Get starry-eyed watching the aurora australis in New Zealand

Aurora Australis

Source: Shutterstock

LOOKING up into the night sky and imagining what else might be out there is enchanting and terrifying. 

However, those on Earth can take solace from the beautiful natural barrier separating us from the vast universe – the aurora borealis and aurora australis.

Also known as the northern lights and southern lights, these curtains of light diffuse a magic-like glow of green, red, yellow, blue, orange, purple and pink, depending on chemical reactions and altitude.

The magnificent display is caused by energetic electrons colliding in the upper atmosphere, and the electrons spiral around the Earth’s magnetic field lines, giving the appearance that the lights are swaying against the starry night sky.

The aurora australis lights up Lake Wakatipu on New Zealand’s South Island. Source: Shutterstock

Those wanting to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) have the options of Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Canada and sometimes Scotland.

But the Southern Lights (aurora australis) are a different story.

While Antarctica almost guarantees a sighting of the Southern Lights, due to its proximity to the South Pole, there’s not much else to do down there and we’ve heard the accommodation and dining options are limited to cold tents and camp stoves.

But New Zealand has plenty of destinations to spot the phenomenon, especially if you go in winter and happen to get stuck in a geomagnetic storm (don’t worry, they can’t hurt humans on Earth).

“New Zealand is a brilliant place for stargazing because you actually see the aurora quite a lot in this part of the world,” Otago Museum director and British astronomer Dr. Ian Griffin told CNN Travel.

If you’re planning on traveling to see the Southern Lights, book your trip between March and Septemeber when the lights are most defined and head to one of these places:

Stewart Island

Source: Pinterest

Stewart Island is the southernmost point of New Zealand and therefore closest to Antarctica.

From South Island, travelers can easily take a ferry or a plane across to Stewart Island.

Lush forests cover most of the island and only 402 people live there meaning pollution is not an issue.

By day visitors can explore the town, try fresh seafood, hike, fish, kayak, and dive.

By night the aurora australis comes out to play, providing travelers with terrific Instagram opportunities.


Canterbury. Source: miuraumi1207 / Instagram

On the east coast of South Island is Canterbury, one of the most densely populated regions in New Zealand.

However, it has the advantage of being on the coast leaving the light pollution inland.


On the very, very tip of South Island is Bluff.

Mostly associated with world-renowned Bluff oysters, the destinations also boasts a great place to watch the Southern Lights.

Bluff is along the route of one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives and is a must-see for seafood lovers and stargazers alike.

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka. Source: Shutterstock

Surrounded by stunning mountain vistas, Lake Wanaka on South Island’s west coast has some of the clearest night skies in New Zealand.

Purple, green, blue and pink layers of the aurora australis can often be seen dancing above the mountain peaks.

Whether you watch from a mountain peak or beside the lake, you won’t be disappointed.

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu. Source: Shutterstock

A little further down from Lake Wanaka is Lake Wakatipu.

Also found along New Zealand’s most scenic driving route, the lightning bolt-shaped lake of Lake Wakatipu effortlessly reflects the aurora australis with shades of green and pink.

If you’re visiting Lake Wanaka, we definitely recommend popping to down Lake Wakatipu.