Seeing The Aurora

I’m officially back in the United States after a month off since finishing exams. I’ve done quite a lot and I’m in the process of writing some of those adventures down.  In the meantime, I’d like to share one of my favorite adventures so far.

In early November I went with two other friends from IES to Lake Tekapo, located (roughly) in the center of the South Island, and it is a gem of a place.  The area surrounding the town is under a strict “low light” zone, meaning all street and house lights can’t go above a certain brightness.  The reason? There’s the University of Canterbury’s observatory located on Mt. John, located just outside the town and next to the lake.  The area around Tekapo is basically a plain, with larger mountains surrounding the area. This makes for a really great view from up on Mt. John, but I’ll get to that in just a bit.  Here’s a few photos of the area:

View of Mt. John Observatory


View from Mt. John Observatory

View of the lake from Tekapo

The three of us knew that we wanted to go to Tekapo together, and the opportunity really appeared when we noticed that there was a good chance for an aurora to happen.  And for those not aware, an aurora is basically the various colored lights in the sky as a result of the sun ejecting a lot of mass towards the earth.  We got into Tekapo and then waited for a bit until it got really dark and went up to Mt. John.  What we could see was absolutely stunning.  A complete 360° view at eye level of stars, and after an hour or more the sun went down allowing us to see even more stars.  It was sort of like:

A pretty accurate representation of the stargazing at Lake Tekapo

After waiting even longer (and having to lay down in my sleeping bag because it was so cold at night) we finally started to get a glimpse of a green-like glow.  And once it got more prominent, the view of the aurora australis was absolutely stunning. Finally, I can knock seeing an aurora off my bucket list!  Here are two photos one of my friends got to take of the night sky (which can be pretty difficult using a handheld camera, by the way) while we were there:

Venus and the moon at Tekapo

A snapshot of the aurora just beyond Lake Tekapo

The fact that Lake Tekapo has a “low light” zone is awesome.  It allows for people to see and appreciate the stars without having to travel extra distance to get away from bright lights.  In fact, while we were star gazing we noticed the brightest things on the ground weren’t the street lights from the town, but rather cars in the far distance that are passing through / around Tekapo.  This night was very awe-inspiring and I will never forget it.


“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.”

Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes