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The night sky is one of Southland’s natural treasures. Our southern location and low level of light pollution means that we have great conditions for stargazing and a better chance than most to observe the Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights. Keen stargazers can stare directly into the centre of the Milky Way which stretches across the southern sky, and see the Large and Small Magnellic Clouds – two extraordinary galaxies. Look out for New Zealand’s most famous constellation, the Southern Cross and its five main stars.
Aurora Australis - Southern Lights
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 Service Aurora 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.
Click here for more info on top tips on Aurora Australis spotting and Southern Lights activities.
International Dark Sky Sanctuary
The remote location of Stewart Island/Rakiura means it is virtually free of light pollution, making the views experienced there of an exceptional standard. The islands scenery and outstanding landscapes also combine to make the night sky experience second to none. In 2019 this was recognised at a global level and Stewart Island/Rakiura was declared an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.
Only the second island in the world to achieve this recognition, Dark Sky Sanctuary status is awarded to areas that possess an exceptional quality of starry nights. It ensures light pollution levels are controlled and will help safeguard the unique skies above Rakiura for future generations of locals and visitors alike. For more information about Stewart Island Rakiura International Dark Sky Sanctuary click here