New Zealand is a paradise of natural wonders. People all over the world flock to the country to bask in its middle-earth-like beauty. But perhaps one of the best things about NZ is that there's enough to entertain you from sunrise to night time. You can find something to enjoy even in the dark, and one of those is the famous southern lights.
If you're a travel photographer, an adventurer seeking something relaxing, or a hopeless romantic who loves space, you can't miss the southern lights! To complete your itinerary, we've listed here the top five destinations in New Zealand where you can see the natural nighttime phenomenon.
What is the difference between northern and southern lights?
Both polar lights are results of atoms and molecules striking in the atmosphere, thereby emitting neon lights in the skies. The Aurora Borealis occurs in the northern hemisphere, while the Aurora Australis happens in the southern hemisphere. The latter can be viewed in countries near to the South Pole, like New Zealand.
It's a little tricky to predict when the southern lights will happen, though. That's why, before heading out to the destinations we'll list in this post, visit the Aurora Australis Forecast website for real-time updates on everything aurora australis.
When is the best time to see the southern lights?
The good news is, you can enjoy the southern polar lights all year-round in New Zealand. There are times when they'll appear shorter or later during the night, but if you play your cards right, you can catch a glimpse of this beautiful phenomenon every time you visit New Zealand.
If you don't mind the cold weather and snow around you, the best time to catch the aurora australis in New Zealand is during the winter. The nights are longer and darker, giving the lights more stage time in the sky.
Spring is the next ideal season to catch the southern lights. Although the nights are not that long anymore, the weather and the sights are transforming.
During autumn, you can also catch a good time to view the dancing lights in NZ. The nights are getting longer, and the weather is balanced - not too cold but not too warm either.
If you're visiting during the summer, you can still head to the best spots in New Zealand to see the southern lights. However, you might catch sight of the phenomenon happening late in the evening and for a short period only.
The Best Places in New Zealand to See the Southern Lights
The Smithsonian Magazine hailed Queenstown as one of the four hotspots in the world to view the aurora australis. The adventure capital of the world proves to be a haven of activities and fun things to do from sunrise to night time. From skydiving to river rafting, the adrenaline haven has never left its tourists bored and unsatisfied with their visit to the city.
After a full day of pumping adrenaline, head down to Lake Wakatipu or Lake Hayes to view the spectacular lights show in the dark yonder above. Be sure to bring your cameras so you can capture the southern lights and the starry skies for your photo album!
2. Stewart Island
Backpacking in NZ wouldn't be complete without a trip to Stewart Island, the most southern among the islands that make up the country. Despite being the closest place you can get to Antarctica, the majority of the island is composed of the tropical paradise of the Rakiura National Park.
You can keep yourself busy during the day with the multiple hiking opportunities in the Rakiura National Park. For one, if you're a bird enthusiast, you can head on to Ocean Beach to see kiwi birds up close.
Since the island is not as populated as the other places in NZ, you won't need to worry about light pollution clouding your chance of a perfect southern light experience.
There are two ways you can reach the Stewart Islands. You can take a one-hour ferry from Bluff or take a flight from Invercargill.
3. The Catlins
The Catlins, located at the southernmost part of South Island, is well-known as a camping and sightseeing site. There are enough natural wonders, wildlife, and landscape to keep you occupied from day until the night.
While waiting for the sun to make its exit, you can keep yourself occupied with the hidden gem's activities. You can go on a cycle tour, golfing, fishing, horse riding, or a walking tour with the island's scenic landmarks.
When the night comes, you can take a spot on the southern beach area or set up in one of the campgrounds and wait for the green and pink neon lights to dance the night away.
4. Lake Tekapo
Known as the best spot for stargazers, Lake Tekapo also provides one of the best views in the country to watch the aurora australis. With its promise of clear blue skies and star-laden nights, it had captured the hearts of aspiring astronomers and hopeless romantics alike.
But aside from its astounding view of the skies, Lake Tekapo also has a breathtaking landscape, a glass-like lake, and a garden of NZ's famous lupins.
If you have the time to spare while waiting for the night to come, you can take a relaxing dip at the Tekapo Springs. With a stunning view of the clear lake water, you'll feel rejuvenated for your last activity with the southern lights.
The City of Water and Light provides the urban escapade for those looking to take a break from the wildlife and nature activities that the country has to offer.
Don't let its urban setting trick you into thinking there's no chance to see the aurora australis here, though. You can catch the green-and-pink swirls of lights during the night if you step away from the city lights. Ten kilometers from the cityscapes, you can reach Oreti Beach to get a glimpse of the dancing lights in the sky.
If you don't want to stray further away from the city, you can take a 30-minute drive south to reach the Bluff and Tiwai Point. You can also catch a glimpse of the southern lights here.
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