Photographers suggest seven natural wonders to visit if you’ve been inspired by aurora australis

Photographers suggest seven natural wonders to visit if you’ve been inspired by aurora australis
  • PublishedMay 23, 2024

If your social media feeds are anything like mine, you’ve seen a lot of breathtaking pictures of the aurora australis this week.

If you’re not ready to quit your day job and become a full-time aurora hunter, what are some natural phenomena that are a little more predictable to chase down?  

Three landscape photographers share their favourite natural wonders to inspire your next trip.

The turning of the fagus — Cradle Mountain, lutruwita/Tasmania

Photographer Nathan Mattinson says Australia is “spoiled” when it comes to natural landscapes and phenomena worth visiting.

Based in Naarm/Melbourne last year, he visited the Cradle Mountain area for the annual “turning of the fagus”.

It takes place in late April and May when the state’s only winter-deciduous native tree — the Tasmanian fagus — transitions from green to orange, marking the autumn season.

It’s a popular attraction in the area, and he says around Anzac Day is the best time to see it.

Nathan says you can be rewarded by travelling further afield in Tasmania but the accessibility of Cradle Mountain is “unreal”.

“You can take a bus to the doorstep,” he says.

turning of the fagus
Nathan Mattinson says people can appreciate the annual phenomenon during a roughly three-week period.(Supplied: Nathan Mattinson)

A sunset in the snow — Mount Feathertop, Country of the Taungurung and Gunaikurnai people/Victoria

Nathan also recommends the Victorian high country, with a special shout-out for Mount Feathertop.

“When you’re around Mount Feathertop … in the snow and you’re seeing that red sun go down on the snow — that’s pretty special.”

He notes that the snow season can make it less accessible.

Alternatively, you could drive through Mount Hotham, along the Great Dividing Range, to see Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong covered in snow.

He says if Victorians can pay attention to when it’s forecast to snow at a lower level they can also “get treated to a show” at places closer to Melbourne, such as Mount Donna Buang.

An orange sun sets behind a snow covered alpine horizon.
Mount Feathertop within Victoria’s Alpine National Park captured by Nathan Mattinson.(Supplied: Nathan Mattinson)

What would you add to the list? Share your highlight and photos with us,

Kakadu National Park, Country of the Bininj and Mungguy people/Northern Territory 

For Louise Denton, a photographer and author of ‘Discovering Natural Northern Territory’ based in Darwin on Larrakia land, Kakadu National Park is a “special place”.

There’s so much diversity in such a small area, but when pushed, Louise says the eastern side of Kakadu is her favourite.

“[It’s] where all that sort of really unique rock country  is, you’ve got heaps of like endemic species that are found only in that area.

“[There are] significant Aboriginal sites around there as well, unique rock formations and imposing rock formations and loads of little pockets of rainforest within the really sheltered tall areas… it’s just magic.”

There are ways to explore areas with cultural sensitivity, including joining an Indigenous-run tour or enlisting an Indigenous guide.

It’s about a three hours from Darwin, and while the park is expansive it’s fairly easy to navigate with enough time.

She also warns, “don’t just go to a place and expect to instantly see a photo, spend a bit of time there”.

Litchfield National Park, Kungarakan country/Northern Territory 

Louise says most visitors come to the Top End during the dry season for obvious reasons — swimming, walking, open four-wheel-drive tracks.

While it’s not for everyone, Louise says there’s something to be said for the wet season, with its “really unpredictable light” and “rain and lightning”.

In the wet season, she went to Litchfield National Park with the intention of “photographing a storm”.

“At the end of the day I hung around for sunset and I got like rainbow and sunset colours over one of the waterfalls.”

One of the strengths of Litchfield, Louise says, is that it’s an easy and straightforward drive from Darwin — and only about 90 minutes.

A picture of a waterfall over a rock cliff face, surrounded by trees with a rainbow stretching out across the skyline.
Louise Denton took this picture of Tolmer Falls at the end of a stormy day.(Supplied: Louise Denton)

Sapphire Coast, Country of the Yuin-Monaro Nations/New South Wales

Nathan says “sunrises and sunsets are always pretty spectacular” along the Sapphire Coast.

He says you can really enjoy the area at any time of year, but if you’re looking to make a road trip of it, summertime is probably best so you can enjoy swimming along the way.

The coastline is “rich with geomorphology and geomorphic features”, Nathan says naming Horsehead Rock and Camel Rock specifically.

“The New South Wales coastlines are really special because you can drive up to a lot of those natural features.”

The coastline stretches for about 90 kilometres along southern New South Wales and is half way between Melbourne and Sydney.

An arched rock formation resembling the head and neck of a horse on a beach. The sky is pink behind the rocks.
Horse Head Rock near Bermagui along the Sapphire Coast. (Supplied: Nathan Mattinson)

Tamar River/ Kanamaluka, lutruwita/Tasmania

Mike Turner, photographs under the alias of Michael David as a bit of a “side hobby”. His job as a pilot allows for some pretty enviable travel – and equally enviable photography opportunities when he’s not in Naarm/Melbourne.

Mike says he’s visited Launceston’s Tamar River multiple times, but the first time on a cold foggy morning was the best.

“It was spectacular,” he says.

“Super tranquil, super peaceful. There was a swan that was in the water right in front of me.”

He says the fog made it “isolating in a beautiful sort of way”.

A little bit of planning can go a long way according to Mike even if you want to photograph something that’s definitely going to be there — unlike the aurora australis.

“I had read the forecast the night before and I knew that it was going to be a really spectacular foggy morning.”

A small boat hitched to a pole in a river surrounded by white fog
Michael Turner says the fog made the spot feel isolated and tranquil.(Supplied: Michael David)

Wilson’s Prom, Country of the Boonwurrung, Bunurong and Gunaikurnai groups/Victoria

Nathan also recommends Wilson’s Promontory National Park, the southernmost tip of mainland Australia.

“White, white sandy beaches with, turquoise water.”

“It’s got mountains, it’s got hiking, it’s got big really lovely beaches,” Nathan says.

He concedes “[Western Australia] has a few of those beaches as well” but for the Victorian it’s a “magical place”.

It’s not hard to see why it makes for a spectacular photo, and restorative place about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Melbourne.

A case for sticking close to home

Mike says anyone looking to snap an incredible picture, “keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground”.

It’s a skill you can learn, he says.

A white weatherboard house on a sloped road, with sheets drying along a wall.
Michael Turner says he enjoys capturing everyday moments.(Supplied: Michael David)

“The unexpected beauty of an everyday location, captured in the right light, subject moment and perspective, is the holy grail for me.

“You also need to be willing to stop the car, or plan ahead, so that you can jump at the opportunities that do and don’t happen every day.”

So for a great picture, Mike says to consider having a look around in your own backyard if travel isn’t on the cards.


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