, turned out to be not great for arctic spring temperatures and melting snow.
However, fear not because even when you are equally ill-prepared for the cold like me, you will not freeze at Kakslauttanen. Cabins are super warm and cozy especially with a fire on and for all outdoor activities, you can always borrow snow overalls, hats, mittens and boots for no extra cost. And if that is still not enough, you can always borrow a husky to cuddle with.
How to see the Northern Lights
Northern Lights were thought to be spirits moving across the sky and they are just as fickle. Unbeknownst to me a regular weather forecast and the aurora forecast are two very different things and you can only get lucky when the two align. That means crisp clear skies and enough solar wind!
Unlike other places Kakslauttanen has no aurora watch system in place so it is up to you to check the sky every so often - don't worry, you won't be the only person walking around in your pj's at night! I got lucky once on my first night and let's just say, the feeling is amazing and completely surreal. And highly addictive - I want more 50 shades of green! Next time I am definitely planning a proper Aurora hunt earlier in the year (late April is almost too late to see them) with either a horse sled or huskies.
As you can tell, I didn't bring my tripod which is a must if you are after a clear shot. As far as my iPhone went, it was quite useless. Anybody got experiences to shoot the Northern Lights with a 6S??
Santa & Co.
Kakslauttanen offers a series of different winter and summer activities which have to be booked individually and best in advance. From husky, horse and reindeer sledding to snowmobiling, skiing and smoke sauna you can have as much or as little action as you want. Honestly, the landscape is so stunning so you will want to spend most of your time outdoors and only be inside for hot chocolates and sauna. I actually can't wait to come back in January to see a world of white and pink skies and no, I won't even complain about the -30 degrees. Well, I will try not to.
And for those who have kids or are still kids themselves - yes, Santa lives here and so does Mrs. Claus and their elves. Make your list, check it twice and if arranged beforehand you can meet Santa all year long. And don't listen to what anybody else says, there is only one Santa and he lives right here (I even saw his bed - let's just say we need to work on his decorating skills!).
Where to sleep
Needless to say, the glass igloos are Kakslauttanen's biggest attraction. Owner Jussi invented them back in the day for the sole reason of providing a warm space to watch the Northern Lights all night long.
They even come with special beds that allow you to adjust the back and footrest so you can look up into the sky more comfortably. But there is no (money back) guarantee for Northern Lights and while I got lucky on my first night, the last one when I actually stayed in a glass igloo it was raining so I was staring at a gray dome instead. And while the beds in the glass igloos are great there is not much more to them and just like a greenhouse they get incredibly hot during the day. Honestly, I preferred my little cabin much more as it came with a fireplace, my very own sauna, a kitchenette, table benches and a desk. I think when I go back I will just book a cabin and keep my own aurora watch outside.
Alternatively, you can upgrade to a Kelo-Glass Igloo, which while the most expensive accommodation option offers the best of both worlds: a cabin with all its comforts and a glass igloo attached to it!
For those who want to take the adventure up another notch, you can also sleep in a proper snow igloo from December onwards. Brrrrr...
So whether you already like snow or not, love or loathe the cold and Frozen, believe in Santa or not, I urge you to pack that one cashmere jersey and head up north. Because even as a complete sunseeker I have yet to see a place more magical, silent and absolutely beautiful. I dare to bet my daily dose of hot chocolate that your cheeks will not hurt from the cold but from smiling so much once you see it too!
A big thank you to Kakslauttanen and Visit Finland for the invitation! Images of Glass Igloos at night, Northern Lights and pink sky by Valtteri Hirvonen.