The Aurora Australis is not as well-known as the Aurora Borealis in the north but if you catch it on the right night, it is just as amazing. Australia’s amazing light show in the sky, the Aurora Australis is as stunning as any night lights you’ll see in Iceland, Norway or Canada. Tasmania has big skies and unpolluted air that puts it at the top of the list of places to see the Southern Lights in Australia.
Like the Northern Lights, seeing the Southern Lights can be a unique and memorable experience. It’s worth putting Aurora viewing on your bucket list. In the Southern Hemisphere, they can be seen in New Zealand, Antarctica, South America and Australia.
- 1 What are the Southern Lights?
- 2 How to photograph the Southern Lights
- 3 Southern Lights Tasmania
- 4 When to see Aurora Australis in Tasmania
What are the Southern Lights?
The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, is a phenomenon of nature that occurs when the sun releases an enormous burst of solar wind and magnetic fields or CME (coronal mass ejections) into space.
The particles in the solar winds collide with earth’s magnetic field to release energy that appears in the sky in the form of auroras.
The reason Tasmania is one of the best places to see the Aurora Australis is that the earth’s magnetic field is closest to its surface at the North and South poles.
How to photograph the Southern Lights
The best way to get a good look at the Southern Lights is to take photographs of them as the Aurora Australis is not as vivid to the naked eye as it is to the camera.
Southern Lights photography is not that simple, but if you’re keen, it’s worth giving it a shot.
Photographing the sky takes planning, a lot of time and a huge amount of patience. And it does help to have Mother Nature on your side when attempting to photograph the Southern Lights in Tasmania.
Capturing good photographs of the Southern Lights is possible, even for beginners, if you have the right gear and follow a few basic rules.
1- You need a camera with manual settings, a sturdy tripod and a remote.
2- Keep your shutter speed no longer than 30 seconds or the stars will appear as star trails.
3- Set your f-stop to f4 and ISO should be at least 800 (you may be able to go as high as 3200).
4- Focus on infinity to make the stars as sharp as possible.
5- Charge up your extra batteries as the cold weather will drain the batteries very quickly.
Southern Lights Tasmania
Southern Lights tourism isn’t commercialised in the way Northern Lights tourism is in the Northern Hemisphere.
However, Tasmanian photographer Matt Glastonbury has perfected the art of photographing the Southern Lights.
1- Bridestowe Lavender Estate
Australia’s oldest and largest lavender farm is 55km north-east of Launceston.
Bridestowe Lavender Estate is a 45-minute drive from the Launceston city centre and the farm is a wonderfully picturesque spot.
The farm isn’t usually open to the public at night so capturing a stunning photo above is quite rare. If you do get the chance, you’ll be one of the few photographers with an amazing photo of the Tasmania lights reflecting off the lavender.
It’s worth visiting the farm during the day. The farm has 107ha of lavender lanes when in full bloom offers a spectacular sight.
Flowering occurs in December and January. The scent wafting through the air has been described as intoxicating.
Several tour operators have organised tours from Launceston and guided tours of the farm are available during the day. Entry is $10 but if you’re a resident of Tasmania, you can enter for free.
2- Cradle Mountain
The region is noted for its beautiful natural landscapes and Cradle Mountain, which is at the northern end of Cradle Mt – Lake St Clair National Park, is one of Tasmania’s most visited parks.
It’s also an area perfect for touring, with scenic drives past patchwork fields and seaside villages.
History buffs, food lovers and nature addicts will love this corner of the Apple Isle.
Allow 2.5 hours driving from Launceston to Cradle Mountain. Caravans, campervans, motorhomes and trailers are not permitted in the national park and a pass must be purchased before entering the park.
3- Eaglehawk Neck
The small coastal town of Eaglehawk Neck, on the Tasman Peninsula, 76km south-east of Hobart offers great opportunities to witness the Aurora Australis Tasmania.
The Tasmania lights appear in a variety of colours from pink to mauve and yellow to green.
The region is home to some of the most rugged and scenic coastal cliffs in the state, the historic Port Arthur site and the Tasman National Park.
The land known as the Neck is only 44 metres long and at one section it is only 30 metres wide. This narrow entrance was once guarded by a line of dogs chained to deter the escape of convicts from Port Arthur.
Today you’ll get a much warmer welcome. Walk freely around the site and hear of the many convict tales.
Striking rock formations, naturally sculpted by wind and rain, such as the Tessellated Pavement are a big drawcard to the region. Others include the Totem Pole and nearby Tasman’s Arch, Blowhole and Devil’s Kitchen.
Activities on offer are numerous: bushwalking, kayaking, rock climbing, hang gliding, surfing and diving. There are a variety of cruises and tours available.
The walking tracks through Tasman National Park are considered some of the best coastal walks in Australia. A current park pass is required to be purchased to enter the park.
It’s possible to see the Southern Lights from Hobart. A suburb of Clarence, Howrah is located on the beach and a short drive across the Derwent River from Hobart’s city centre. It’s a great spot to capture Southern Lights imagery close to a city.
Melaleuca is a remote wilderness in the far south-west of Tasmania accessible by sea, air or by foot.
When you’re out there, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. And you are in the middle of nowhere!
However, it’s surprising how accessible Melaleuca is from Hobart.
You can actually visit the region on a day trip but to get a good chance to see the Tasmania Aurora lights, you’d have to stay overnight.
The park attracts bushwalkers and birdwatchers and sightings of the orange-bellied parrot – one of the rarest birds in the world on the brink of extinction – is on the top of everyone’s list.
6- Mortimer Bay
Mortimer Bay is a great location for to enjoy fresh oysters Mortimer Bay is south-east of Hobart.
A thin slice of protected coastal reserve surrounds the bay.
7- Narawntapu National Park
The Milky Way stretching across the sky is only one of the attractions of this tranquil park in Tasmania’s central north coast.
The park has beaches, headlands, dunes, lagoons and a historic farm. It’s a haven for a variety of wildlife.
Known as the “Serengeti of Tasmania”, Narawntapu National Park is a popular area for birdwatching and is one of the best regions for viewing wildlife.
If you’re out at night, you may be rewarded with sightings of wombats, the Bennetts wallaby, Forester kangaroo and Tasmanian devil.
The Visitor Centre has interpretative displays, information such as maps and up-to-date advice, a picnic area and toilet facilities. Camping is available in the park at designated sites and fees are applicable. Best of all, the park is only a one-hour drive from Launceston.
8- Seven Mile Beach
15km east of Hobart, Seven Mile Beach is a popular day outing for locals. The Royal Hobart Golf Club, a championship golf course, is two blocks back from the beach and has dining options. There are options for accommodation from a caravan park to resorts.
9- South Arm
South of Hobart, South Arm is one of the best places to spot the Aurora Australis. It’s also a favourite place to escape from the city.
The beauty of the region is a lure to creative people, such as award-winning potter Ben Richardson, while historic buildings are another attraction.
One such building is the South Arm Post Office, which opened its doors on the 6 February 1856. South Arm is the spot for boating, fishing, beaches, views to the polar south and of course the Tasmania Aurora lights.
The township overlooks the mouth of the Derwent Estuary and the northern entrance to D’Entrecasteaux channel.
The Blessington Track is a scenic short coastal walk starting from the carpark adjacent to the war memorial and takes you along Jetty Road. It’s also suitable for bikes. The 4.5km South Arm Peninsula Trail, a gravel track, heads north from South Arm to Opossum Bay. It may be done in either direction.
When to see Aurora Australis in Tasmania
The Southern Lights in Tasmania can be viewed at any time of the year. However, as the Tasmania Aurora can only be seen at night and at the time of year when the sky is at its darkest.
There’s a better chance of seeing the Southern Lights Tasmania in winter (July to August) and some say that the equinox in September is also a good time for viewing the Southern Lights.
For tracking them, use Star Walk, an interactive astronomy guide app.
The Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook group is another good source of information for a crowdsourced Aurora Australis forecast.