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South Island | New Zealand | Aurora Australis | Southern LightsGuest post by Jennifer Branje |

New Zealand's southern skies are world renowned for star gazing. With amazing clarity in winter, constellations are easily observed, photographed and studied. If you're lucky, you may also meet Aurora Australis, our utterly splendid Southern Lights.  

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Mother Nature sure has a way of showing us just how small we are in the bigger scheme of things.

We've all seen stunning photographs of electromagnetic light storms and been 'wowed'.

Experimentation with camera equipment conducive to a tight budget, has never enabled me to capture the beauty, translucence or movement of light from the Aurora Australis. Though disappointing, failure led me to what I believe is a far more satisfying and spiritual awakening to these phenomena.

Electromagnetic forecasting is becoming increasingly accurate, and recently, to my delight, a whopper Aurora was forecast. Photographers from Canterbury to Southland were readying their equipment to capture our Southern Sky and its delightful display. Many I had engaged with during my journey to gain ‘the photo’ were chattering in terms of exposure, lenses, camera brands and optimal light.

Not me. A la natural was the plan!

On a cool and very crisp Southland evening in July, I donned my winter woollies and ventured out into the front paddock.  

The tranquillity of rural Southland enveloped me, a stillness disturbed only by the roar of amorous stags nearby. I often cursed winter here, with shortened hours of daylight, frozen ground and the inconvenience of the cold. Tonight, winter and its darkness was my friend.

I closed my eyes and stood still for a few minutes, filled with anticipation. When all recognition of light had left my consciouness, I opened my eyes. 

There she was!

Her light danced like a brightly hemmed skirt on the hills. Raw, untamed, magical rays of splendour.  Aurora was like a little girl in her first fairy dress, twirling and dancing like no one was watching. Then she’d change, to the rampantly bashed keyboard of a rock pianist or the dull thud from a jazz bass. Aurora Australis was magnificent! A natural strobe light with no reasonable beat, perfectly untamed and wild. At that moment I just didn't exist! My being was absolutley ineffectual, not even a dot on the landscape!  

A slight southerly breeze and the inability to feel my toes brought this amazing experience to its end.

I wandered toward the house with a deep sense of ‘knowing’. Tonight, Mother Nature had exposed me to her might, her beauty and to my own insignificance. It was a special lesson and one I will recall and treasure always.

Southern New Zealand has been internationally recognised as a significant area for stargazing. Though hard to predict, the best time to view the Aurora Australis in southern New Zealand is during winter, from March to September. 

You can check the Aurora Forecast here 

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve offers a sublime stargazing experience. It’s also home to the Mt John Observatory operated by the University of Canterbury.

Further South & more recently, Rakiura/Stewart Island has also received 'Darky Sky Reserve' status. 

Images captured by Yoshiaki Taniguchi, Rakiura/Stewart Island, May 14, 2019. 

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