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Where to See the Southern Lights
PHOTO: The aurora lights up the southern skies of Victoria, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Here in the Northern Hemishpere, the aurora australis, otherwise known as the Southern Lights, doesn’t get as much play as its northern counterpart. But these polar lights are just as stunning, although, much more elusive than the easily reached aurora borealis. Both lights are generated by charged particles from solar wind striking atoms and molecules in the atmosphere and they tend to be most visible at the South and North poles. But getting to the far north is a lot easier than reaching the southern pole due to the amount of land mass surrounding it.
While the auroras are similar, they are not the same. Although symbiotic, they appear at different times and with varying intensity and the seasons are opposite each other. The winter months in the Southern Hemisphere, from March to September, are the best times to view the lights while in the Northern Hemishpere, the best time for viewing is just coming to an end and will begin again at the end of the summer, in September. Peak times for the aurora australis are June, July and August.
Tasmania is one of the best places in Australia to see the southern lights. The island even has a web page dedicated to information on the phenomenon as well as to night sky photography in the region. It details suggestions on where to go around the island and even organizes a festival that celebrates the aurora australis. At press time there are no details on 2016 dates, but in 2015 the festival was held in Hobart, one of the best places in Tasmania to photograph the night sky.
Stewart Island, New Zealand, is the country’s southernmost island and is its most remote. Its isolation and southern latitude make it an excellent candidate for southern lights viewing. The island’s maori name even reflects its colorful skies. “Rakiura” translates to the land of glowing skies.
For the best viewing of the lights in Stewart Island, visit during the winter, when long periods of darkness provide optimal sightings. During the summer months, extended daylight hours don’t play in your favor.
READ MORE: 5 Unique Ways to See the Northern Lights
When you aren’t checking out the night skies, there is hiking and birdwatching on the island. There are five species of penguins, and visitors can view kiwi in their natural habitat. There is also a variety of sea life such as elephant seals, sea lions, fur seals and bottlenose dolphins.
Just around 450 people live on the island, but there is accommodation available as well as an airport.
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, is another location where very dark skies play into its ability to offer southern lights viewing opportunities. The International Dark Sky Association has called the destination one of the best sights to see stars. And because of its ideal stargazing locale, the St. John Observatory is where to head for nighttime stargazing as well as taking in the aurora australis when its on view.
While you’re in the area, check out the Tekapo hot springs, do some Alpine trekking and take a scenic flight over Mount Cook and the Westland National Parks.
Victoria, Australia, is probably the most accessible area to see the southern lights. Admittedly, because the destination is farther from the South Pole than other destinations, the lights are harder to spot, but with the right aurora forecast, you can catch sight of these amazing lights.
Antarctica is arguably the best place to see the Aurora Australis but almost impossible to reach in winter months when the lights are at their prime. However, late season cruises could provide a glimpse, if you are incredibly lucky. Keep your eyes looking skyward.
READ MORE: The World Is Your Classroom in Antarctica
If you are traveling to the southern regions during the winter months, it’s good to check the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute for its 28-day forecast to see if there’s a chance to view this phenomenon during your visit.
More by Janeen Christoff
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