18 of the best places to see the Southern Lights

From Australia to New Zealand and Antarctica, these are the best places to view the spectacular celestial display known as the Southern Lights: the aurora australis. 

The Southern Hemisphere’s greatest light show is often overshadowed by its northern counterpart, but the aurora australis is just as impressive as the borealis. The celestial dance of shimmering lights in shades of red, green, purple and blue can only be spotted from some of the region’s most remote locations: the island state of Tasmania off Australia’s south coast, the southernmost points of New Zealand’s South Island, and Antarctica. The Southern Lights are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most casual astronomers, while dedicated aurora-chasers spend many a winter’s night chasing the illusive phenomenon. Regardless of which camp you fall into, we’ve pulled together the ultimate guide to the best places to see the Southern Lights in Australia and New Zealand, plus advice on when to search for them. 

Which countries can see the Southern Lights? 

The aurora australis can be seen from certain parts of New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica and South Georgia Island of the British Overseas Territory.

What is the difference between aurora borealis and aurora australis? 

Aurora australis and aurora borealis are the results of the same natural phenomena. However, aurora borealis, known as the Northern Lights, is the most famous of the pair due to the expansive area from which it can be viewed and how visible the lights are at these locations. Aurora australis is only viewable from more remote locations and is typically a faint and fleeting blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

Aurora Australis over a ruined jetty
Aurora Australis © Adobe Stock

What are the Southern Lights, and what causes aurora australis? 

The aurora australis, also known as the Southern Lights, is a natural phenomenon that occurs when electrically charged particles from outer space collide with the Earth’s atmosphere and encounter atoms of oxygen or molecules of nitrogen. The green and red light typical of the Southern Lights results from the particles colliding with oxygen at different altitudes, while the purple light comes from the particles colliding with nitrogen. Both auroras in the north and south are polar, as they occur near Earth’s magnetic poles and are drawn to Earth by these magnetic fields. The Southern Lights appear in shades of green, red and purple and typically shimmer across the sky when visible. 

When is the best time to see aurora australis? 

Aurora-chasers are most likely to witness the Southern Lights during the winter months when the nights are long, dark and free from cloud cover, and when the moon is in its darkest phase. Aurora australis is difficult to predict, and a viewable occurrence is often only confirmed up to three days in advance. Visitors to Australia can download apps such as My Aurora Forecast and SpaceWeatherLive to stay on top of the conditions; subscribe to aurora notifications from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology Space Weather Services division; or join the Aurora Australis Tasmania Alert NOW and Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook groups. 

Where are the best places to see the Southern Lights?

The island state of Tasmania is the best place from which to view aurora australis in Australia. Those in New Zealand should head towards the South Island. Antarctica is the quintessential viewing position for the Southern Lights, while the phenomenon can sometimes be viewed on cruises to South Georgia Island between March and September. 

View of Hobart from Mount Wellington
View of Hobart from Mount Wellington. © Laura Barry

Where to see the Southern Lights in Australia 

Bruny Island 

Accessed via a 30-minute drive and one ferry ride from Hobart in the south of Tasmania, the 362-square-kilometre island is separated from Tasmania proper by the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Free from light and city pollution, with pristine beaches and beautiful bushland, Bruny Island is a popular weekend escape for locals due to its small community of producers. Shop cheese, honey, fruits, chocolate, whisky, wines and cider, all produced on the island. For the best view of the Southern Lights, climb to the top of the stairs at The Neck and look southward. 

Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park 

The dramatic peaks, glacial lakes and unique rainforest of Cradle Mounain-Lake St. Clair National Park are famed the world over. Set within the Central Highlands of Tasmania, the park is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Launceston and Hobart, depending on whether you choose to arrive via the north or south entrance, respectively. Cradle Mountain’s Dove Lake, with its beautiful views of Cradle Mountain and mirror-like waters, is the perfect place to view the Southern Lights. It’s a bucket-list moment for photographers, who can capture the unique natural phenomenon set against one of the state’s most iconic locations.

Satellite Island 

This tiny islet set off the coast of Bruny Island is a luxury private sanctuary available to holidaymakers. It’s a 90-minute drive from Hobart, across the channel by ferry to Bruny Island, followed by a drive towards Alonnah, where visitors are sailed out to the island on a five-minute private crossing. Aside from the luxury private accommodation, Satellite Island is known for its excellent stargazing conditions and views of the aurora australis. 

Cradle Mountain at night
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania © Adobe Stock

Central Highlands of Tasmania 

On the central plateau of Tasmania, you’ll find an Antarctic training facility reimagined as a luxury alpine retreat known as Thousand Lakes Lodge. It’s an off-the-grid location within a flat landscape, affording visitors unobstructed views of the horizon that are ideal for viewing the Southern Lights. Visitors can drive to the location, which is just 90 minutes from Launceston in the north or two hours from Hobart in the south.

South Arm Peninsula

On the east side of the entrance to the Derwent River, 35 kilometres southeast of Hobart, is a pleasant little coastal stretch known as the South Arm Peninsula. Here, you’ll find Goat Bluff and its lookout, and, depending on the time of year you visit, its bioluminescence and the aurora australis.

Carlton Beach

Popular among surfers, Carlton Beach is located 40 kilometres east of Hobart. The three-kilometre stretch of beach is framed by a coastal dune reserve. The location is a suitable viewing point for the Southern Lights, as it’s free from city and light pollution. 

Tinderbox

The rural locality of Tinderbox is just 20 kilometres from Hobart and a popular coastal escape for southern Tasmanians. Tinderbox Peninsula enjoys lovely views over the Derwent to Opossum Bay and South Arm, providing a picturesque spot from which to view or photograph the celestial lights.

Aurora australis over the tessellated pavement in Tasmania
Aurora australis over the Tessellated Pavement in southern Tasmania © Adobe Stock

Bathurst Harbour 

This shallow bay is tucked away in the remote Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, around 100km from the nearest town. Accessible only by plane or boat and set within the Port Davey/Bathurst Harbour Marine Nature Reserve and the South-west National Park, the coastline of this isolated retreat is one of the best places to see the aurora australis, but you’ll need to join a tour, such as Par Avion’s Southwest Wilderness Camp.

Stanley 

Stanley is a historic town on the northwest coast of Tasmania, famous for two things: The Nut, an ancient volcanic plug and steep bluff, and Highfield Historic Site, a museum set within a preserved 1830s homestead. Aurora chasers should perch atop the hill beside the site to get a good view of the lights.

Hobart 

Those willing to brave the chill of the Kunanyi/Mount Wellington summit, 1270 metres above sea level, can sometimes catch a glimpse of the aurora australis when the conditions are dark and clear. However, the glow of Hobart City can sometimes obscure the phenomenon, making it difficult to see without the help of a long-exposure image on camera.

Forth 

The tiny village of Forth in Tasmania’s north-west is located 11 kilometres from Devonport. Braddon’s Lookout offers photographers some jaw-dropping landscape compositions that include the Milky Way and the aurora australis. 

Aurora Australis in Tasmania
Aurora Australis in Tasmania © Adobe Stock

Where to see the Southern Lights in New Zealand 

Stewart Island 

Floating across the Foveaux Strait 30 kilometres south of South Island, Stewart Island is a haven for kiwi, tokoeka, blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins. Known as the ‘Land of the Glowing Skies’, it comes as no surprise that this pristine national park is the perfect place to see the aurora australis in full swing. Head to Observation Point for the best views.

Lake Tekapo

Dark nights and clear conditions are the keys to seeing the aurora australis, and there’s no place better to maximise your chances than an internationally recognised Dark Sky Reserve such as Lake Tekapo and the surrounding Mackenzie region. Get the best view from the Church of the Good Shepherd by the lake’s edge. 

The Catlins

Positioned at the southernmost edge of the South Island between Balclutha and Invercargill, the Catlins is a wooded and wild area known for its beautiful landscapes. Position yourself at Tokata Nugget Point by the lighthouse for a Southern Lights experience you’ll never forget. 

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo.
Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. © Adobe Stock

Chatham Island

Located in a remote ocean-bound wilderness area famous for its marine life and seafood, Chatham Island is 800 kilometres east of the South Island. Accessed via a two-hour flight from Auckland, Chatham Island has clear skies and low light pollution, making it a fantastic destination from which to see aurora australis. 

Wānaka

This resort town on the South Island of New Zealand has views of the Southern Alps and easy access to Mount Aspiring National Park, a land of glaciers, forests and lakes. Make your way towards Eely Point, a picnic area on Bremner Bay Beach, where the right conditions afford spectators an incredible view of the celestial light show.

Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Mt Cook in Canterbury is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and forms part of New Zealand’s only International Dark Sky Reserve. Easily reachable via the State Highway 80 to Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, the best place to set up for a night of aurora-chasing is by the scenic Lake Pukaki. 

Where to see the Southern Lights in Antarctica 

The Southern Lights can be seen all over Antarctica between February and October, however, accessing the location can only be done on guided tours and cruises.

Read more: 
Eight of the best places to see the Northern Lights 
How to see the Northern Lights in Alaska
The Scandinavian myths and legends behind the Northern Lights
This is the ultimate adventure bucket list 

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