Aurora Australis Southern Lights

Experience Tasmania's sky technicolour

WHAT SPARKS YOUR INTEREST?

Aurora Australis - Southern Lights and stargazing from Strahan
Image thanks to: Dietmar Kahles

Southern Lights over Port Arthur Historic Site
Image thanks to: Tourism Tasmania & Poon Wai Nang

Southern Lights over Bruny Island
Image thanks to: Tourism Australia & Graham Freeman

Aurora Australis over the Freycinet National Park
Image thanks to: Tourism Australia & Graham Freeman

Aurora Australis over Port Arthur Historical Site
Image thanks to: Tourism Tasmania & Poon Wai Nang

Aurora Australis over Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake.
Image thanks to: Pierre Destribats

Southern Lights

The Aurora Australis, otherwise known as the Southern Lights, is the lesser known counterpart to its famous alternative, the Northern Lights. Every year people flock to Iceland and Norway to view the spectacle in the Arctic Circle, but its relatively unknown southern equal can be a surprising delight and well worth the trip to Tasmania, where it can best be viewed. Some try their hand at catching the Aurora Australis in New Zealand and Antarctica as well. Many describe this natural phenomena as a dance of lights across the sky and a memory that will last a lifetime.

The Science

This unearthly show presents itself with the sun releases a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields into space, otherwise known as a coronal mass ejection.  Auroras are produced when the particles of these solar winds and the earth’s magnetic field collide. Therefore, Antarctica and Tasmania are the ideal places to view this natural wonder, given that the earth’s magnetic field is closest to its surface and the North and South Poles. The atoms bring various colours forth, green and red representing oxygen, and nitrogen reflected in green and blue.

What you Can Expect to See

Aurora Australis over Cradle Mountain, Tasmania, AustraliaAlthough images online will present an array of dazzling colours, the naked eye typically only picks of white flashes or flickering that are sometimes mistaken for clouds. It is only once you do a long exposure with a camera that the colours come to life and vivid greens and blues present themselves. There are instances when viewing coloured light can be possible but this is rare. The lights have been described as “dancing” and making magical movements that shoot up into the atmosphere. Image thanks to Pierre Destribats.

Best Spots to See the Lights

Technically a viewer could spot the lights from any clear view that’s directed south anywhere in Tasmania. You can be sure you’re looking south by searching for the Southern Cross constellation. For your best shot it’s good to stay clear of any light pollution and avoid a full moon. Other blocks such as trees and mountains should be kept at a distance as well.

Since the further south you are, the better, popular viewing spots are South Arm Peninsula (40 km southeast of Hobart) and Cockle Creek on the southern tip of Tasmania (120 km southwest of Hobart).

In South Arm Peninsula photographers rave about the reflections shots they capture, and the wide bay allows for an expansive view. Other popular sites for viewing are Dodges Ferry, Rosny Hill, Howden, Seven Mile, and Tinderbox. If you’re going to try and view closer to Hobart, try places with a broad horizon such as Mount Nelson or Mount Wellington. Both are easily accessible from the city and sometimes attract a small crowd (bring a jacket, it can get cold at night!).

When are They the Best Seen

Luckily you have a chance at catching this entertaining light show at any time of the year, since scientific predictions can be unreliable and all it takes is the occurrence of sunspots and the coronal mass ejection to create this stellar show. This is quite special since the Northern lights have a tighter timeframe. Overall, it is quite unpredictable and sometimes space weather maps can help, but the sun will ultimately determine its arrival.
Winter is ideal when the nights are longer and provide a greater window of opportunity. Some say the equinox in September is the best time but this will vary.

If you’re in Tassie and in the mood chase them, current updates are available on a popular Facebook page (The Aurora Australis) or you can log into any one of the apps that exist for such a purpose (Star Walk, Solar Monitor, and Aurora Australis Forecast to name a few).

How to Capture Them & Follow the Lights

If you’re lucky enough to witness the event, you’ll want to be prepared and capture the image forever.

An SLR camera set to manual mode with a tripod is the best way to ensure a stable and clear image. Seek out a wide lens which will allow for maximum light into the camera and choose the highest ISO (800 to 3200). The shutter speed should be anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds and the focus set to infinity.

You’re all set. Happy viewing!

Where to Stay

Southern Lights

The Henry Jones Art Hotel

Hobart - South East

Located in Sullivan’s Cove, this luxury hotel is within a 15-minute walk of Franklin Wharf and Salamanca Market. Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Cascade Brewery are also within 5 km.

A restaurant, a fitness center, and a bar/lounge are available at this smoke-free hotel. Free WiFi in public areas and free valet parking are also provided. Other amenities include a coffee shop/café, meeting rooms, and concierge services.
All 56 individually decorated rooms provide free WiFi, free wired Internet, and iPod docks. LCD TVs with cable channels and DVD players provide a bit of entertainment, and guests will also find comforts like premium bedding and pillow menus.

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MACq 01 Hotel

Hobart - South East

Located in Sullivan's Cove, this hotel is within 2 km of Hobart Cruise Terminal and Salamanca Market. Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Cascade Brewery are also within 5 km.

Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Hadley's Orient Hotel

Hobart - South East

Located in Hobart Central Business District, this luxury hotel is within a 10-minute walk of St. David's Cathedral and Salamanca Market. Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Cascade Brewery are also within 5 km.

Star rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel

Hobart - South East

Located in Sullivan's Cove, this luxury apartment building is within a 15-minute walk of Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and Salamanca Market. Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Cascade Brewery are also within 5 km.

  • Bar/lounge
  • Restaurant
  • Free WiFi
  • Self parking (surcharge)
  • Luggage storage
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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RACV/RACT Hobart Apartment Hotel

Hobart - South East

Located in Hobart Central Business District, this luxury hotel is within a 10-minute walk of St. David's Cathedral and Salamanca Market.

Star rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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ibis Styles Hobart

Hobart - South East

Situated in Hobart, this hotel is close to St. David's Cathedral, Australian Army Museum Tasmania, and Parliament House.

Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Macquarie Manor

Hobart - South East

Situated in the historical district, this guesthouse is within a 10-minute walk of St. Joseph's Catholic Church and Salamanca Market. Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Cascade Brewery are also within 5 km.

Star rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Mantra One Sandy Bay Road

Hobart - South East

Located in the heart of Hobart, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of St. Joseph's Catholic Church and Salamanca Market.

Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Salamanca Wharf Hotel

Battery Point - Hobart

Located in Sullivan's Cove, this boutique aparthotel is within a 5-minute walk of Salamanca Place and Salamanca Market. Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Cascade Brewery are also within 5 km.

Star rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Wrest Point

Sandy Bay - Hobart

Situated on the waterfront, this luxury hotel is 0.3 km from Wrest Point Casino and within 5 km of Salamanca Market and Mount Nelson Lookout. Cascade Brewery and Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens are also within 5 km.

Star rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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