Also known as the aurora australis, the southern lights occur when solar particles collide with atmospheric gases and become excited. The result is a brilliant glowing light show, which can last for several minutes or even days. The colours range based on what the particles collide with, resulting in hues of red, green, yellow, violet, or blue.
Fortunately, even with travel restrictions, some of the best places to catch a glimpse of the southern lights are possible for us to get to.
When to see the southern lights?
You have a greater chance of seeing them on dark, clear nights in autumn and winter between March and September.
Read more: Wonderful winter escapes
That said, aurora are unpredictable and sporadic so there’s no guarantee you’ll catch them. Many places have set up specific alert sites and Facebook pages where you can get notifications about aurora activity.
Remember to also escape the city lights when you can, as the night sky is more easily viewed without light pollution.
So, if you’re keen to get off the tourist trail and witness one of nature’s best displays, here are four of the best places to see the southern lights . . .
South Island, New Zealand
The South Island has many spots that are perfect for catching sight of the southern lights. The southerly location combined with minimal light pollution means it’s primed for putting on a light show.
Where: some hotspots include Stewart Island, Lake Tekapo, Dunedin, Invercargill, The Catlins, Queenstown, and Christchurch.
Resources: real time sightings/alerts in Aurora Australis New Zealand Facebook page
Winter is the ultimate time to witness nature’s nightclub, as night falls earlier at this latitude. That said, the southern lights can be seen year-round from Tasmania though no-one knows precisely when a light show may occur. Space weather maps and predictions are helpful, but ultimately the sun decides.
Read more: Embracing Tasmanian winter
Even if you don’t spot any aurora, the white sand beaches, abundant wildlife and the pure air will make the trip worth it.
Where: nearly all of Tassie is good for aurora spotting. Look for unobstructed views facing south. The Southern Peninsula (south of Hobart), Mount Nelson, Mount Wellington, Rosny Hill, Seven Mile, are just a few ideas.
When: odds are best in autumn and winter when the nights are longer (March-September)
Resources: the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook page is a great way to keep up with real-time sightings.
This southerly state is another aurora spotting gem. Best viewed by the ocean if possible, the aurora here creates a neon reflection on any open stretches of water.
Where: Point Lonsdale, Cape Schanck, Flinders, the south side of Phillip Island, Tidal River at Wilsons Promontory, Aireys Inlet, Anglesea or wherever there’s an uninterrupted horizon view. Closer to the city you can try the coast near Werribee South, Point Cook and up a hill in Meredith, Mount Duneed or as far south as possible. The coastline is ideal if timing is suitable.
When: during autumn and winter, March-September.
Resources: there is a Victoria-based Aurora Facebook page and website.
There’s no denying it’s costly and a lot of effort to get to Antarctica but the wildlife and stunning scenery make it worth it. This part of the world already looks truly mysterious with eerily barren landscapes, waddling penguins and snowy hills. Add in some aurora and you’ll wonder whether you’ve been transported somewhere else entirely.
Where: you’ll be restricted to the locations of your cruise or tour, but aurora can occur anywhere.
When: Antarctic winter runs from March-September, but cruises tend to only run from November to March due to severe weather. Thus, March is your best odds.
How: from the deck of your boat cruise.
Read more: Seven natural world wonders
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