Chasing the Southern Lights in New Zealand
A mesmerising swirl of vibrant green and pink lights, the Aurora Australis is harder to catch than its northern counterpart. Winter months promise more regular occurrences, but if you’re lucky you could witness the stunning display of solar wind reacting with natural gases any time of the year from the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, a 3-hour drive south-west from Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand.
Aspiring photographers, adventure seekers or hopeless romantics you’re in luck. We’ve compiled the best tours offering you a chance of seeing the Southern Lights in New Zealand and a couple of great accommodation options close by.
Haka Tours are committed to showing their beautiful home to its best advantage to every type of traveller. You can customise any of their tours by adding optional activities, putting you in control of your adventure.
Their winter tours will see you traversing Lake Tekapo, in the centre of Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. It’s a chilly night out, so Haka Tours will take you to nearby hot pools to warm up beforehand and supply piping hot chocolate upon your return. The tour guides from Haka say that for your best chance at viewing the Aurora Australis is on a dark winter’s night with super clear skies. Even if you miss the dazzling wonder that is the Aurora Australis, you’re guaranteed to witness something special on a stargazing trip at Tekapo’s Mount John Observatory.
This tour company aims at providing you with the best experience by limiting numbers and selecting the most passionate guides around. They know where to find adventure in some of the most stunning destinations around the world, not to mention where to see the Southern Lights. They take care of everything from the moment you arrive, with meals and accommodation included.
Not to be missed is the Active Adventures New Zealand trip to the Mackenzie Basin, which boasts the most amount of clear sky nights on the South Island. This tour isn’t just for star-gazing. By day you’ll hike some of the country’s best trails before retiring to sleep at a local working sheep station on the shores of Lake Pukaki for a couple of evenings.
One for the more active traveller. Adventure Consultants thrill their guests with off-piste experiences such as mountaineering, ice climbing and ski tours. Not being the types to shy away from great altitudes, they’re more than qualified to get you as far from civilisation and as close to the Southern Lights in New Zealand as possible.
‘With a little luck you can see some southern lights whilst away up high in the mountains,’ say the Adventure Consultants. While you eagerly anticipate your night filled with flashes of green and pink, the thrill seeking guides will keep you occupied throughout the day from their Base Camp at Wye Creek. Nestled in the midst of the Remarkables Range near Queenstown, it offers scenic ice-climbing possibilities. If skiing is more your taste, sign yourself up for a tour of Mt Cook or Westland National Park.
Try out one of the Kiwis’ favourite pastimes, hiking, for the best opportunity to witness the true majesty of the country. Aspiring Guides will help you realise your dreams of ascending the iconic peaks of Mt Cook and Mt Aspiring, instructing you on the nuances of mountaineering with climbing courses and various multi-day wilderness hiking adventures. You won’t forget watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea after spending the day exploring the Fox and Franz Glaciers or your first overnight snow-shoe adventure.
The guides, who also offer backcountry skiing and snowboarding tours say, ‘from the summits of Mt Aspiring and Aoraki, to the vast glaciers of the West Coast, these unique wilderness areas provide an amazing setting to witness the Aurora Australis’ in New Zealand.
Must Do New Zealand
This helpful website is designed to showcase New Zealand’s top activities. Whether you’re a local or visitor, there’s helpful advice on getting the most out of your holiday, including where to see the Southern Lights. Be sure to check their recommendations when you’re planning your itinerary so you fit in the very best tours and attractions.
For visitors wanting to witness the Southern Lights, Must Do New Zealand recommends the Earth & Sky Observatory Tour. Professional Astronomy Guides instruct you on using optical telescopes to hone in on the starry skies. Beyond a vast amount of information, you’ll also be left with a profound sense of the scale of the universe and your own place in it.
According to Must Do New Zealand the occurrence of the Aurora Australis is reliant on the activity of the Sun. ‘The Sun has its own cycle of activity over a 11-12-year cycle and when it’s at the height of activity, the chances of seeing an aurora are naturally increased.’ This year tour groups have been privy to half a dozen auroras.
For those who like to design their own adventure rather than be part of an organised tour, Naked Bus passes are a great way to get around the South Island and see the Southern Lights in New Zealand. The buses run to a constant timetable as you explore at your will, simply book your spot online a few days ahead to ensure you don’t miss out.
The travel experts at Naked Bus advise allowing a few days in the Southern Lights hotspots for the best chance of seeing it. ‘You can’t expect to see the lights every night, sometimes they’re out and strong, other times they’re harder to find.’ Relax and take part in all the fabulous daytime experiences on offer in the region – the best things come to those who wait.
Mt Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters
For a bird’s eye view of some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, take off with Mt Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters. They have over 60 years’ experience flying over the alpine territory and can even drop you off directly onto a glacier.
Each day their fleet of fleet of Pilatus Porter Ski Planes, Cessna 185 and AS355 Twin Squirrel Helicopters offer a variety of adventures depending on group size and budget. Star gazers can charter a craft to visit one of Mt Cook & Westland National Park Alpine Huts for the perfect way to view the Aurora Australis in New Zealand.
Places to Stay:
After late nights out in the open witnessing the Southern Lights in New Zealand, sink into your king-sized bed at the luxury studios and 2-bedroom units of Aoraki Court Motel. An hour’s drive away from Lake Tekapo, this motel sits facing the alpines of Mount Sefton and The Footstool offering guests impressive views. It’s also centrally located for a range of daytime activities such as kayaking, skiing or soaking in hot springs.
Located a little closer to Lake Tekapo is Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat. Perched on a cliff overlooking the blue waters of Lake Pukaki, this retreat offers guests total privacy with a choice of European-styled villas or boutique homestead lodges. With an adjoining wine cellar, guests get to sip on New Zealand’s finest wines while they drink in the starry skies.