A tour company is packing Air New Zealand Dreamliners with aurora hunters and launching flights chasing the 'Southern Lights'.
Viva Expeditions has chartered the Boeing 787 for March 20 next year to depart from Christchurch guided by a team of astrophysicist headed by Otago's Dr Ian Griffin.
Timed to coincide with the Autumnal equinox the flight will offer an opportunity to see the Aurora Australis like never before. The Aurora which is caused by solar winds is a spectacular natural phenomenon sometimes visible in New Zealand's skies. However while a sighting in southern skies might be up to chance - this sightseeing flight aims to bring aspiring astro-tourists to the lights, flying south to almost within the Antarctic circle.
Relying on a phenomenon called the Russell McPherron effect, at points in the southern hemisphere the interplay of interplanetary magnetic fields creates "windows" into space, through which the glowing aurora passes - with stunning effect.
It's an opportunity for astro tourists and aviation enthusiasts will not want to miss - given ideal conditions require flying during a new moon at the autumn or spring equinoxes.
"There are a lot of people out there wanting to get on a plane and go somewhere, do something exciting," said Viva Expeditions founder Rachel Williams.
Williams explained that the idea had come following the collapse of the company's main business to Antarctica and South America. They were tasked with chartering repatriation flights earlier in the year to bring Kiwis home form Peru.
The 10 hour flight on the Dreamliner will include inflight-meals, expert-guided astronomy and star photography.
Dr Griffin was the obvious expert to bring on the project, having flown with the first commercial 'aurora hunting' flight out of Dunedin in 2017.
Dr Griffin said he was excited to be on this charter flight "Flying into the Southern auroral zone is a wonderful experience. You never know quite what you are going to see." The overnight flight will definitely be worth staying up for, with a lot to packed into the 10 hour trip that will deliver passengers back to Christchurch "in time for breakfast."
Entry fares are from $1195 to $6995 for Business-class service. Viva has said passengers can book with confidence, with a full refund should the flight be cancelled due to Covid disruptions or travel restrictions.
Flying to the 62 degrees south, on the edge of the Antarctic circle, the plane is just 2 degrees latitude short of entering Antarctic airspace.
Earlier this year Air New Zealand said it had "no plans" to operate sightseeing flights to Antarctica, with the priority being on getting their domestic back to pre-pandemic levels.