02 May, 2019

I love the nightlife: Tasmania’s glittering, glowing natural wonders

From auroras to sea sparkle, ghost fungi and glow worms, the night’s bright with marvels.

Why go all the way to Canada or Iceland to see the aurora borealis when the Southern Lights, aurora australis, are on your doorstep in Tasmania? Keep your eyes peeled for bioluminescent algae, insects and fungi too when you head into the darkness on this island of natural wonders.


Auroras occur around the polar regions, so Tasmania is one of the southern hemisphere’s best vantage points to watch nature’s light show. The further south the better, but anywhere in the state with clear views to the south, including mountain peaks and coastal areas, are good options. It’s best to escape city lights and pollution, though you don’t need to go far: South Arm Peninsula and Dodges Ferry, both about 40 kilometres from central Hobart, are top spots.

The Aurora Australis happens whenever the sun releases lots of charged particles, which interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. We only see it at night, so winter’s best simply because there are more hours of darkness. Clouds obviously block your view, and moonlight also makes auroras harder to see. Visit the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook page for up-to-the-minute news about when nature’s on your side, and user tips about places to watch.

Aurora Australis and Tessellated Pavement (Image: Cam Blake)

Sea sparkle

Algal blooms aren’t normally sought out, but you won’t want to miss massed Noctiluca scintillans. This marine algae turns electric blue when disturbed at night, so in high concentrations form a luminous band at the water’s edge along beaches, and dance spectacularly when splashed – by a dropped stone for instance.

Better known as sea sparkle, this bioluminescent algae can appear anywhere, any time, but especially after rain as it’s attracted to nutrient-rich run-off. Wherever you see a red or pink algal haze in the water during the day, try returning after dark and hope for calm waters as strong winds disperse sea sparkle. Tasmania’s southern shores are your best bet, including around the Derwent River estuary near Hobart, such as North West Bay and Ralphs Bay. Visit the Bioluminescence Tasmania Facebook page for spotters’ latest tips.

Bioluminescence at Bellerive Yacht Club (Image: Thakshila Karunathilake)

Ghost fungus

Fungi comes in many eye-catching colours, but Omphalotus nidiformis is perhaps the most amazing because it glows green in the dark. It could be mistaken for edible oyster mushrooms in daylight, but is poisonous so look but don’t touch. Creamy coloured and fan or flute shaped, ghost fungus grows in clusters on dead or dying wood in cool, moist conditions, and is most likely to appear several days after rain.

Where exactly is pot luck, though you don’t necessarily have to trek into the wilderness as this eerie mushroom has been seen around Launceston and Hobart. Top options for fungi fossicking include Mount Field National Park, Douglas Apsley National Park and around Lake St Clair in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Check out our guide to colourful fungi for more tips.

Ghost Fungi at Kate Reed Reserve, Launceston (Image: Charlie Price)

Glow worms

Like green or blue stars in the darkness, the glow of Arachnocampa tasmaniensis has a gruesome purpose: these tiny creatures light up to lure the insects they eat. Not actually worms but the larval stage of gnats, they usually live in caves, as well as other moist, sheltered habitats like rainforest gullies.

Mole Creek Karst National Park’s Marakoopa Cave has the largest glow-worm display of any public-access cave in Australia. After revealing a fairyland of stalactites, stalagmites and other limestone formations, the guided tour ends with a gobsmacking glow-worm show during a few moments of darkness. The gully leading to Russell Falls in Mount Field National Park is another hot spot.

Glow worms, Mystery Creek Cave (Image: Pierre Destribats)


Information included in this blog is correct at the time of publishing. Please contact individual operators for further information.

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