By Jordi Lippe-McGraw. Photos: Getty.
Catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights has quickly shot to the top of many a bucket list. In fact, the overwhelming interest in the colorful spectacle has become such a draw that U.S. travelers at times outnumber the local population in Iceland. But, while people flock to destinations like Iceland, Norway and Finland, now is the time to catch the aurora borealis’s just-as-stunning southern counterpart, the aurora australis, as winter comes to the Southern Hemisphere.
In fact, the first ever documented chartered flight to see the Southern Lights took place Thursday in New Zealand, where passengers were able to see the spectacular display out the window of a plane. "Nobody has ever really done that before,” Otago Museum director Dr. Ian Griffin, who led the sold-out expedition, told the BBC. “This was a world first. People have done it in the Northern Hemisphere. The aurora doesn't just appear in specific locations, it can move around a bit, and we were trying to chase it across the Southern Ocean, which was quite fun.”
While this particular flight is expected to repeat later in the year or in 2018, there are plenty of other destinations where you can book a trip now to see the aurora australis. Accommodations may be trickier to come by due to the remoteness of some of the spots, but these locales are worth the trek nonetheless.
South Georgia Island As one of the southernmost islands in the world, South Georgia is covered in ice most of the year. But, during March, it's easier to visit because there's less ice, and there are boat tours like Polar Cruises that will actually take you the island. Since the Southern Lights are most active from March to September, the accessibility during those months makes it the perfect time to catch the natural light show. Go any later and the conditions become dangerous.
Stewart Island, New Zealand Not as far south as South Georgia Island, Stewart Island is much easier to get to. It’s home to Rakiura National Park, which in Maori means “the land of the glowing skies,” where there are lots of accommodation options available (South Sea Hotel and Stewart Island Lodge are two options). Again, it’s best to book a trip during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months as there is less daylight—and more chances to see the aurora australis.
Falkland Islands Along with seeing penguins and elephant seals, this small group of islands off the coast of Argentina is also a great place to view the Southern Lights. It’s such a spot for the light show that a permanent monitoring system of the aurora australis was even installed in 2010. Prime viewing months are April through August, and accommodation options abound.
Ushuaia, Argentina As the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia is relatively easy to get to, and is a prime spot for viewing the colorful display. The city has its own airport and plenty of places to spend the night, but frequent bad weather can ruin your chances of spectacular viewing, so plan a multi-day visit. There’s plenty to do in town—make sure to include a visit to the End of the World Museum, and on a clear night, head away from the light pollution to increase your chances of seeing the natural phenomenon.
Antarctica While a rugged trip to Antarctica is not for everyone, it is by far the best place to see the Southern Lights. During the winter, a colorful sky is the norm, but the temperatures can drop to -56 degrees Fahrenheit, making it very unpleasant and dangerous. It’s also difficult to get to during the winter, as most cruises to the continent take place during the summer months. But, adventurers can still get there with companies like Hurtigruten, which offers trips in March when the lights are still visible and the conditions are safe enough to travel.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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