As islands go, Tasmania is an interesting one. Formed over millions of years, it was only 70 million years ago when Tasmania began to look as we conceive of it today: an island off the southern coast of Australia. With its own unique geologic history and species found nowhere else on earth, Tasmania has been a travel destination for those interested in heading off the beaten path while visiting Australia.
Tasmania also has some great advantages for space tourists, with year-round opportunities to see the southern lights. If you’re curious about whether your upcoming trip to Tasmania will give you a chance to see this amazing phenomenon, read on to learn more about when, where, and how to see the southern lights in Tasmania.
Many thanks to Tasmanian travel blogger Andrew from Fork & Foot. Read more about travel in Tasmania on his blog!
What are the “Southern Lights?”
Many travelers have heard of the northern lights, but are surprised to learn that the southern lights exist too.
As their name suggests, the southern lights or aurora australis are visible in the southern hemisphere only. The top destinations to see the southern lights are the southernmost destinations in the world, including Tasmania.
The scientific explanation for aurora australis is the same as its northern sibling aurora borealis. When charged particles emitted by the sun strike atoms in the atmosphere of earth, electrons in those atoms change energy states. As they return to their resting state they emit light, and voilà! This is what we call the aurora.
The Best Time of Year to See the Aurora in Tasmania
Tasmania has more moderate seasonal changes and daylight changes than some other southern lights destinations. As such, Tasmania is a great aurora destination because you have a chance to see it throughout the year. You could be wearing layers in the cold winter months of June to August – or be in shorts and a tee on a warm night in the summer months of December to February.
No matter when you visit, you’ll need to wait for a dark, clear night to try and see the southern lights in Tasmania; in summer, you might need to stay up a bit later too.
The Best Places in Tasmania to See the Southern Lights
While you can see the southern lights throughout Tasmania, most travelers fly in and out of the largest city, Hobart. The top places to see the southern lights on this list are based from Hobart, so that you can get a sense for adding each one to your trip.
As Tasmania’s biggest city, Hobart might be a surprising destination to see the southern lights – but it is possible to do so. Admittedly, you’ll need to find a dark part of the city to reduce light pollution, but if your trip to Tasmania is limited to Hobart or other cities, you can still try and spot the aurora.
Top spots to see the southern lights in or near Hobart include:
- Rosny Hill – The golf course offers protection from light pollution.
- Howrah Beach – The strip of sandy beach has good south-facing views.
- Seven Mile Beach – Located west of Hobart near Hobart International Airport, the long beach is protected from most light pollution and has great southern views.
- Taroona Beach – 15 minutes south of Hobart in the Taroona suburb, this beach offers another good option on a night where the aurora is expected.
A southern suburb of Hobart, Mount Nelson offers a great vantage point of the city – and of the southern lights on a night where the aurora is particularly bright and strong. For the best vantage point, head to the top of Mount Nelson to the Signal Station, where you’ll have panoramic views of the city and night sky.
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.
Dodges Ferry & Primrose Sands
Located a 35-minute drive from Hobart, Dodges Ferry and nearby Primrose Sands are small communities that allow visitors to get outside the bustling city. They also have great southern-facing beaches, including Park Beach in Dodges Ferry and the namesake beach of Primrose Sands. Both of these take advantage of lesser light pollution than Hobart to offer good dark sky viewing opportunities.
South Arm Peninsula
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.
Howden offers great aurora views (pictured above) 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.
South of Howden, Tinderbox Nature Reserve is another great option, especially as it has direct over-water southern views. Tinderbox Bay, on the southern-most part of the peninsula is an ideal spot to set up and shoot aurora photos if that’s on your list.
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 cottage, inn, and bed & breakfast options from reasonable prices if you want to spend a night or two nearer the ideal viewing spot.
How to See the Southern Lights in Tasmania
If you’re committed to seeing the aurora in Tasmania, here are five tips to help you have a successful trip.
1. Plan Your Trip at the Right Time of Year
There’s an entire section further in this post about the best time of year to see the southern lights in Tasmania; while you can see the southern lights year-round in Tasmania, the darker skies – the better.
June through August are the darkest months where you’re most likely to see the southern lights.
2. Check the Forecast – But Be Flexible
Despite our best efforts to predict every natural phenomenon, the aurora australis is still unpredictable. However, the Aurora Service has a forecasting page and an SMS alert system to which you can subscribe for free. The Aurora Australis Tasmania Alert NOW Facebook group is also excellent for tipping off group members about aurora activity, as is their sister page Aurora Australis Tasmania. Following these three should give you a very good sense of when you might see the aurora; in the event they’re slightly off in predictions, give yourself more than one night to try.
3. Bring the Right Gear
First, if you’re visiting Tasmania in the winter, be sure to pack for cooler weather. While you’re unlikely to encounter freezing temperatures in the coldest months of June through August, temperatures in Tasmania average 45-50ºF (8-10ºC) and you’ll need layers to stay warm while waiting to see the southern lights.
If you plan to try and shoot photo or video of the aurora, be sure to pack the right camera. A camera with manual controls is highly recommended (all SLR cameras are excellent), as is a tripod. You may also want a remote control. Further down in this post, there’s a section focused specifically on aurora photography.
4. Be Patient
At the right time of year, with the right gear, and with the best predictive data, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll see the southern lights on any given night. The best you can do is head out on a likely night, get comfortable, look up, and wait.
It’s worth it though – once you’ve seen the aurora, you’ll never forget it!
5. Experience Awe
When you do see the southern lights in Tasmania, expect to be amazed. The dancing colors in the sky – white, green, red, and purple! – are mesmerizing and otherworldly. If anything, you’ll have a great appreciation for how amazing our planet can be.
Popular Tours & Day Trips to See the Southern Lights
Though you can potentially see the southern lights year-round in Tasmania, there are a surprisingly low number of tour operators who offer aurora-specific tours.
One option 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.
How to Photograph the Southern Lights in Tasmania
In the age of Instagram, you may want to take photographs of the aurora in Tasmania when you see them. To improve your chances of getting a great picture, you need the right camera and gear plus the right settings to capture the color and details. Here are some quick tips:
- As mentioned above, you need a camera that allows for manual settings. You’ll also need a tripod and a remote.
- Keep your shutter speed short. 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 more information about how to photograph the aurora australis in Tasmania, check out this in-depth guide by Andrew from Fork & Foot.