Northern Lights !!! Who hasn’t heard of them? The colours, the vibrance, the magical night sky is such an extravagant act of nature that a majority of travellers as well as tourists add this to their bucket list. It’s a long way to get closer to the North Pole to witness this amazing phenomenon and when you do get to witness it, it’s worth all the effort. I haven’t seen them myself yet but have come across so many people who have and each one has a better story to tell about it than the previous one.
Now just like the Northern Lights, there are Southern Lights too and this one is visible from New Zealand. Not a lot of them have heard about it because it’s not promoted to be a tourist thing as such. And the locations to witness it isn’t the easiest to get t; unlike the Northern Europe or Northern Canada. Aurora Australis is the southern cousin of Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and during it’s peak it is visible from the south eastern coastline of New Zealand as well as from Tasmania, Australia & beyond. To witness this act of nature was why I ended up with my first solo trip within NZ last week. However it was a classic case of “you don’t always get what you want”. I had been planning for it for weeks together, booking my flights in the peak of winter, when it was supposed to be one of the darkest periods of the year to catch all the action. Spending nearly 9 days between Dunedin and Invercargill I was hoping to get lucky at least for one night.. But nope, neither the weather gods nor the celestial bodies were on my side, not even any closer.
To all those who are wondering what the Northern & Southern Lights are, here’s a brief – The auroras—the aurora borealis (or northern lights) in the Northern Hemisphere, and the aurora australis (the southern lights) in the Southern Hemisphere—are brilliant natural spectacles that can be seen in the evening sky especially at higher latitudes. Unlike other phenomena of the night sky, such as meteors and comets, the auroras are atmospheric phenomena, but what causes them? Although auroras appear in the atmosphere, they are the result of extraterrestrial forces; however, these forces are not particularly alien. The Sun’s corona—the outermost region of the Sun’s atmosphere, consisting of plasma (hot ionized gas)—drives the solar wind (a particle flux of protons and electrons) away from the Sun. Some of these high-energy particles strike Earth’s magnetic field and follow magnetic field lines down into Earth’s atmosphere at the North and South magnetic poles. [source: Britannica.com]
If you ever would like to watch the Southern Lights, particularly if you live in the South Island, then you have to keep a tab of the solar wind flare forecast at http://www.aurora-service.net/aurora-forecast. You can also subscribe to their text messaging service which alerts you when the aurora activity reaches a certain reading which will help you plan your evening to watch them.
Anyway, after spending a decent time of what I researched as to be the best time to catch these lights, I didn’t get to be as lucky. You know they say “Expect the worst but hope for the best”? While most of us go with this theory, I’d like to add a suffix to that saying “EXPECT the worst and HOPE for the best but ACCEPT what comes your way”. While we always want the best of everything we seek for, we need to be equally prepared for the worst case scenario, but in the meanwhile it’s wise to ACCEPT what comes our way, in order to enjoy the present. Else we’ll end up looking for something we don’t have and fail to enjoy what we actually do ! This is what I did in my quest to watch the Southern Lights. I was really hoping I could watch them one of the evenings, but at the same time I knew that the weather isn’t in my control and that it could possibly be raining every single day, not giving me an opportunity to even see anything at all. But whenever the weather was good enough I got to explore all the places in and around Dunedin & Invercargill, meet all the lovely people, some fellow travellers and left with more memories & experiences than I could ever ask for !!
And just on the day I was finishing this post, I thought I might as well drive into the Otago Peninsula and try my luck to see what I can find. That particular evening, the aurora reading said it was at 3Kp, at which it might have not been visible to the naked eye. So I drove down the Portobello Road for a good 35kms or so, as it was a very clear night. When I drove past all the city and street lights, pulled over my car and looked up at the night sky, I was absolutely stunned by what I witnessed. It was so good that I had to write up separately about it. CLICK HERE to read about it !!
Just as I was ready to publish the post, guess what I read in the news. Yes you got it right !! The Aurora Australis was in its full glory literally the day after I flew out of Dunedin [Read about it HERE] And it was nice n bright for 3 full nights.. Now whether you call that unlucky or just a missed coincidence, is up to you. While I was disappointed about missing out on it, it was something not in my control. So I chose not to be disappointed but instead thankful for getting an opportunity to witness something I had not seen before, the milkyway as well as all the experiences that came along with my stay in the region. Such is life eh ! We don’t always get what we want and we don’t always want what we get. Drawing a line in between is what matters in the end…
Meanwhile here’s an article from Stuff that was published a couple of years ago and shows some stunning imagery of the Southern Lights. I’ve added some pictures from there, to save you clicking on the link.
Source: All above images belong to Liz Carl. Please do not use/share without permission