If you’re an avid space enthusiast, you’ve probably seen the northern lights at this point (or want to). After all, they’re convenient for most of us living in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and even Russia – even if you have to travel to see them. The southern lights – or Aurora Australis –, on the other hand, are more difficult to reach.
The few parts of the world where you can see the southern lights are generally more remote, less developed, and less accessible. You’ll need to travel further, sometimes on the shoulder season, and the odds of seeing the southern lights are just less based on the way land is distributed on earth.
If you have your heart set on seeing the southern lights and you’re wondering “where can you see the southern lights?“, it’s entirely possible to do so. You need to plan ahead, be willing to travel, and head to one of these places. Read on to learn more about where to see the southern lights around the southern hemisphere.
Featured photo credit: Ross Burgener via Flickr
This post was originally published in January 2019 and was updated most recently in August 2022.
1. Cape Schanck, Australia
If you want to see the aurora australis in their namesake location – Australia –, you’ll need to visit Victoria. (Or Tasmania, but we have a whole section below focused on Tasmania!) Victoria is the southernmost state on the Australian mainland. It’s also the only place where you can easily reach dark sky spots with southern views that might include the aurora.
Take an 85-minute drive to view the aurora australis from Cape Schanck at the southernmost tip of the Mornington Peninsula in Australia’s Victoria state. You’ll be well away from city lights, and have a great view of the southern sky if the aurora are there.
Other activities to do here include visiting the Cape Schanck Lighthouse and its museum, visit Pulpit Rock at the tip of the cape, have a barbecue at The Pines Picnic Area, take a dip in the Peninsula Hot Springs, or take the Bushrangers Bay Nature Walk.
2. Phillip Island, Australia
Located a two-hour drive from Melbourne, Philip Island is a great spot for trying to see the aurora. Philip Island has several natural areas where you can escape the light pollution in the area. These include Nobbies Centre, Phillip Island Nature Park, and Churchill Island Marine National Park. By day, you can visit a koala conservation center or explore the Bass Strait beaches on its southern shore.
3. Point Lonsdale, Australia
Located 95 minutes by car from downtown Melbourne, Point Lonsdale Beach offers a dark sky to view the aurora australis. The Point Lonsdale Lighthouse sits on the headland overlooking “The Rip,” a dangerous passage that is the entry from the Bass Strait to the Port Philip Bay and is the only way to reach Melbourne by sea. The Point Lonsdale Lighthouse offers tours that are a good addition to a trip here.
4. Wilsons Promontory, Australia
This peninsula is the souther-most part of the Australian mainland, a three-hour drive from Melbourne. The area is protected, making up the Wilsons Promontory National Park and Wilsons Promontory Marine Park. By day, Wilsons Promontory offers a wealth of outdoor activities, beautiful scenery to take in and a variety of wildlife to spot. At night, the area affords visitors dark skies that are perfect for aurora-watching.
Accommodation options include camping, pulling up in a caravan, or staying in a hut, cabin, wilderness retreat or lodge. Advanced booking is required for an overnight stay (including camping); book on this page of the Parks Victoria website, or check hotel options for staying at Wilsons Promontory.
5. Cockle Creek, Tasmania
While Tasmania is technically one of the destinations where you can see the southern lights in Australia – but it’s such a great aurora destination that it deserves a section of its own! Tasmania is the only place on earth where it’s physically possible to see the aurora year-round. This is due to its latitude and location, as well as more moderate seasonal changes and daylight changes than some other southern lights destinations.
If you plan to see the southern lights in Tasmania, base yourself in the capital city of Hobart. You’ll have easy access to some great dark sky locations along the southeast and southern coastlines, with wide open views of the southern sky and the aurora.
The most recommended destination if you want to see the southern lights in Tasmania is Cockle Creek, at the southernmost point of Tasmania. A two-hour drive south of Hobart, Cockle Creek is best for travelers with a rental car and commitment to try and see the aurora firsthand. The nearest accommodation is in nearby Ida Bay; you can find cottages, inn, and bed & breakfast options from reasonable prices if you want to spend a night or two nearer the ideal viewing spot.
6. Howden, Tasmania
Howden offers great aurora views due to low light pollution and expansive sky views. It takes only 25 minutes to drive from Hobart to Howden along the highways, so if you’ve got a rental car and are willing to explore a bit afield, it can be a great viewing spot.
7. Mount Wellington, Tasmania
A 30-minute drive west of Hobart, Mount Wellington is one of the best aurora viewpoints in the area. Towering over 4000ft (1200m) in elevation, you’ll be well above most light pollution on a dark night, however, depending on atmospheric conditions, the light pollution from the suburb of Kingston can make good sightings or photography difficult.
8. South Arm Peninsula, Tasmania
South Arm Peninsula is a 40-minute drive east and south of Hobart, and an astrophotographer’s paradise. Both Clifton and Calvert’s beaches offer excellent opportunity to see the aurora in the dark night sky – both offer good south-facing views that are crucial to see the southern lights.
9. Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest in Dark Sky Reserve world and only one in the southern hemisphere. Within this large area, you’ll find some of the darkest skies over New Zealand. There are a few places within Aoraki Mackenzie that you should definitely visit, making it worth a two-night stay in the area.
The Lake Tekapo area is well known among stargazers. Venture to the top of Mt. John which offers some of the best views of the sky in the world on a clear, dark night. It is also the location of the Mt. John Observatory which is home to some of the largest telescopes in New Zealand. Night tours of the facility are run by are available, including the opportunity to peer at the sky through some of the telescopes.
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park is also located within the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. There is nearly no light pollution out here, making for some stellar views of the sky. While it’s an alpine environment, the park is easily accessible via State Highway 80, which leads to Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village.
On a dark night with the right conditions, viewing the aurora australis is possible from pretty much anywhere in the park as long as you stay away from light sources and allow your eyes to adjust. For a guided experience, visit Big Sky Stargazing at the foot of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain.
10. Invercargill, New Zealand
This southernmost city of New Zealand, Invercargill, offers some of the chances of seeing the aurora australis from, or near an urban settlement. Head 6 miles (10km) west to Oreti Beach and set up for some phenomenal photos of the aurora. Bluff and Tiwai Point are both excellent viewing locations located within a 30-minute drive south of Invercargill.
It is possible to fly to Invercargill, which has a small regional airport. Air New Zealand flies daily flights to Invercargill from Christchurch. Check Skyscanner for flights.
12. Stewart Island
Stewart Island is the most southern populated island in New Zealand. It can be reached by flying into the town of Oban or by ferry ride from Bluff or Invercargill. As 85% of the island is covered by Rakiura National Park, light pollution is not an issue. The remote setting combined with its ideal latitude make it the best place to see the southern lights in New Zealand.
11. The Catlins, New Zealand
Being so far south, New Zealand is an excellent destination to see an aurora. The South Island in particular is the place to go if you want to find some of New Zealand’s darkest skies and the best chances to see the aurora.
The top aurora-viewing sites on the South Island are a bit spread out, so the best way to visit these sights is by car. A road trip around the southern part of the island from Dunedin will let you enjoy New Zealand’s stunning scenery by day and dark skies and aurora by night.
The Catlins is a sparsely populated, forested coastal area is on the southeastern region of the Southern Island. An hour away from Invercargill by car, you can easily escape the city lights. Set up on the southern-facing ocean shores or pitch a tent on one of the campgrounds and gaze at the sky to look out for aurora.
13. Ushuaia, Argentina
In addition to more popular spots like Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, there are some other spots where it’s possible to see the southern lights. These are either harder to get to or less common aurora australis viewing destinations – but you can still add them to your bucket list!
Seeing the southern lights from anywhere in South America is a pretty rare occurrence – but it is certainly possible and can be done, especially in Patagonia. Your chances of planning a short trip (1-2 weeks) when the southern lights are happening are slim-to-none. If you’ve got the time and want to move a bit slower, book a stay somewhere like this ski resort cabin and hope for clear skies on a cold winter night. (Even if you don’t see the aurora australis, you can enjoy winter sports in the region!)
Most people know Ushuaia as the ‘End of the World,’ a jumping off point for Antarctica cruises. As the southernmost city in the world, you can’t get much further south than Ushuaia. It’s also the most urban place you can base yourself for trying to see the southern lights in South America.
In the winter months, you can expect up to 17 hours of darkness per day in Ushuaia, meaning plenty of opportunity for viewing if the southern lights do appear. You’ll need to get out of town to escape the light pollution and a good southern view if you want to see the southern lights at all.
14. Falkland Islands
Though most people won’t journey this far just to see the southern lights, the Falkland Islands are generally considered one of the best places in the world to see them.
Located over 400 miles (643km) off the eastern coast of South America, the Falkland Island is isolated and sparsely populated. Only 3,400 people call the Falkland Islands home, along with penguins, seals, seabirds, and other wildlife. This lack of major development means it’s not hard to find dark skies perfect for aurora viewing.
Plan your trip between April and August for the best chance to see the southern lights, and base yourself from the town of Stanely, the capital city. You can easily explore East Falkland by car or catch a ferry to West Falkland while searching for the southern lights each night.
15. South Georgia Island
The last spot you can see the southern lights from South America is from South Georgia Island. South Georgia Island (and the neighboring South Sandwich Islands), are far out in the Atlantic Ocean, 967 miles (1551km) east of the Falkland Islands. To be honest, it’s not easy to get to South Georgia Island during aurora season. There is no airstrip on the islands and the only access is by boat. Most passenger boats or commercial companies only offer cruises – which vary in length from 17-28 days round-trip – between late October and the end of March. In short, you’ll be hard-pressed to get the right timing to see the aurora while visiting South Georgia Island.
If you’re sold on visiting anyway, check out these options:
- Quark Expeditions offers an 18-day cruise to visit the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island.
- You can enjoy a 20-day cruise to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, and Antarctica with Poseidon Expeditions.
- Polar Cruises offers routes which include South Georgia Island between 15 and 24 days long.
The last, and arguably best, place to see the southern lights on earth is Antarctica. It’s also the most difficult to reach during the ideal months for viewing the aurora since the majority of winter work on the Antarctic continent is scientific research. However, because Antarctica is largely undeveloped, there is basically no light pollution beyond the reflected light of the moon and stars on the snow and ice. Join the penguins and enjoy the celestial show overhead.
Plan your trip between March and September for the best chance to see the southern lights. You’ll need to visit aboard an authorized cruise or chartered plane; be sure to book an early (October at the latest) or late (March at the latest) season cruise if you want a chance to see the aurora.
Can You See the Southern Lights in South Africa?
In short, maybe. Generally, it is not possible to see the southern lights from South Africa, despite it being the southernmost country on the African continent. South Africa is substantially further north (30°S) compared to other places on this list (such as Victoria at 37°S, Tasmania at 41°S, and Stewart Island at 47°S) – making it much less likely that activity in the southern auroral oval will be visible there.
That said, it’s theoretically possible given strong enough solar activity. (Some sources say that Kp+7 is strong enough, others say Kp 9 is the minimum activity necessary to see aurora in South Africa – these happen usually once every few years at most.) However, the chances of having solar activity strong enough is not worth planning a trip for.
Now that you know the best places to see the southern lights in each country where it’s possible to do so, you can choose a destination and start booking the planes and car rentals it will take to get there. Have any questions about the best places to see the Southern Lights? Let me know in the comments!