While most people may have heard of the famous Northern Lights, they remain unaware about the equally stunning Southern Lights. Appearing over Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Antarctica they put up a magnificent light display. The reason they are so unheard of is that they are extremely rare. However, with some planning, information and a lot of luck, it is possible for you to put them on your bucket list.
What are they?
Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights happen as a result of fierce solar storms which send solar winds rushing towards Earth. When the winds reach the Earth’s magnetic field, they trigger reactions from gases such as nitrogen, oxygen and create tiny explosions of light. From these explosions, thousands of vibrant colours are formed in the sky.
The Aurora Australis effect
Unlike what the photographs may make you think, the Southern lights rarely seem so colourful to the naked eye. They may look like a grey glow shifting and transforming in the sky. This does not mean that the colours are not there, it’s just that humans struggle to see it at night. With a camera, you can capture the true beauty of this phenomenon which appears in a dramatic stream of lights against the starry backdrop at night.
Where can you see the Southern Lights?
There are many places where you can see the Southern lights. However, most of them are located in remote parts of the world. The few destinations which are a bit closer are in Southern Australia, New Zealand’s South Island or Tasmania. However, due to its rare occurrence, it is best to plan a trip to go see the destination instead and hope to see the lights as a pleasant surprise. Your best bet for areas in these destinations are as follows:
The southern lights are best spotted around the capital city, Hobart. East of the capital, you can find a lot of unspoiled islands where there is no light pollution at all. Bruny Island, Betsey Island and South Arm are all popular options. The website Aurora Australis Tasmania has a lot of information on spotting auroras here.
Southern coast of Australia
Full of secluded, south-facing beaches, photographers have captured auroras from the Bass Coast, the Mornington Peninsula, Phillip Island and the Bellarine Peninsula. With a clear view of the ocean, there is plenty going on for you, even when you are not chasing the lights.
South Island and Stewart Island are both popular options to witness Southern Lights. On South Island places such as Dunedin, Queenstown, East of Dunedin and Invercargill are popular viewpoints where you can spot these with seals and sea lions. Stewart Island is even closer to the south pole than the Southern Island. Barely inhabited, it has extremely clear skies to attract aurora tourists.
There are other destinations such as the Falklands, Georgia Island, Macquarie Island and even Argentina to spot the Southern Lights. However, most of them are either inaccessible or do not have tours which venture far enough in the South to witness them.
When to see the Southern Lights?
Created by activity around the sun, the Southern Lights are far more unpredictable than the Northern Lights. They are extremely hard to predict and most of them can be forecasted only 30 minutes before the occurrence. However, you can still take the chance of seeing and photographing them by visiting in remote locations towards the south when it is extremely dark or on a cloudless night.
- Several websites predict the likelihood of the Southern Lights and their visibility for visitors. The Bureau of Meteorology in Australia issues an aurora watch bulletin. I New Zealand, the University of Otago maintains a prediction website. The website Aurora Service also provides detailed information on auroras at both poles.
- Other than official websites, another way to know more about them is by joining a local Facebook group run by enthusiasts who are local aurora chasers. They can help you with a lot of tricks for forecasts and even photography tips. In Australia, Aurora Australis Tasmania is a popular group and in New Zealand, Aurora Australis – New Zealand is the most active group.
- Your basic phone camera or even a GoPro isn’t good enough to get that perfect picture when you do spot the Aurora Australis. However, you do not need any expensive equipment, A DSLR and a basic tripod will work just fine.
The trend for dark sky tourism has made chasing a natural phenomenon like chasing an aurora relatively easier these days. So whether you are actively chasing the Aurora-Australis or just happen to be in the right place, it is worth the effort to witness this magical event.
‘Curated by Neha Bhise’