Chasing the Aurora Australis

I had an idea last week that it’d be nice to try and get a photo of the Robin Hut (of Miniature Hikes fame) at night with a good star filled sky. The weather this last week has been amazing, proper summer heat with little wind and clear skies, so I kept intending to head out to the south coast each evening over the weekend but for a variety of reasons never ended up going. Then on Monday night there were indications that a show of the aurora australis was possible so this was the kick I needed to head out for some night-time photography.

There are various phone apps and websites to help with predicting an aurora show but often the best bet is to see what the experts think is going to happen. To this end I am a member of the Aurora Australis facebook group where a number of clued up people post regular updates on the potential for activity. Things that help with being able to see the aurora start with the right space conditions followed by appropriate weather (clear skies), night time activity and looking in the right direction (south) at the right time. From Wellington its not often possible to see the aurora with the naked eye, a long exposure on a digital camera being required to bring out the colours. It also helps to be further south with better shows at the bottom of the south island but seeing as I live in Porirua the Wellington south coast will have to suffice.

So I got to the Red Rocks car park and found a gap to park amongst all of the freedom campers. It was just as well I had visited the Robin Hut previously as it would be difficult to find it at night by torchlight. I was soon setting up the tripod and camera alone on the little plateau with a vista of stars and dark scenery. I took a few photos and was happy to see a faint aurora on the horizon. It was then a series of experiments using my torch to light the hut while the long exposure (20-25 seconds) captured the stars and the red glow in the distance.

Robin Hut with a faint aurora
Robin Hut with a faint aurora

Other than a couple of passing 4wd vehicles and two other photographers near the car park I was still alone on as I walked down to the beach for some more shots. The activity was dying away and I needed to get some sleep to still function at work the next day so I slowly made my way back to the car, taking a few more photos along the way.

Red Rocks walkway at night
Red Rocks walkway at night
Freedom campers underneath the milky way
Freedom campers underneath the milky way

My first photograph of the aurora australis was back on the 8th January. The aurora that night was much more powerful but was also not visible to the eye largely because there was a bright moon in the sky as well. Any light source (the moon, streetlights etc) will reduce aurora and star visibility. Still, it was a good capture and further south in Dunedin and Bluff (and over the ditch in Tasmania) it was spectacular.

The aurora from Moa Point
The aurora from Moa Point

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