While the Northern Lights are well known throughout the world and are often on people’s bucket lists, its Southern counterpart, the Aurora Australis, is no less spectacular. This natural phenomenon lights up the sky with ribbons of pink, red and green light. This is due to solar wind passing through the atmosphere, which is then captured by the Earth’s magnetic field. During the winter, Southland’s remarkable long nights provide an ideal environment for this natural wonder to be observed.
While difficult to predict its glow, the best time to catch these amazing skies is between April and September, and the optimal conditions are when the sky is clear with little or no moon. If you are keen to go Aurora hunting and need some guidance Aurora Service is an easy website to follow and even offers Aurora Alerts when the Kp Index (Aurora Strength) is high. When the setting is right, you can see the Aurora Australis with the naked eye; otherwise, a good deal of patience and a decent camera will help.
Rakiura Stewart Island: Rakiura itself takes its Maori name from the glowing skies of its sunrises, sunsets and the lights of the Aurora, with Rakiura translating to ‘land of the glowing skies’. It’s no surprise that it’s a stargazers paradise and has recently become an internationally recognised Dark Sky Sanctuary. It is scarcely populated and being over 90% a National Park, the conditions for star gazing are unmatched.
The Catlins: While this area is well known for its stunning scenery and abundance of wildlife, keen astronomers know it’s a prime location for viewing the clear night sky. It is one of the most southern places you can go on the mainland, head to Waipapa Light House, Curio Bay and Nugget Point for the best spots.
Invercargill and Bluff: There are plenty of spots near the city that offer good night sky viewing. Head to Awarua, Omaui, Sandy Point, Bluff Hill or Oreti Beach and take advantage of the quiet starry night.