Where and how to see the Aurora Australis in Victoria

A green Aurora Australis in the night sky

Nicola Dowse

Posted July 06, 2022

With a bit of planning, you can see the spectacular Southern Lights even in skies above Melbourne.

The Aurora Borealis is a spectacular celestial light show. But for Australians, seeing the natural phenomenon (commonly known as the Northern Lights) means travelling upwards of 15,000km to countries like Canada, Norway and Iceland.  

Luckily, there’s an alternative. The southern hemisphere has its own version of the Aurora Borealis called the Aurora Australis, and while it’s less famous than its northern twin, it’s just as magnificent to behold.  

Victoria is one of the best-placed locations to witness the Aurora Australis, with keen stargazers able to spot the Southern Lights even within Melbourne.

What is an aurora?

Though auroras are only visible at night, they’re caused by a celestial body visible only during the day. 

“The aurorae are all about the Sun, what the Sun is doing,” says Russell Cockman, Solar Selection Director for the Astronomical Society of Victoria. 

Cockman explains that when you see an aurora, what you’re actually seeing is ‘solar wind’ - masses of charged particles (or ions) that are constantly emitted from the Sun.  

“Basically, the Earth is constantly being bathed in the solar wind, and we don't even notice it.”

This solar wind can vary in intensity just like winds on Earth; often it’s a gentle breeze but occasionally it’s stronger, like a gale made up of countless charged particles.  

When these particles reach Earth, they’re funnelled towards the north and south poles by the planet’s magnetic field. Here, they can end up in Earth’s upper atmosphere, around 300-400km above sea level.

“The energy of these particles, when they hit the molecules and atoms in the Earth's upper atmosphere, can cause those molecules to become ‘excited’,” says Cockman. “They will then give off light of various colours, reds and greens and perhaps some blues and violets.” 

“On the ground, we see those displays of light as the aurorae.”

What’s an antipodean aurora? 

The Aurora Australis is the southern hemisphere’s answer to the famed Aurora Borealis, and it can be spotted throughout Victoria. Cockman has even seen the celestial phenomenon within Melbourne itself. 

“I was walking on Elwood Beach in 2005 and I saw the distinctive beams of light coming up,” he says.  

The reason it’s often harder to spot the Aurora Australis comes down to geography. “The Aurora Borealis is better known because there’s more landmass in the northern hemisphere in the latitudes where the aurora can be observed from,” Cockman says. 

“Whereas our southern hemisphere is mainly water.” 

However, during periods of strong solar activity, it’s possible to see the Aurora Australis across southern Australia (including Victoria) and as far north as Canberra, Sydney and even southern Queensland.


A red and green aurora over Port Phillip Bay

The Aurora Australis can be seen within Melbourne, like in this 2012 image taken at Rickett's Point. Photo: Russell Cockman 

How to spot the Aurora Australis  

It’s possible to spot the Aurora Australis by luck, but your chances are vastly improved with a little preparation.  

Location, location, location  

The further south you are, the more likely you’ll glimpse the Aurora Australis. But it’s just as important to have minimal light pollution, as well as an unobscured view of the southern horizon.  

Within Melbourne, Cockman recommends Rickett’s Point in Beaumaris (“Probably the best site in Melbourne to have a look for the Aurora Australis”) because of its clear, south-facing view and lack of light pollution.  

Further afield, he also notes Portsea, Queenscliff and Cape Schanck as good aurora-spotting options, as well as anywhere on the state’s southern coastline.  

Know what to look for 

If asked to picture an aurora, you might think of a starry night sky with undulating waves of green, red, pink, blue and purple.  

While that’s an accurate representation, auroras can also look a lot more subdued if there’s only a small amount of solar wind.  

“If it's a moderate display, you may expect to see a sort of a whitish band fairly low down to the south... and you might see some beams of light coming up from the horizon into the sky. If it’s a particularly good display you may start to see some colours.” 

If you think you’ve spotted an aurora but can’t quite see the colours, Cockman recommends taking a photograph. “The colours will come out very easily in a digital photo of the display, [with] better colours than what the eye can see.” 

Time it right 

Much like the Earth has seasons, the Sun also goes through a cycle of sorts. The difference is that the solar cycle takes around 11 years in total and measures the number of sunspots on the Sun’s surface.  

The period that has the peak number of sunspots is called ‘solar maximum’ and features increased levels of ions being ejected out into space and towards the Earth – where they can create auroras.  

“We're heading towards the solar maximum around perhaps the end of 2024, early 2025,” says Cockman, meaning we’re potentially coming into a peak period for auroras.  

Auroras can be seen year-round, but they often increase around the annual spring and autumn equinoxes.  

“That is simply due to the fact that the Earth's magnetic field is better aligned with the solar wind during those times of the year,” Cockman says.  

Check the space weather forecast 

Solar wind is a type of ‘space weather’. Just like regular weather, you can look up the space weather forecast on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to see how much solar activity is predicted, helping you determine if it’s a good night to go aurora hunting. 

You’ll also want to check the regular weather forecast, as it’s more difficult to see an aurora in heavily clouded skies. 


A red and green aurora over Port Phillip Bay

If you think an aurora is occurring but can't quite see it, try taking a photo to see the colours better. Photo: Russell Cockman

The next best thing 

While witnessing the Aurora Australis is a spectacular sight to behold, it’s not exactly a guarantee as to when you can see it. If you’re time-poor or want a guaranteed spectacle to observe this winter, look no further than Borealis on the Lake. 

This new outdoor art installation from Swiss artist Dan Archer recreates the famous Northern Lights over Lake Daylesford using laser beams and theatrical hazers alongside a tranquil soundtrack that’ll transport you to the Arctic Circle.  

You can expect the weather to be appropriately arctic too – Borealis on the Lake runs from July 15 to September 4, with visitors advised to dress warm. Food and drink vendors will be available on site, with well-behaved, leashed dogs also welcome to attend. 

Need somewhere to stay while hunting down the Aurora Australis? 
Discover one of RACV’s well-located resorts →