Aurora hunting.

Before I moved to Tasmania, I knew about the northern lights. Everybody knows about the aurora borealis (heck, I even know how to spell it). If you’re close enough to the top of the world, sometimes you get a spectacular natural light show. It’s on most people’s bucket lists. Heck, it’s definitely on mine.

What I didn’t really know before I got here is that the southern lights are a thing, too. I don’t know how we Aussies ended up putting our stamp on the name, but down at the south pole it’s called the aurora australis (despite NZ, Chile and Argentina all reaching further south than Australia). Most people haven’t heard of it (compared to the borealis) and I expect that’s because southern land masses don’t get as close to the australis as northern land masses get to the borealis, so unless it’s an almost off-the-charts geomagnetic storm, the best we get is a beautifully coloured southern horizon.

A few weeks ago, some friends and I started talking about going on a stargazing adventure, which led to wondering if we could throw an aurora hunt in the mix. We didn’t take the conversation any further, but we should have, because only a couple of weeks after, I caught a glimpse of a bit of an aurora buzz on twitter. But we were unprepared! I hadn’t even looked at my camera! I had no idea how to take decent night photos! And of course, we missed out on the most spectacular aurora display there’s been since I moved here.

We rallied forces and tried the following evening, but of course two in a row would be too easy and it was not to be. It did give me the chance to trial my night photography skills, with thanks to a couple of patient friends, and I’ll admit I was still fairly blown away by the sky. I think that night was the first time I’ve looked up into the stars and thought, “Oh yeah, there’s the Milky Way, it’s freaking bright as all get-out and impossible to miss”. My friend also pointed out the Magellanic Clouds, or: two other galaxies that are identifiable by the naked eye. Two other galaxies. Oh, hey, there are a couple of galaxies. No big deal.

Learning about stars is amazing and I was pretty happy with at least a couple of the shots that I brought home.

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Straight off the camera.

That weekend was only a couple of weeks ago, and so since then we’ve been keeping our eyes peeled and staying alert for any aurora warnings. I got out of a movie on Friday night (on the State Cinema rooftop) to a text from my friend, Liz. “Aurora alert! Caaaaaall meeeeeeeeee“. We jumped in my car and headed back down to Clifton Beach, where we’d been taking night photos (and wishing for an aurora) a fortnight ago.

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Beautiful, yes. Aurora? No.

This is a thirty second exposure; it wasn’t actually that bright out, but it was still freaking bright! It was only two nights after the full moon so that slowly waning bad boy was still lighting up the night. We took a few night shots, jumped on the internet to see what locations other people were shooting from, and jumped back in the car to see if we couldn’t find somewhere a little more proper south-facing.

We ended up struggling our way up some dunes at Hope Beach and setting the tripods up. Liz was the first to get her hopes up, while I remained skeptical.

“I’m pretty sure you’re just seeing what you want to see.”

We both kept snapping away anyway (though I guess it’s not really snappy when you’re running 15-30sec exposures) because, from my point of view, at least it was more night photo practise.

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12:30am. Green? Pfft.

I played around with some more night photography. I’ve since learnt that island is called Betsey Island. I think that island is my new favourite island. BETSEY. Afjahldkjakafddkad I literally just read more about it and Betsey Island is accompanied by Little Betsey Island and Betsey Reef, and they’re an Important Bird Area because Little Penguins breed there. I’m out. I’m out. I’m done.

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12:54am. Betsey Island. Giggle.

Over the next half hour, I slowly started to change my mind about the green horizon.

At first I thought that maybe I just wanted to see something so badly that I started seeing it. Liz and I even got to the point where we were discussing clinical trials of placebos and mind tricks but finally I gave in and just accepted it. I think it did actually grow stronger during that half hour we stood there, but it’s still amusing how long it took me to accept the fact that the horizon did have a faint green halo.

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1:05am. Erm, okay. Perhaps you’re right.

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1:13am. Omgaurora.

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1:28am. The littlest aurora halo that could!

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Partner in crime, hard at work.

By then it was almost 2am and the aurora appeared to be fading a little, and we’d taken all the photographs we could. It was time to head back down the sand dunes and home, via McDonald’s for sustenance and 3am snacks.

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Nobody fell, hurrah! (Seriously, the moonlight filling the exposure is ridiculous.)

I can’t wait to go hunting again.

(P.S. Happy Easter! No egg hunt for me this year, boo.)

12 March 2013, or Five:

A Tuesday in what shall be referred to as “the sunset weeks”, as my last refundancy days come to an end and I try to ignore the painful reality of returning to the workforce. I’ve been holding out for my dream job to manifest but it hasn’t happened so I’m heading back to the corporate world to see what I can make of it.

In any case, this Tuesday I am joined by my darling friends Helen and Chris who have come down to visit me and a couple of other bits of Tasmania for their first wedding anniversary. I love being the excuse for friends to visit this beautiful island, I honestly do.

TMAG last night.

TMAG last night.

We begin our day with breakfast at Basket & Green and then hit the highway for a DIY tour up through the Coal River Valley, starting with Richmond and heading back down. I’ve been up to Richmond once before but it was for a crazy reconnaissance mission for some edible lavender… don’t ask. There’s no real story. In any case, I haven’t really looked around Richmond properly. That’s what you can take away from this paragraph.

Richmond Bridge, OLD!

Richmond Bridge, OLD!

Yes, Richmond Bridge is old but old in the picturesque sense and not the booooooooriiiiiiiiiing sense. It’s very pretty and also functional, which is just how I like my bridges, and also most of my clothing. It’s apparently Australia’s oldest (known) large stone arch bridge, which is a title I’d be proud of too, and it was first opened in 1825. It’s a lovely place for a picnic and perhaps we should have ended our tour here with wine and cheese instead of starting here. NEVER MIND.

After the bridge, we spontaneously decide to stop at the Richmond Gaol and have a look around. History is very interesting, and often makes me glad to live in the current age. The solitary cells are creepy. I’m glad to have finally seen the Gaol, but it’s probably not going to be worthy of a repeat visit for me. Or even a photo in this blog post. Despite its pretty sandstone buildings.

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Puddleducks!

The main part of the tour is for the wine, as any local who knows about the Coal River Valley will know. We make the executive decision to stop at three wineries, and I get to decide those three, which includes a certain amount of power but also responsibility. Here are one-sentence reviews of each.

Pooley Wines: charming location, lovely almost literal cellar door, oh my gosh there is a cellar door cat this is wonderful, wait why is my favourite wine always the most expensive one?
Puddleducks: Please adopt me, oh except I don’t really like dogs but I suppose these corgis are cute, dear corgis please stop barking that’s really not necessary, oops I drank too much Bubbleduck, oh there’s literally a duck here I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE PUDDLEDUCKS!
Frogmore Creek: What a lovely venue, what lovely wines, what a snooty old bint behind the counter.

Sorry, I’m not very good at one-sentence reviews.

Nice day for it.

Nice day for it.

We actually take our time because we’re in no great hurry, and in between Pooley and Puddleducks we stop at Wicked Cheese to grab some snacky lunch supplies, because I’ve stopped at Wicked Cheese before (that lavender time) and also because cheese. Puddleducks has a BYO Food policy to go with their wine so this is our lunch plan, and it’s an excellent decision.

It’s just a shame that Frogmore Creek is the final note on the tour… or is this the final note:

Nice haul.

Nice haul.

Yeah, it is. That’s much better. Though it’s not actually our final note for the day! We manage to muster a second wind and head down to Ethos Eat Drink for dinner. It’s not my first time, but I’m not ashamed to admit it, and I’m very pleased to be going back again. It is delicious (of course) and I eat ox tongue for the first time, which is strange but not unpleasant (this is how I find myself describing most left-of-centre things I try at Ethos). Duckpond seems to be having a real whale of a time too, so cheers to him and cheers to our grand day out.

Duckpond | Oxtongue

Duckpond | Oxtongue