Cloudy with a chance of Aurora Australis

Viewing the milky way and Kapiti Island from Peka Peak beach

The last couple of weeks have had a few opportunities for some interesting night time photography. There have been a few nights with a good chance of Aurora Australis activity and on clear nights there have been some final chances to capture the brightest part of the milky way low in the night sky before it disappears below the southern hemisphere horizon until next year.

Viewing stars and aurora is heavily dependant on the weather and specifically a lack of cloud. When I got out to try and capture aurora action I knew the weather forecast wasn’t great but if I stayed at home then I’d definitely not see anything. As it happened I got to see almost no aurora but viewed a lot of cloud and frequent bouts of rain so there was plenty of time spent in the car trying to predict when it would be safe to take the camera out for some photography.

Stormy viewing from inside the car
Stormy viewing from inside the car

Once out of the car it was then a patient wait to see if the cloud would clear enough for some star and aurora viewing. The sky did mostly clear for a brief period but not long enough or at the right time for the aurora to show. Better luck next time perhaps.

Waiting for the cloud to clear at the Red Rocks carpark
Waiting for the cloud to clear at the Red Rocks carpark

Another night saw me driving north to try and get a photo of the milky way over Kapiti Island. Initially I stopped at the lookout on the Paekakariki hill road and then the beach at the north end of Paekakariki but in both places the bulk of the milky way was sitting to the left of Kapiti Island. Driving further north I settled on a spot at Peka Peka beach, deserted and mostly free of any lights. It wasn’t perfect and there was a haze of thin cloud in the sky but I got some interesting photos and was able to try capturing a panorama or two as well.

Viewing the milky way and Kapiti Island from Peka Peka beach
A panorama of the milky way over Kapiti Island from Peka Peka beach
A longer exposure over Kapiti Island
A longer exposure over Kapiti Island

The reverse view looking back towards the Tararua’s was also good and I spent some time watching the International Space Station moving across the sky. Next time I try this I’ll have to try this earlier in the year and go further north. Better preparation! By this time next year we might even have helpful applications like Photopills and the updated version of TPE available for Android (both containing useful tools for visualising the location of the milky way for photography amongst other things).

Stars over the Tararua's from Peka Peka beach
Stars over the Tararua’s from Peka Peka beach

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