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9 Tips For Seriously Good Southern Lights Viewings

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See the Southern Lights in New Zealand!

Many of you will have heard of the Northern Lights and seen countless photos of the green patterns in the night’s skies in the Northern Hemisphere. Well, in the Southern Hemisphere, we have the same sort of deal called the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis. However, getting the perfect photo or aurora viewing isn’t quite as easy as with the Northern Lights. Southern countries are not as close to the South Pole as many countries are to the north. But New Zealand is close enough for keen aurora spotters to watch the skies light up in pink and yellow when conditions are right. By following these tips for good Southern Lights viewings, you’ll definitely increase your chances on gazing upon the polar storm phenomenon of the Southern Lights!

For a more in-depth guide, check out The Best Times and Locations to See the Southern Lights in New Zealand.

Flying Kiwi

1. Look out for strong solar activity

Auroras are not going to present themselves any old night in New Zealand. For the Southern Lights to be visible in New Zealand, there needs to be a geomagnetic storm. Check Aurora Autsralis forecast websites like Service Aurora or the Space Weather Prediction Centre.  What you’re looking for is the aurora strength which is measured in Kp. Kp ranges between 0 and 9 – 0 being the weakest, 9 being the strongest. Anything classed as Kp5 or above is considered a geomagnetic storm.

 Ben on Flickr

2. Head south!

Since the Southern Lights takes place around the South Pole, it makes sense to head south, right? One of the best places to be is Stewart Island for Southern Lights viewings. The Maori name, Rakiura, means “glowing skies” so that’s saying something! However, the Southern Lights are often seen as far north as Christchurch, and are rarely seen as far north as Auckland. For some of the best spots, check out 5 Places to See The Southern Lights in New Zealand.

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3. Look on a clear night

The Southern Lights happen above the clouds, so you will need a clear night to be able to see them. That means no cloud cover, so check the weather forecasts!

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4. Get away from artificial lights

The best way to be able to see, well, anything in the dark is to reduce the amount of artificial lights around you. Get away from cities and towns and find a nice dark environment. On top of that, try to resist looking at your phone or using any white lights yourself. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to darkness after being exposed to white light. Use a red light if possible.

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5. … and moonlight

If there’s a solar storm on the same night as a bright moon, then your viewing experience of the Southern Lights will likely be hindered by the moonlight.

BackpackerGuide.NZ

6. Get high!

No, not that type of high! High ground tends to make the viewing experience of the Southern Lights clearer. That’s why you will find that most observatories are on hills or mountains.

Ulrich Lange on Wikipedia

7. Or go to the coast facing south

Looking out across the ocean gives you are good perspective of the horizon and hopefully, some good aurora views! If you can’t get to high ground, head to the coast facing south. The coastlines of Dunedin, the Catlins and Stewart Island all have coasts ideal for aurora gazing.

Tourism NZ

8. Midnight is the best time for aurora viewing

The widest part of the aurora is when the sun is on the opposite side of the Earth to where you are, so around midnight is the best time to view auroras in New Zealand.

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9. Winter is the best time of year for seeing the southern lights

Although auroras happen all year round, autumn and winter (between March and September) in New Zealand is the best time of the year to see the Southern Lights. That’s mainly because there’s less daytime hours.

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