If you’ve ever heard of the aurora australis, you might wonder: is it possible to see the aurora australis in Australia? They are named for Australia, after all!
Yes, it’s possible to see the aurora australis – also called the southern lights – in Australia! You just need to know when and where to go. We’ve put together this huge guide to seeing the southern lights in Australia, including everything you need to know. We’ll explain the science of the aurora australis, the best season to see them in Australia, the states in Aus where you can view the aurora plus where to go in each, and additional tips on viewing the aurora in Australia.
Curious where else you can see the southern lights? Here are the best places to see the southern lights in the world.
Here’s everything you need to know to see the southern lights in Australia, in one helpful place.
What are the “Southern Lights?”
The southern lights are less well known than the northern lights but are just as spectacular. Also known as the aurora australis, the southern lights are only visible as the name implies, in the southern hemisphere. The further south you are, the better.
Auroras are caused when plasma particles carried by the solar wind strike the earth’s atmosphere. This causes an excitation of the particles that make up the atmosphere which emits the multi-colored light that we call the aurora.
The Best Time of Year to See the Southern Lights in Australia
Aurora activity can happen at any time of the year, however some times of the year are better than others to see it. You can increase your chances of seeing them any time of the year if you know how to plan, regardless of when you’re in Australia. Our quick guide will give you some tips for seeing the southern lights in any season.
Autumn (March to May)
As summer changes into autumn, you’ll have better chances to see the aurora in Australia. The autumn months are between March and May, and the weather is still warm enough to do the same activities as in summer. This means you can have some great Australian adventures by day, and keep your eyes peeled by night to spot the southern lights.
Winter (June to August)
The winter season in Australia is from June through August (opposite of the northern hemisphere). Winter is the best time to see the southern lights in Australia simply because it is darker for longer. Most of Australia has a moderate climate in winter so you can plan a trip that has many other activities, along with sky watching for the southern lights.
Spring (September to November)
In Australia, Spring occurs from September through November. Early spring is still a great time to see the southern lights, especially earlier in September. Aurora activity peaks around the spring equinox in September, as the state of the Earth’s magnetic field facilitates more solar particles to causing auroras.
Summer (December to February)
Australia’s summer months are from December through February. You will need to stay up later during this time of year to see the aurora australis. For travelers from the Northern hemisphere, a trip to Australia is a great option for a break from winter. Witnessing the southern lights is a possible added benefit!
During the summer in Australia, the nights are much shorter than in other seasons. The sun typically sets between 10-11pm and rises around 4-5am. Adding on dusk and dawn, this reduces the time window and chance of seeing the southern lights to just a few hours each night. It’s still theoretically possible to see the southern lights if you’re willing to pull an all-nighter!
The Best Places in Australia to See the Southern Lights
Photo credit: Jenne via Flickr
Australia is comprised of six states, and only some of them have a possibility to see the aurora australis.
Being the southern-most state in Australia, Tasmania is an excellent destination for viewing the aurora australis. In fact, you can potentially see the southern lights in Tasmania year round!
Tasmania is such a good destination for seeing the aurora that we wrote an entire guide! Click here to read about when, where, and how to see the southern lights in Tasmania.
Victoria is located in southeast Australia and has more than 1,200 miles (1,900km) of coastline. This means there are hundreds of miles of southern views across the Bass Strait, which separates Australia from the Tasmanian island. It’s the southernmost state of the Australian mainland and the best for seeing the aurora australis in their namesake country.
Melbourne is the largest city in Victoria and a popular tourist destination for culture and food. Home to over 4 million people, it’s not easy to find great dark sky spots in Melbourne. If you do have the opportunity to travel outside the city while visiting Melbourne, take advantage of the opportunity to view the aurora at the following places.
Photo credit: will standring via Flickr
Take an 85-minute drive to view the aurora australis from Cape Schanck at the southernmost tip of the Mornington Peninsula. 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.
Also located on the southern coast of the Mornington Peninsula, Flinders is a 90-minute drive from Melbourne. Flinders has beaches and rocky cliffs from which to watch the aurora australis. It is a small town of just over 900 residents with an 820ft (250m) long pier that is a popular destination for scuba diving. You might not find all the tourist amenities of bigger cities, but it’s a great spot to get away from the crowds and light pollution that comes with them.
Located 95 minutes (65mi/104km) by car from downtown Melbourne, Point Lonsdale Beach offers a darker sky, away from the city lights, 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.
Photo credit: Jenne via Flickr
Located a two-hour drive (88mi/142km) 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, including 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.
This peninsula is the souther-most part of the Australian mainland. 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, this affords visitors dark skies away from the light pollution of towns and cities, that are perfect for aurora-watching.
Being a 3-hour drive away from Melbourne, you will probably want to stay the night. 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), especially for February and March weekends which get booked out. Book on this page of the Parks Victoria website.
Heading southwest out of Melbourne on the western coast of Port Phillip Bay, Anglesea is an 85-minute drive (71mi/114km) from Melbourne. Anglesea is the first of several coastal towns on, bordered on one side by the undeveloped Anglesea Heath and the other by Port Addis Marine National Park. This helps protect this community of 2,500 from developing as much light pollution as areas closer to Melbourne. It also gives you a good chance to see the aurora out over the water when the weather and solar activity are optimal.
Photo credit: Jenne via Flickr
This hamlet, which is home to just over 800 people, is a 95-minute drive (77mi/124km) from Melbourne – or a further 10-minute drive (6mi/10km) from Angelsea. Aireys Inlet is home to the Split Point Lighthouse and miles of coastline, part of which is protected in the Lorne – Queenscliff Coastal Reserve. Together these help ensure there is limited light pollution in the area and opportunities to see the southern lights if they’re out.
From Aireys Inlet, you can continue down the Great Ocean Road through many other communities where you could spend a night gazing skyward.
South Australia & Western Australia
The states of South Australia and Western Australia are the other two states which form Australia’s southern coastline. While both of these states are geographically good locations for seeing the aurora, it’s very unlikely you’ll see them here, for several reasons.
First, Adelaide (the biggest city and South Australia) and Perth (the largest in Western Australia) are the primary tourism destinations, but light pollution in both will make it difficult to ever see the aurora near these cities. Outside the cities, both states are more rural and less developed for tourism or space tourism.
Second, both of these states are at considerably higher latitudes than the southern coast in Victoria. The southernmost point in Western Australia is near the town of Albany at the 117th latitude south. For contrast, Wilsons Promontory is at the 146th latitude south. Those 30 degrees make a considerable difference in the likelihood of seeing the aurora.
While both South Australia and Western Australia have a lot to offer visitors, the aurora australis is unfortunately low on that list.
How to See the Southern Lights in Australia
Photo credit: Jenne via Flickr
If you’ve got your sights set on seeing the aurora australis, here are some additional tips to help you maximize your chances of making that happen.
1. Plan Your Trip at the Right Time of Year
To maximize your chances of experiencing the aurora australis, it’s key to plan your visit for the right time of year. Visit in winter when the nights are longest for the best chances, though the aurora happens throughout the year. Winter is also the off-peak travel season so you could score great deals on travel and accommodation.
At any time of year, you’ll need it to be to be a dark, clear night to try and see the southern lights in Australia; in summer, you will need to stay up later and will have fewer hours of darkness too.
2. Check the Forecast – But Be Flexible
Aurora activity (space weather if you will) is difficult to forecast, much like the weather on earth, if not more so. Several organizations globally publish forecasts based on the Kp index of geomagnetic activity on a scale from 0 (very weak activity) to 9 (strong activity).
The Aurora Service has current estimated activity levels and forecasts specifically for the Southern Lights. It also provides a paid subscription-based SMS alert service. You can also check out the Aurora Australis Facebook group for forecasts, as well subscribe to its sister page Aurora Australis Alert NOW for tip-offs of ongoing aurora activity from the aurora-watching community.
3. Bundle Up
Because the winter months give the best chances of seeing the aurora australis, be sure to dress warmly. This is especially good advice in the middle of winter during June and July and if you’re camping out. Generally, the lowest temperatures during the winter months are just around 41ºF (5ºC).
Photo credit: will standring via Flickr
4. Be Patient
As with most natural phenomenon, forecasts of when the aurora australis will occur and how intense it will be are not perfect. You should plan for your viewing with this in mind: be prepared to wait, bundle up to stay warm, and enjoy the experience no matter how the night goes.
5. Experience Awe
If everything comes together just right, you will experience one of the earth’s most awe-inspiring phenomena. This will be the perfect complement to everything else that Australia offers the avid space tourist.
Popular Tours & Day Trips to See the Southern Lights
We’ve scoured Australia to find tour options if you want a guide to seeing the aurora. The only ones we can find are all on Tasmania! Therefore, if you know you want a guided tour instead of traveling independently to try and see the southern lights, Tasmania is your #1 destination.
The primary aurora tour option on Tasmania is Huon Valley Escapes. On their website, they claim a 50% refund if the aurora doesn’t show up based on their predictions – so you can book with confidence that you’ll either see the lights or save a bit on your trip.
Beyond that, you’re unfortunately a bit ‘on your own’ for trying to view the aurora australis in Australia. Hopefully, based on the rest of the information in this guide, you’ll feel confident planning your own trip.
How to Photograph Aurora in Australia
In addition to viewing the southern lights with your own eyes, you might want to capture them in a picture. That’s pretty common feeling – we all love to capture travel experiences in photos to share with family and friends back home. The aurora is such an incredible experience, you should try and photograph them if you have the right equipment.
Here are some tips to help you photograph the aurora:
- You need a camera that allows for manual settings. You’ll also need a tripod and a remote.
- Keep your shutter speed pretty fast. If you keep the shutter open longer than 15 seconds, you’ll start to notice star trails (which admittedly look cool) but can distract from the aurora in your pics!
- Set your F-stop low (3-5) and your ISO no higher than 800.
- Don’t forget an extra battery. When shooting in cold weather and with long exposures, your battery will run down faster than expected.
- Once you’re set up, be prepared to be patient and keep shooting. Once the aurora light up, you’ll have a chance to shoot some amazing dancing lights in the sky.
If you’re looking for additional information on these tips, check out our astrophotography guide. Each of these tips is explained in greater detail to help you capture amazing aurora and night sky photos.
Have other questions about seeing the aurora in Australia? Email us.
Featured photo credit: will standring via Flickr
Ander is a Seattle-based space and tech enthusiast who is a Product Manager by day at Amazon. Outside of work, he enjoys stargazing (when it’s not cloudy), travel, backpacking and sampling Seattle’s food scene.