5 Places to See The Southern Lights in New Zealand© Unsplash
5 Places to See The Southern Lights in New Zealand

10 Best Places to See the Southern Lights in New Zealand

© Unsplash

Where to See Aurora Australis in New Zealand

Aurora Australis is known to light up New Zealand’s skies with green and pink displays. Solar wind reacts with the gases in our atmosphere, which creates the electrical wonder commonly known as The Southern Lights. The aurora is a rare sight to see mainly because it is difficult to get far enough south (although on rare occasions, it does make its way to the North Island).

New Zealand is one of the closest countries to the South Pole where the aurora originates, so if you head far enough south on your travels, you might just see a light show like no other!

Read more about the best times and locations for Southern Light viewing in New Zealand here.

1. Stewart Island

Of course, New Zealand’s third and most southern populated island is the best place to see The Southern Lights, that is easily accessible. Find out more about how to get there in The Complete Travel Guide to Stewart Island or just let this picture do the talking.

We recommend: Observation Point, a short walk from Oban, the island’s main settlement, is a popular spot for aurora viewing.

Mozasaur© Mozasaur

2. Lake Tekapo

This area in the centre of the South Island usually gets clear skies for some amazing Aurora Australis displays. In fact, Lake Tekapo and the surrounding Mackenzie region is an internationally recognised Dark Sky Reserve meaning it is one of the best places in the world to stargaze, and in turn, see the Southern Lights. You can always head to higher ground in the surrounding mountains for better views. Find out more in 10 Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.

We recommend: The Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake’s edge is a popular spot for photographers and aurora watchers alike.

Pixabay© Pixabay

3. The Catlins

The Catlins is at the very south of the South Island. A combination of a clear night and heading away from any other polluting light could well give you a spectacular view of the green and pink hue in the sky. Stargaze from one of the awesome camping grounds and freedom camping areas in the Catlins. Find out more in Camping in The Catlins.

We recommend: Nugget Point, with its iconic lighthouse, provides a dramatic backdrop for the lights.

KoenbrNZ© KoenbrNZ

4. Invercargill

Shocker: this is another southern area in the South Island, which equals Southern Light views from time to time. You’re best chances of seeing the aurora is by getting away from the city lights of Invercargill. For more info, see The Complete Travel Guide to Invercargill.

We recommend: Nearby Bluff, especially around Stirling Point, provides panoramic views and is a great place for viewing auroras over the ocean.

Pexels© Pexels

5. Dunedin

Ok, you might have to be really lucky to see the lights from Dunedin. Nevertheless, The Southern Lights have been known to light up the sky for Dunedin to see. The best places to catch a glimpse of the Auroras are at Hoopers Inlet on the Otago Peninsula. For more info, see The Complete Travel Guide to Dunedin.

We recommend: Tunnel Beach and Hoopers Inlet are two spots near Dunedin that are recommended for aurora watchers.

5 Places to See The Southern Lights in New Zealand© DunedinNZ

More Places To See the Southern Alps in New Zealand

Expanding the list of prime locations in New Zealand for viewing the Southern Lights, here are five additional spots that offer good chances to witness Aurora Australis, particularly for those willing to explore a bit more:

  1. Queenstown and Wanaka: While these locations might have slightly more light pollution than the others mentioned, they still offer beautiful settings for viewing the Southern Lights when they are strong. Locations around Lake Wanaka and the shores of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown can provide stunning reflections of the auroras.
  2. Fiordland National Park: This remote and rugged region offers some of the darkest skies in New Zealand. The isolation of places like Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound makes them excellent for viewing, though accessibility might depend on the weather and time of year.
  3. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park: This park is part of the larger Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, making it an exceptional location for stargazing and aurora viewing. The clear, dark skies away from light pollution, with the stunning backdrop of New Zealand’s highest peaks, provide a breathtaking setting for observing the Southern Lights.
  4. Mackenzie Basin: Located within the central South Island, the Mackenzie Basin is renowned for its clear skies. The area around Lake Pukaki, in particular, offers spectacular views of the night sky with minimal light pollution, and the Southern Lights can be quite vivid here, reflecting off the lake’s surface on a clear night.
  5. The Otago Coast: Along the coast north of Dunedin, including spots like Karitane and Moeraki, you can find dark skies and open horizons over the ocean, which are ideal for catching the aurora. The Moeraki Boulders, with their unique geological formations, can add a magical element to aurora photographs.
5 Best Places to See the Southern Lights in New Zealand© Unsplash

What are the Perfect Conditions to See Aurora Australis?

The Southern Lights can be quite elusive but we thought we’d quickly recap what makes for the perfect Southern Lights experience. That way, if you are planning your trip around this unique New Zealand feature, you’re covered.

To get the best Southern Lights viewing you need to:

  • Be in New Zealand during the winter months (March to September)
  • Watch the forecast for an aurora strength of Kp5 or above
  • While you are on the forecast, pick a night with clear skies
  • Be ready around midnight
  • Base yourself on the South Island of New Zealand in a location with low light pollution (a “best spots list” can be found below)
  • Bonus tip: plan your trip on a “perfect solar cycle year” (roughly in 2024 and 2035)

For more on the New Zealand Southern Lights, check out these great reads:

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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