Image credit: CC BY-ND 2.0 (Ben, 2014)
Nature often captivates us with its incredible force and unpredictability, creating displays that seem almost surreal. From a spectacle of bright-coloured lights dancing jovially on a crisp night sky to the bizarre phenomenon of bioluminescence, which makes the sea glitter with a dreamlike blue light, natural occurrences fill us with astonishment and leave us pondering at Mother Nature’s mystery and greatness.
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The enigmatic Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, is perhaps the most popular and sought-after phenomena — and also one of the most accessible. Pulsating and glimmering across the Arctic sky, this natural occurrence is indeed placed high on every adventurer’s travel wishlist. But for avid nature lovers, the planet brims with plenty more miracles. Fuel yourself with a sense of adventure, a love for unpredictability, and follow Quotient’s lead around the world to places where light creates the most exquisite backdrop.
Dancing lights of the south
Scientifically, the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis is explained as an occurrence caused by solar flares colliding with energy particles in the earth’s magnetic field, but to keen sky gazers, the magic of seeing a night sky blanketed in fluorescent red, pink and green lights is a feeling that goes beyond technicalities.
As the younger sister of the celebrated Aurora Borealis, the Southern Lights may not get all the attention from nature enthusiasts, but this natural light display, which can be admired in New Zealand’s South Island and some parts of Australia such as Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales, is equally beguiling.
While auroras are known to be more prevalent around the peak of the solar cycle, they can be incredibly elusive and it’s hard to predict the exact timing. They are generally visible from March to September. In New Zealand and Australia, the best time to catch this fiery nature show is from June to August.
The electrifying lightning show of Venezuela
Growing up, there was always something particularly frightening and fascinating about a thunderstorm. The might of fury unleashed can send one whimpering even within the comforting safety of home, but as we got older, it became more intriguing to witness those bolts of white temporarily scarring the sky. Come adulthood, the interest in unique phenomena can be taken to another level. For those who love nature’s theatrical facet and seeing nature at its rawest, Venezuela is the place where you can repeatedly be struck by excitement due to the peculiar phenomenon known as Catatumbo lightning, also known as the Beacon of Maracaibo or the “everlasting storm”.
At Lago de Maracaibo — South America’s largest body of water — some 700 kilometres from the capital city of Caracas, travellers can spot some 40,000 bolts ripping across the sky during this occurrence, which has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Each time, the night sky is illuminated for 9 to 10 hours with flashes of natural electricity making for a surreal scene that seems to be extracted from a Sci-Fi movie.
The everlasting storm can happen throughout the year, but the lightning typically ceases during the region’s dry season, particularly in January and February. Beside its increasing thunderstorm tourism, the region is also home to jaguars, alligators and other exotic fauna, so adventurers can also fill their daytime hours watching unique wildlife.
A different kind of rhythm and blues
Whether it’s a cave lit by millions of glow worms, a forest invaded by bright fireflies or a body of water blanketed by blue tones, natural light displays truly fascinate us humans. Among a plethora of compelling phenomena, there is one that aesthetes will immediately fall for. Known as bioluminescence, the unique phenomenon provides one of the most visually compelling shows on earth — especially in the ocean.
As night falls, certain beaches around the world rapidly morph into enormous neon canvases: cerulean waves start glowing with an eerie blue light and millions of neon dots make the water look peppered with glowing stars. Scientifically, the phosphorescence occurs when micro-organisms are agitated or when waves crash onto the shore, and the bizarre light draws travellers in search of unique visual experiences.
While the occurrence doesn’t have a precise timing, some of the locations where nature lovers can admire it are the eastern islands of Maldives including Mudhdhoo, Vaadhoo and Rangali from July to February, especially during a new moon when the darkness of the sky helps intensify the light; in the Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico, which is also referred to as the capital of bioluminescence; San Diego, California in the US; and Toyama Bay in Japan. The concentrates of light-producing organisms in the small inlet in central Japan is particularly exhilarating, as you can swim in a liquid of light and even spot fish that leave glowing trails behind them.
In the land of the midnight sun
Experiencing a land where the sun never sets may seem like a surreal image but in Norway, during summer, travellers can bask in 24 hours of daylight. Beautifully painted in yellow-reddish and orange hues, the Norwegian landscape exudes a warm radiance during the midnight sun; this is also the time when locals become more energetic and the flora and fauna experience a boost.
To make the best of this peculiar phenomenon, travellers can explore the untamed nature, take guided hiking tours in the Svalbard Archipelago and even have the chance to spot a polar bear, or experience island hopping in the alluring Lofoten Islands, which will give you a taste of the Norwegian fjords in a totally different light.
The season for experiencing the midnight sun varies depending on the proximity to the Arctic Circle, however, June and July are the peak periods. If you travel further north, to the remote Svalbard Archipelago, you can experience the midnight sun from May to August.
Somewhere over the moonbow
While rainbows are ubiquitous around the world and have the power to make anyone smile, the elusive moonbow (also referred to as the lunar rainbow) is one of nature’s most surprising and rare phenomena. The stunning nature event occurs at night and cannot fully be seen with the naked eye; diehard skygazers normally use long-exposure photography to reveal its true beauty. If you wish to snap your own picture of a moonbow, the best place to begin your quest is by waterfalls.
As moonbows form from falling water, you will definitely have more chances to spot one. Although some American towns such as Arizona’s Jerome have seen moonbows, the most reliable locations for stunning sightings are Victoria Falls in Zambia, Costa Rica’s cloud forests, and in Yosemite National Park and Kentucky’s Cumberland Falls in the American states of California and Illinois, respectively. In 2016, Yosemite’s moonbows will be visible between 20th and 22nd April, from 20th to 22nd May and 19th to 21st June.