Photographing Aurora Australis On Stewart Island

The Southern Lights are nearly invisible to the naked eye, but photographers spent the weekend chasing the night sky in ... Tim Bond

The Southern Lights are nearly invisible to the naked eye, but photographers spent the weekend chasing the night sky in hopes of capturing the wondrous light show.

After years of dreaming Tim Bond was finally able to fulfil his ambition to photograph the Aurora Australis from the awkwardly northern location of Mt Taranaki. 

Bond, of Vicarious NZ Photography, said his Sunday night trek to a viewing platform on Mt Taranaki to capture the faint glow of the Southern Lights was quite literally a shot in the dark.

"It's very rare to see it down here," he said. "You can't see it with it the naked eye so I was quite pleased to see it on the back of the camera."

Tim Bond has wanted to capture the Aurora Australis for years, finally succeeding Sunday night at Dawson Falls. Tim Bond

Tim Bond has wanted to capture the Aurora Australis for years, finally succeeding Sunday night at Dawson Falls.

The Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis, are usually only visible from the South Island but were able to be seen from as far away as Auckland over the weekend. 

The glowing lights were caused by a geomagnetic storm - the result of a large hole in the Sun's surface and a solar wind shock wave, which typically hits Earth's magnetic field 24 to 36 hours after the event.

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Though Sunday was the final fading "tail-off" period, Bond said "heaps of people" were out photographing Taranaki's night sky.

When he trekked up to the viewing platform at Dawson Falls about 8.15pm, he said he was met with the sight of 10 photographers already set up to catch the light. 

"There were people coming and going. It was hard getting a good viewing spot."

Bond explained the platform looked directly south, which was the direction you needed to face to see the spectacle.

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And with his Canon 6D set to a 25 second exposure, with a 2.8 f/stop and a 10,000 ISO, Bond watched and waited.

"If it didn't pan out, there was always the Milky Way to shoot," he said.

But then: "You could see yellow beams come up and then there was a pink glow."

With the naked eye, the average person may have only seen "a very, very faint light" when the lights hit their peak at 9pm.

It was a sight Bond had waited years to capture.

"I was down south last week but I missed it because the weather was bad," he said.

Want to view the Aurora Australis?

Check out Aurora Services for updates, predictions and alerts.

The Southern Lights tend to occur with just a 30 minute warning. They can occur all year but are best seen during the winter months, from March to September.

If a forecast reads Kp5 or higher, a sighting is more likely but the sky must be clear and dark.

Top Spots to photograph the Southern Lights in Taranaki

So long as you're facing south on a clear night, high above the ground and far enough from city lights, you can capture the Southern Lights. Here are some spots to increase your chances of seeing the glow. 

Syme Hut: The Syme Hut is located 1940 metres on Fanthams Peak. The Department of Conservation (Doc) suggests alpine climbing experience and appropriate equipment are needed for winter climbs and conditions should be checked before attempting.

Pouakai Tarns: Dazzling lights in the sky with a classic backdrop of Mt Taranaki can be captured at the Tarns. Plus, an overnight stay at the Pouakai Hut makes for prime sunrise photography.

Dawson Falls: The viewing platform faces directly south, so you can't miss the lights in the sky. This may be a popular spot, so be sure to arrive early.

Cape Egmont Lighthouse: Though light pollution will disturb a long exposure shot, the lighthouse in Opunake offers a safe location with a wide, open night sky.

The Lion's Lookout: Also located in Opunake by the ramp next to the old wharf, the Lion's Lookout offers clear views of the Taranaki Bight and won't have the haze of city lights.

 - Stuff

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