Nature’s elusive fireworks display is worth the trip.
Seeing the northern lights is often high on travelers’ bucket lists, along with the “duck face selfie next to the South Asian waterfall”. The electromagnetic phenomenon is downright fascinating, but also elusive and inherently unpredictable. Still, an intimate rendezvous with the Aurora Borealis is as easy as catching a sunset on the west coast compared to the relative rarity of its southern counterpart – Aurora Australis.
You shouldn’t be so shocked by its scarcity. After all, a little less than 1/3 of the entire land on earth is south of the equator, and you have to be really far south to have a chance on solid ground at all. Those lucky enough to be in the right place when the literal stardust is optimally aligned will be rewarded with a spectacle that knows no rival.
It occurs when charged solar particles collide with atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen atoms. Collisions at different heights in the thermosphere lead to different colors. You’re much more likely to see a rainbow of light down here. A menagerie of violets, oranges and pink hues that accompanies the ground green most commonly associated with aurora borealis.
Even if you know the science, the live spectacle feels like pure magic. Plan your next visit to one of these far-flung destinations and increase your chances exponentially. May they ever be in your favor.
MORE: Do you want more astronomy? Check out our Backyard Observatory range.
Sunsets in Ushuaia are like opening acts for the Aurora Australis | Sandra Kreuzinger / Moment / Getty
With around 60,000 inhabitants, Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world. That said, it’s very accessible compared to other places on this list. Flights from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires arrive here several times a day. Winter is your best window to spy on the spectral anomaly. It falls south of the equator between June and September. However, the lights are known to appear as early as March. Just be ready to leave the city to minimize the effects of light pollution. The sky over Invercargill offers the full spectrum at night Kwang Chun Gan / Shutterstock
Invercargill, New Zealand
Invercargill is about as far south as possible on mainland New Zealand. Still, it remains accessible by Kiwi standards – it has its own airport and is solidly positioned on the South Island’s freeway system (at the very end of Route 6). Late in the evening, hurry to Tiwai Point, a dramatic promontory about 20 minutes south of downtown. Things look good especially when you are here in mid-August, Aurora’s peak season.
MORE: If you decide to just move here, it’s surprisingly easyThis is what New Zealanders refer to as the standard night sky | Primeimages / E + / Getty
Stewart Island, New Zealand
If you’re not afraid of the hour-long ferry ride, you can stretch even further south. When you arrive in the port town of Oban on Stewart Island, you have an even better chance of saying hello to the lights. That’s because most of this remote area is covered by Rakiura National Park. The sky is clear and there are many viewpoints.
MORE: New Zealand is full of incredible islandsPenguins have also been known to hear Pink Floyd when the mood hits them | Power forever / E + / Getty
South Georgia Island, Antarctica
Your best opportunity to observe the Southern Lights takes the maximum amount of planning. And sea legs. It’s good. Nothing is easy, is it? If so, you’ll have to jump aboard a cruise ship or other expedition line and navigate the notoriously treacherous waters of the Drake Passage. A three-day trip from Ushuaia or Port Stanley will take you to one of the most desolate parts of the world. This otherworldly destination is known for some of the most vibrant and vibrant Aurora Australis exhibits. But it is a capricious phenomenon. So pack up tightly and be patient. Good things come to those who wait. It is difficult to imagine that a sight is “good-natured”.
MORE: These are the most beautiful places – day or night – in AntarcticaChile’s twilight hours are also explosive light shows | Christofer Burgos / EyeEm / Getty
Punta Arenas, Chile
This former Chilean penal colony was founded in 1584 along the Strait of Magellan and offers a lot to discover locally. But if you’re here in May or June, chances are you’ll keep your eyes on the sky. It’s only about a 3.5-hour flight from Santiago and yet it feels half a world apart. The region’s oceanic climate holds the temperature … for a sub-polar region. So it is one of the “warmer” places where you can patiently wait for an auroral emergence. Still, expect temperatures to drop below freezing in the middle of the night. Dress appropriately.Chasing Light – Photography by James Stone james-stone.com/Moment/Getty
Tasmania is pretty much the Stewart Island of Australia. It has a similar southerly position (just a few degrees of latitude north) and sufficient availability for pristine wilderness. All points below the capital Hobart are ideal targets for aurora chase. However, some places like Bruny Island do require a boat. Instead, set your claim along the shoals of sand of the South Arm Peninsula. You’re far enough out of town to take in the dark skies – and have more than just a battle with sun dust.
MORE: Tasmania is also home to world class beachesEvery night in the Falkland Islands begins with a parade of colors | imageBROKER / Matthias Graben / Getty
Falkland Islands, Argentina
And now for some not-so-accessible destinations. The Falkland Islands are about 1200 miles south of Buenos Aires, and flights typically only operate about once a week. Don’t expect much accommodation in the bustling metropolis of Port Stanley (2,000 residents) either. However, it is precisely this type of seclusion that provides the best conditions for optimal Aurora performance. June to July are usually the rush hour. You will likely enjoy the show all to yourself – apart from a few thousand penguins and albatross by your side. Brad Japhe is a freelance journalist with a wicked case of get-up-and-gos. He enjoys his whiskey properly and his IPA hazy. Although he’s currently quarantined on the Big Island of Hawaii, he’s usually at the crossroads of food, alcohol, and travel. Follow him @Journeys_with_Japhe.