How to See the Southern Lights from New Zealand

The Southern Lights (the Aurora Australis) might not be as famous as the Northern Lights (the Aurora Borealis), but they’re every bit as spectacular. One of the reasons this incredible natural wonder isn’t very well-known is because it’s so difficult to catch. You’ve got to be in the right place, at the right time and cross your fingers for the right conditions. Not an easy feat! But it can be done. Check out these tips on how to see the Southern Lights from New Zealand, if you want to see one of the greatest shows on earth.

The Southern Lights - Aurora Australis
Aurora Australis

4 Tips to See the Southern Lights from New Zealand

Lake Tekapo on a sunny day. Southern Lights from New Zealand
Lake Tekapo is a great place to spot the Southern Lights

1. Go as far south as you can

The Southern Lights hang around the South Pole, which means you’ve got to go as far south as possible to see them. Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Antarctica are all great places to spot the lights, but if you’re in NZ, we can direct you to a few places that people seem to have most luck in.

Stewart Island (the most southern populated island a ferry ride from Bluff), Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mt Cook National Park (both in the Dark Sky Reserve) and the Catlins (one of the most southern locations away from all light pollution) are all great bets.

Wintry scene with a picnic table covered in snow. Southern Lights from New Zealand
You’re most likely to see the Southern Lights during winter

2. Plan to spot them during winter

The truth is that the Southern Lights are extremely unpredictable and sometimes you only get a 30 minute warning before they appear! But reports show that while it’s possible for them to occur at any time of year, they’re more likely to appear during winter (between March and September) around midnight.

Moon glowing against a black sky. Southern Lights from New Zealand
If the moon is shining brightly, you won’t be able to see the Southern Lights

3. Hope for clear skies and a geomagnetic storm

To see the Southern Lights from New Zealand, there has to be the perfect combo of solar activity and powerful solar winds which react to the magnetosphere. This mix results in a geomagnetic storm which causes the aurora activity to expand so it’s visible from New Zealand.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo underneath the Milky Way
On a clear night the Milky Way will be spectacular at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, even if you miss the Southern Lights

Of course, it’s not enough for the Southern Lights just to be there – you need to be somewhere that’s clear and dark enough for you to see them. Try to get somewhere away from city lights (i.e. the mountains) and if the moon is shining brightly, call it a night and try another time.

A man browsing the internet on a tablet. Southern Lights from New Zealand
Regularly check forecasting websites so you don’t miss your chance

4. Check forecasting websites

The easiest way to know what your chances of seeing the lights are is to keep checking an Aurora Australis forecast. They’re reliably accurate and keep a track of the current aurora level, with 0 being the weakest and 9 being the strongest. Anything that comes in at 5+ is classed as a geothermal storm and is a strong indication that the Southern Lights could be visible very soon.

About Nicola Quinn


Nicola is a travel and food writer living in the Canary Islands who loves exploring far-off places, pushing herself to the limit and trying local eats wherever she goes.

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