Aurora Australis is the scientific term given to the natural light phenomenon of the Southern Lights in New Zealand. It is the same phenomenon that occurs as its more famous, northern sibling the aurora borealis.
Plasma particles radiated by the sun collide with matter in our atmosphere and this excites these atoms and molecules and causes ionization and these atoms and molecules release this energy in the form of what we see as the swirly colours of the night sky.
While the aurora borealis may be the more famous one, the aurora australis occurs far more regularly and visitors have a far greater chance of seeing the Aurora Australis in New Zealand, and can be seen throughout the year.
Best Time to Visit (Season) to see the Aurora Australis
However, although visitors have a far greater chance of seeing the aurora australis in New Zealand than they would the aurora borealis in Europe, there are still a number of considerations to keep in mind while planning a trip to the country.
The aurora australis in New Zealand can be seen most clearly during the winter months between June and August. These days are shorter during the winter, and have longer hours of darkness, maximizing your ability to see the aurora.
The cycle of the moon may also affect visibility as well so try to align your trip on a day that doesn’t fall on a full moon, as it may obscure the aurora.
The springtime months between September and November are also a good time to see the aurora australis in New Zealand as the weather is drastically more pleasant during this time as well.
During the summer months between December to April, while it still technically may be able to spot the aurora australis in New Zealand, it would be more difficult to get a glimpse of it during this time of year.
Autumn is similar to spring in that there are fairly good chances of seeing the aurora australis as the night draws on. Travellers visiting the region during this time of year also have the added bonus of seeing the warm fall colours envelope the Mackenzie Basin region.
Where to See the Aurora Australis Around New Zealand
New Zealand is remarkable for there are many places around the South Island where you will be able to see incredible views of the aurora australis.
While Queenstown is known as being a Mecca for adventure sports, the incredibly clear skies above Queenstown are prime stargazing locations and offer the perfect location to spot the aurora australis from. Regions south of Lake Wakatipu or at Lake Hayes are renowned areas for being able to spot the aurora from.
- Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is also another popular destination in terms of potential to see the aurora australis from. The skies around Lake Tekapo also fall under the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and the summit of Mount John are well known stargazing locations among the stargazing community.
- The Catlins
Another destination that is well known for being a fantastic spot for stargazing and viewing the aurora australis in New Zealand is the sparsely populated coastal region of the Catlins. The city lights have well and truly been left behind, making for an inky velvety dark sky, perfect for stargazing.
- Stewart Island
Stewart Island is yet another popular destination in New Zealand for stargazing and spotting the aurora australis. Since over 85% of the island comprises the Rakiura National Park, there’s plenty to do during the day while you wait for the night to see the aurora.
- The Great Barrier Island
The Great Barrier Island, just off the coast near Auckland is another International Dark Sky Reserve and was designated in 2017. This is probably the best option for travellers that are not planning on heading to the South Island.
New Zealand’s southernmost city, Invercargill, is among the most popular tourist destinations to see the aurora australis. Since the aurora originates near the South Pole, Invercargill offers visitors some of the best chances to catch one of nature’s most famous phenomena.
Best Weather Conditions to See Aurora Australis
Most people in search of the aurora australis in New Zealand tend to stay updated on the weather conditions because while the southern aurora is more frequent, it is also highly unpredictable.
This makes it highly subject to weather changes and it has even known to appear within half an hour’s notice. Therefore to maximize your chances of seeing the aurora, travellers should try to align their trip while keeping daily weather conditions in mind.
Auroras are a result of strong solar winds reacting with the earth’s magnetic field and as a result need not just dark skies free of light pollutants, but also free of cloud cover.
Additionally, the moon may also obscure the aurora so a night free of moonlight will also increase your odds of catching the aurora.