Rakiura/Stewart Island, the Southern land of Glowing Skies
Accustomed as we are to hear people raving, and deservedly so, about the unforgettable experience that is to watch the Aurora Borealis in some of the high latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere, we tend to forget that the South also puts up quite a proud display . The Maori tribes of New Zealand that first saw this unusually beautiful phenomenon called it ¨Glowing Skies¨ and the land where it´s most prominent, Rakiura.
Steart Island/Rakiura lies in the southernmost tip of New Zealand, an island no longer than 75km and 45km from East to West only accessible from Invercargill and Bluff by Ferry, fixed-wing aircrafts and helicopters.
Only 1% of Rakiura is inhabited, with the majority of its residents living in its only township, Oban, on Halfmoon Bay. This quaint little place is home to around 400 permanent residents, all of them notorious for their friendliness and willingness to share with travellers their pride in their heritage. If you are lucky, you might even hear some of the old stories about their somewhat subtle attempts at becoming independent from New Zealand and have the island renamed its original Maori name, Rakiura.
A mock ceremony even featured a Declaration of Independence on 31 July 1970 when the new republic’s flag was unveiled but none of these efforts seemed to have lead to a sovereign Rakiura and the island currently remains an integral part of New Zealand.
In Oban you´ll find pretty much everything you need from your backpacker, motels and luxury accomodation to your pub, fishing charters, diving expeditions, sea-kayaking and access to beautiful bush walks.
And beyond Oban, you´ll discover pure tranquility in the form of New Zealand’s newest national park – Rakiura National Park.
The park features nearly 160,000 hectares of former nature reserves, scenic reserves, and state forest areas, pristine beaches, see seals, penguins, kiwi, weka and many other native birds.
But with all its soothing and peaceful beauty, your most memorable moment in Stewart Island will probably not be an encounter with a seal or the discovery of scenic inlet. – it will be a curtain of light in the summer skies, a diffuse glow of green and red that will have you thanking your karma for having granted you such a special moment in your life.
Apparently, the fierce solar winds that occur during the long summer nights in the island interact with the earth´s magnetic field to create this magnificent and eerie light display. Like its northern sibling, the aurora australis is strongest in an oval centered on the south magnetic pole, like so:
This is because (and I quote from the geniuses at Universe Today), they are the result of collisions between energetic electrons (sometimes also protons) and atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere … and the electrons get their high energies by being accelerated by solar wind magnetic fields and the Earth’s magnetic field (the motions are complicated, but essentially the electrons spiral around the Earth’s magnetic field lines and ‘touch down’ near to where those lines become vertical).
The distance that makes Stewart Island a difficult destination for most people is what enhances its serenity and seclusion – truly a once in a life time experience.