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How to See the Southern Lights NEW ZEALAND

southern lights new zealand

Want to see Southern Lights New Zealand? In this comprehensive guide, we discuss where and when to see the aurora australis in New Zealand, plus tips and tour options.

Unlike the northern lights aurora borealis, seeking out the southern lights aurora australis is a much more low-key and quiet affair. For anyone that has started a search on the southern lights, they are often stopped short by the lack of information on the phenomenon. It is an understatement to say that they are not as popular as the northern lights – even the locals are frequently unaware of their existence.

For those up for the adventure of searching for these truly elusive lights, then this guide is for you. We aim to cover, in full detail, exactly where to go and what time of year to visit the Southern Lights New Zealand. And we also discuss and share links for the only two operators offering tours of the aurora, at the time of writing.

So, if catching the Southern Lights in New Zealand is what you’re after, then dive in for quite possibly the most comprehensive guide you’ll find on the internet about it!

Can You See Northern Lights in New Zealand?

You can view the northern lights in the southernmost part of New Zealand. However, they are not referred to as the northern lights, rather they are known as the aurora australis. These beautiful lights that form in the night sky can be seen across the southern part of the country, depending on the intensity of the solar activity. Just like viewing the northern lights in Europe and North America, it’s important to visit New Zealand during the wintertime, which occurs between June and August. During this time of year, the nights are longer, providing you ample time to hunt for the elusive lights.

Where Can You See Southern Lights NEW ZEALAND?

map southern lights in new zealand

#1 The Catlins

There are many great locations throughout New Zealand to see the southern lights. One of the more popular destinations in the country is a coastal region that is known as the Catlins. This particular region along the coastline is sparsely populated, resulting in less light pollution to interfere with your hunting experience.

#2 Dunedin

There are countless things to see and do when you visit Dunedin. And while there are plenty of things to keep you busy during the daytime, once the sun has set it’s time to start hunting for the aurora australis. When visiting the city, the best place to go is to head on out to Hoopers inlet, or the Otago Peninsula.

#3 Great Barrier Island / Dark Sky Sanctuary

You will find the majestic Great Barrier Island located just off the coast of Auckland. The island is home to one of the most popular destinations for viewing the southern lights in the country. Although located more north than other aurora viewing spots in New Zealand, the Dark Sky Sanctuary on the island provides some of the best vantage points in the nation for viewing the elusive lights.

#4 Lake Tekapo / International Dark Sky Reserve

Another popular place to go in New Zealand to view the southern lights is Lake Tekapo. From the shores of the pristine lake to the peak of beautiful Mount John, the region falls within the protected Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, and is an excellent destination for stargazing.

#5 Invercargill

The southernmost city in New Zealand is Invercargill. Not only is it a popular destination for people wanting to get closer to nature, but it is also a popular hotspot for aurora hunting. The closer you get to the South Pole, the greater the chance of viewing the elusive lights. Being the southernmost city in the country, Invercargill is the perfect destination for hunting the natural phenomena.

#6 Queenstown

Queenstown is one of the more popular destinations when it comes to adventure sports. However, the city is also known for having some of the clearest skies in all of New Zealand. This makes it a great destination for anyone who is looking to view the aurora australis. You will find the best vantage points located just south of Queenstown along the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

#7 Stewart Island

For a more remote destination and New Zealand for viewing the elusive southern lights, look no further than Stewart Island. More than 85% of the entire island falls within the Rakiura National Park, which means there is very limited light pollution to interfere with your viewing experience. Since it is located within a national park, there is also plenty of things to keep you busy during the day while you wait for the sun to set.

When Can You See Southern Lights NEW ZEALAND?

Winter (June – August)

The most ideal time to visit New Zealand in order to view the southern lights is in the winter. During the winter, which takes place between June and August, you will have ample hours of darkness in which to hunt the skies for the majestic aurora australis. It’s also a great time for those who love outdoor adventure sports like skiing.

Spring (September – November)

By spring, the temperature begins to slowly increase, and the snows of winter melt. The days are a little bit longer, but nevertheless, there is still plenty of night skies to hunt for the elusive lights. It is also the best time of year to visit New Zealand because it is also referred to as the waterfall season.

Summer (December – February)

For those who live in the northern hemisphere, the New Zealand summer which runs from December through February provides a welcomed reprieve from the harsh winters in the North. However, the summer also features longer days which makes it harder to view the elusive lights. Nevertheless, you will still be able to see them between midnight and four in the morning.

Autumn (March – May)

Visiting New Zealand during the autumn is similar to visiting it in springtime. The weather is still warm enough that you can sit out under the stars without having to bundle up excessively. It is also the time of year when the leaves start to change color, providing visitors to the region with some of the most amazing views of a New Zealand fall.

Tours and Cruises to See Southern Lights NEW ZEALAND

Southern Lights by Flight from Christchurch

Where:  Christchurch, New Zealand

Tour Provider:  Viva Expeditions

More Information:

Duration: 10 hours

Price: Starting at $965

When it comes to viewing the southern lights, the only way to guarantee that you will see the natural phenomenon is aboard a southern lights flight.

Viva Expeditions are known for offering one of the most unique ways to hunt for the elusive aurora australis. With the help of astrophysicist Ian Griffin and an entire team of experts on the auroras, you will board a commercial jet and set out over the southern ocean, to fly along the shores of Antarctica. High above the clouds, there is no light pollution to interfere with your ability to view the majestic lights. Of the 10-hour flight, 6 hours are spent exclusively on hunting for the southern lights. With the help of experts, you will be able to learn all about the natural phenomena and receive tips on the best ways to photograph the lights when they do appear.

Tour Highlights

The Viva Expedition southern lights flight sets out from Christchurch aboard a state-of-the-art Dreamliner. Roughly 2 hours after takeoff, the jet will be in the perfect viewing position, and the ghostly lights of the auroras will start filling the cabin. Unlike viewing the southern lights from the ground, you will never have to worry about light pollution or clouds getting in your way. At tens of thousands of feet above the planet’s surface, you are guaranteed to see the elusive lights firsthand. With the help of the tour photographer, you will be able to set up your cameras to get some of the most stunning photos of the auroras imaginable.

What’s Included
  • 2 Full-Service Meals
  • Wine, Beer, and Soft Drinks
  • State-Of-The-Art Entertainment System
  • Educational Lectures
  • Photography Hands and Tips
  • Preflight Program
Why It’s Popular

Since 2013, Ian Griffin has directed the Otago Museum. As an astronomer and self-described fanatic of the auroras, Ian Griffin is the foremost expert on auroras in New Zealand. The average flight, thanks to the guidance of Doctor Griffin, includes more than 4 hours of viewing pleasure. The flight also features a team of experienced astronomers who will provide more in-depth information about the southern lights once in the air. With the help of the onboard astro photography team, not only will you learn how to set up your camera correctly, but the team will be there to assist you with all of your in-flight photography needs.

Southern Skies Stargazing Tour in Dunedin

Where:  Dunedin, New Zealand

Tour Provider:  Horizon Tours

More Information:

Duration: 4 Hours

Price: Starting at $65

Enjoy the beauty of the southern lights in Dunedin, as you head out on an amazing 4-hour adventure along the New Zealand coastlines.

While there are many things to see and do in Dunedin, nothing makes the trip more special than hunting for the elusive southern lights. This popular four-hour tour will take you out to a local rule farm on the Otago Peninsula and then to Sandfly Bay. You’ll have a lovely supper with some hot beverages as you head out along the rule coast in order to hunt for the elusive lights. Check out the stars with the help of binoculars, and enjoy hot coffee or tea as you listen to stories from the Maori perspective of the heavens above.

Tour Highlights

Out on the Otago Peninsula, there are many excellent vantage points from which to hunt for the elusive southern lights. You’ll spend your first hour of the tour enjoying a light dinner and a hot beverage. While you eat, you will hear tales about the Maori culture and their perception of the stars above. The price also includes admission to Allans Beach. As you head out to the beach, you will be given an hour to stare up at the sky to hunt for the aurora australis. At the end of the trip, you will be dropped back off at your hotel.

What’s Included
  • Delicious Snacks
  • Refreshments
  • Hot Coffee and Tea
  • Pickup from Selected Hotels
  • Air-Conditioned Vehicle
Why It’s Popular

You will find that the Otago Peninsula provides some of the most awe-inspiring views of the southern night skies. As you stare out over Hoopers Inlet and listen to the coastal birds calling out in the darkness, you will begin to feel more at one with the natural world around you. When the conditions are just right, the aurora australis will light up the night sky, providing you with one of the most breathtaking views of Dunedin imaginable.

Final Thoughts on Viewing Southern Lights in New Zealand

This concludes our guide to viewing the southern lights aurora in New Zealand. As mentioned in the introduction, chasing the aurora australis is a much less publicized activity than the northern lights. Therefore, if you plan on seeing the aurora australis, you need to make sure to be well-equipped.

While some knowledgeable locals may offer some help, you could find in more instances than not that you actually know more about the aurora australis than they do. Before you travel, equip yourself with the knowledge you need about exactly where to go, and when to go. If you can afford it, book yourself in advance for one of the aurora tours in this article so give yourself an even higher chance of seeing the lights.

Lastly, try and plan your holiday for a year that the lights are expected to be more active.

For more travel locations and tips on seeing the southern lights, you might also like to check out our article on when and how to see the southern lights here.

Happy aurora hunting!

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