The Northern Lights may be on most people’s bucket lists, but its elusive counterpart often slips under the radar. Far less photographed (or even heard of), the Aurora Australis is the southern hemisphere’s great wonder of the sky. Other than adding an unique touch to your travel memories, there are other benefits to visiting one of the world’s better kept secrets. With less light pollution, the colours here are even more varied and vibrant than you can imagine. If you have always dreamed of spotting a red aurora, this might be your chance.
Whilst seeing the Southern Lights for yourself is possible, it can be more complicated than one might expect. The Aurora Australis is not only more rare than its northern counterpart, but it can only be found in extremely remote areas of the world.
For both an incredible trip and a good chance of spotting the Southern Lights, this list has been tailored around Australia and New Zealand. Visiting in the winter period of May to August is recommended specifically for this night-time activity.
Suitable for: quiet getaways and your best chance of seeing the Southern Lights.
As Australia’s only state not located on the mainland, Tasmania’s southern location makes it an idyllic spot all-around. This island goes to great lengths in preserving its natural environment: from its remarkably clean air to 1/5 of its landscape being World-Heritage protected. Even its capital Hobart feels down to earth, especially since Mount Wellington (kunanyi) and River Derwent are never far away.
With very little light pollution, Tasmania is widely considered to be the best spot in the world for seeing the Southern Lights. Whilst the winter months of May to August is the best time of year for this, there have been sightings in the spring equinox of September — and even November.
If you are staying in Hobart, the best nearby spots are the Goat Bluff lookout (30km south-east) and the small town of Tinderbox (20km south). Outside of this quiet capital, a drive north-west takes you to the picturesque town of Stanley — home to one of Tasmania’s scenic mountain peaks: The Nut. Or if you are feeling adventurous, take yourself to the edge of the world with a visit to Cockle Creek.
Suitable for: as part of an epic Aussie adventure.
Famous for its surfing scene and the Great Ocean Road, the coastal state of Victoria makes any trip along the Aussie East coast extra special. Home to Australia’s second-biggest city, Melbourne is widely considered to be the country’s cosmopolitan cultural capital, where there are no shortage of artsy events.
In an area as extravagant as this, it is hard to imagine it is as a contender for one of the best places for observing the Southern Lights. Once you have exhausted Melbourne’s dazzling nightlife, take yourself down south for a different kind of magic.
Only 75 minutes away from the city is Cape Schanck, whose Mornington Peninsula Park is in no shortage of vineyards or spa retreats. If you would prefer somewhere a little more subdued, the small towns of Aireys Inlet or Point Lonsdale shine just as brightly when those auroras come out.
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Suitable for: an astronomical experience.
You may not have heard of Lake Tekapo before, but chances are, you have seen it online. There must be something in the water here as photographs of the region’s violet Lupin flowers nestled against the lake float around frequently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, saunas and swimming pools are a popular pass-time.
But Lake Tekapo’s intrigue is not just contained inside the first part of its name — phenomenal as it may be. Home to the Dark Sky Project (based at the University of Canterbury’s Mt John Observatory), research has been poured into this nature spot. If gaining a more detailed perspective is a priority whilst stargazing or aurora spotting, then Lake Tekapo may be the right fit for you.
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Queenstown, New Zealand
Suitable for: action-packed travelling.
Any trip to New Zealand’s South Island should include a stay in Queenstown. Whether your idea of fun is adrenaline-pumping bungee-jumping or sampling wine at a local vineyard, Queenstown has it all. Long hikes to hidden lakes are a dream, as is enjoying the incredible skyline whilst riding the panoramic gondola.
It is only fitting that in a resort town whose magic never wears off, the Southern Lights could exist. Whilst spotting the Aurora Australis within Queenstown itself is sometimes possible, the light pollution can dull the night sky’s intensity.
Fortunately, there are a number of nearby spots which you can travel to for a more ecstatic experience. 6km south is Jacks Point, a luxurious estate set against cool mountains. Further away is the small town of Bluff, which takes a driving distance of 215km. Its most famous viewing point though would be Mackenzie Basin: every astronomer’s fantasy as it happens to be New Zealand’s largest dark sky reserve.