Why Is It Tricky to See the Southern Lights?
Why aren't the Southern Lights as popular as the Northern Lights?
Well it’s all about land. Head high up to the Northern Hemisphere towards the Arctic Circle and there is land aplenty. You have Northern Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia all heading high up to where the Aurora comes out to play. This makes finding a nice location with accommodations very easy. You can go on trips and spend days relaxing in comfort while the night sky lights up for you. However, the Southern Hemisphere is a little different.
Due to the nature of the land masses in the south, there are very few places that reach down low enough towards Antarctica to offer ideal Aurora viewing spots. If you look at a map of the polar regions, you will see the south is just surrounded by water. Of course you could go and camp out on the Antarctic ice, but that is not something your average person can do.
Despite the fact that viewing the Southern Lights can be very tricky, there are places you can go to see them. So we have put together a list of our top five places to view the Southern Lights.
1. South Georgia Island
South Georgia Island is one of the southern most islands anywhere in the world. This island is encased by sea ice for much of the year, but you can get there around March and sometimes even later. There are cruises that will take you to there, and if you do visit in March, this is a great time to see the Southern Lights. They are most active between the months of March and September which is of course the Antarctic winter. Leave it any later than March and the conditions are just to dangerous for travel.
South Georgia Island itself does not have any permanent residents, but during the summer months there is a population of up to 2,000 people there. So if you do manage to get a visit in, you will find some basic elements of civilization. Due to the fact that this is really as far south as you can get without becoming a serious explorer, South Georgia tops the list for places to view the Southern Lights.
2. Stewart Island, New Zealand
If you want something a little easier to manage, Stewart Island may suit you. It is located off the southern tip of New Zealand. The island has a large national park called Rakiura National Park. The name is a Maori word which translates as "the land of the glowing skies."
Stewart Island has a wide range of accommodations available. If you want to improve your chances of viewing the lights, then you should look to go in the winter months when there are less daylight hours.
The population on Stewart Island is quite sparse, so it is easy to find an isolated spot away from any light pollution to enhance the view of Aurora Australis.
If a cruise does not appeal to you, keep your feet firmly planted on solid ground then Stewart Island. Even if you don’t see the light show, there are still plenty of activities on the island to keep you entertained.
3. The Falkland Islands
A location that many people seem to forget about is the Falkland Islands. This small group of islands lie around 400 miles off the coast of Argentina in South America. The islands are home to around 2,500 people. This is an area of outstanding beauty and incredible wildlife. You can see penguins, elephant seals, and much more in this area.
In 2010, engineers installed a monitoring system that was set to record the activity of the Aurora Australis. This itself is evidence that the Falkland Islands are a decent place to watch the display. For your best chance of seeing anything, you need to head down between April and August. These are the best months, as there is less daylight and a higher chance of spotting something in the sky.
The Falklands have plenty of accommodations and you can also use this as a stopping of point when visiting South America. For this reason we have put the Falklands in the number three spot.
4. Ushuaia, Argentina
The fourth place on our list is Ushuaia, which is located in the far southern point of Argentina. This is the world’s most southern city and thus is a good spot for Aurora viewing. Again, as with other places on our list, you do need some luck and the right conditions. Although Ushuaia is further south than some of the other destinations we have discussed, the fact is that the city has a reputation for poor weather. So even if everything is right and the sky lights up, if you have cloud cover you're not going to see anything.
There is some stunning scenery in the area, however, and wonderful wildlife. The city is also not that difficult to get to, as it has its own airport. That’s why Ushuaia makes it onto our top five list. If you do head down to South America, you want to make sure you go in the winter months to improve your chances of a spectacular show. You will also want to head out of the city to somewhere more remote to avoid any light pollution.
The final suggestion on our list is one that is unrealistic for most people, but the best place for viewing the Southern Lights is actually Antarctica itself. Here, the lights are most visible, most active, and most impressive. In the winter months, the sky is lit up on a regular basis. However, the area features -50 degree temperatures, howling gales, and dangerous ice packs.
There are ways of getting into the Antarctic in the winter months, but these methods are very costly and sometimes even dangerous. You can get cruises a little later in the season, but there are limited hours of darkness, so your chances of seeing the lights are reduced. The later you leave it, the better, but the sea ice then becomes a real problem.
If you are one of the lucky few who do manage to get far enough south in the winter, then you can be sure the Aurora Australis will put on a light show that you will never forget.
So there you have it, some of the best places to view the Southern Lights. The reality is that you are going to find it far harder to catch a glimpse of these than you would the Northern Lights. It is just a challenge to get far enough south to really see the best of them. But, with the right conditions, some patience, and a little luck, you can see some wonderful displays in any of the locations we have mentioned. If you are heading to one of these areas to see the Southern Lights we hope you get some wonderful displays of the beautiful Aurora Australis.