Aurora hunters have returned with cameras full of "amazing images", after the first ever commercial charter flight to view the Southern Lights.
More than photographers and enthusiasts left Dunedin Airport at 9pm on Thursday night, travelling south to the Antarctic circle and the southern auroral zone to see the natural lights phenomenon up close.
The special Aurora Australis mission was the bold idea of Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin, but caught the imagination of aurora photographers with the flight selling out in less than a week.
The eight-hour flight south on an Air NZ Boeing 767 crosses the international dateline twice, with the plane flying in large circles so that passengers on both sides could get a good view of the spectacular lights.
Seats weren't cheap - about $2000 for economy and $4000 in business class, with passengers booking in pairs to ensure they could amicably share the window seats.
Invercargill doctor Stephen Voss was one of the experienced amateur aurora photographers on board, and described the project as "a great success".
The "flight to the lights" attracted enthusiasts from across the country, with some passengers even flying in from Australia, South Africa and Spain.
Organisers are hoping to schedule another charter flight next year, although with Air NZ's 767 planes going out of service, there are concerns the 2018 flight may have to depart from Christchurch or another main centre.
Aurora are caused by charged particles in the magnetosphere being blown by solar winds into the upper atmosphere. The resulting energy loss causes ionization, which emits light.