See the stars at Castlepoint, in Wairarapa. This region will be New Zealand’s largest Dark Sky Reserve. Photo / Daniel Rood, Given.
“For me, I don’t know anything for sure, but the sight of the stars made me dream.”
– Vincent Van Gogh
As the night gets longer, our night sky gets brighter. Our daytime activity may be shrinking, but we are getting more in the constellation.
New Zealand has lots of rural spaces and dark areas away from light pollution, making it ideal for stellar trekking.
Astronomy writer and journalist Naomi Arnold says these conditions mean New Zealand has the darkest night sky on the planet.
“It helps us stay in close touch with the constellations, stars and planets in the Southern Hemisphere, along with the wonders, history and cultural traditions they contain,” he said.
During autumn, the “dog star”, Sirius, high and bright, dominates the evening sky, to the northwest of the highest points directly above us.
“You will notice that the Orion – Pot – which was once high in the summer sky, now appears lower in the western sky as it” sets “for winter.
“If you have binoculars, you might be able to see the Orion Nebula, a whitish glow. In the southeast sky, Scorpius is rising, the constellation that dominates our winter sky and will bring with it the core of the Milky Way galaxy, a beautiful sight in winter. the planet has never seen the Milky Way due to light pollution, so enjoy our unique scenery here in New Zealand, “said Arnold.
Saturn and Jupiter appear after midnight as bright spots in the northeast before dawn, as they fade as the sun begins to rise.
Arnold said on a clear moonless night and little light pollution, you might be able to see two small galaxies that make up the Magellanic Cloud, which are in the middle of the southwest sky and look like two white fields like ghosts.
“I love reading the monthly star chart sent by email from the superintendent of the Mt John Observatory of the University of Canterbury and astronomer Alan Gilmore, to see what appears in the sky each month.”
So get the blankets out, check the star chart, grab a warm jacket and binoculars and head to these star locations all over New Zealand.
This northern region, filled with small towns and coastal settlements, is perfect for stargazing. Head to Hokianga and Doubtless Bay for a spot away from light pollution – or take an overnight boat ride to admire the starlight over the ocean.
The most famous stargazing spot in the Auckland region is Aotea / Great Barrier Island, which was the first island in the world to be awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary status. This is very unique considering how close Aotea is to a big city.
Enjoy a stargazing tour with Good Heavens to learn more about planets, stars, galaxies, constellations and nebulae, take a twilight trip with Dark Sky Ambassadors with Star Treks, and learn to capture it all at an astrophotography workshop with Carol Comer.
Head south of Hamilton’s city lights to the likes of Waitomo and Piopio, to discover gorgeous starry skies. If you can’t get a clear night, you can always head to the cave for a light worm tour of Waitomo for a backup option, where you’ll have a similar experience gazing at the night sky.
Another great Waikato location for stargazing is in Raglan, where you can watch the sun set over the water, and wait for the stars to start sparkling.
The Pinnacles is the highest point in the Coromandel Ranges, and perfect for epic hiking trips. This is one of the most popular hikes in the country, all the better if you add a night’s stay at the DOC hut at the top. High above the Coromandel forest, a night in the hut is a wonderful opportunity to see an unobstructed view of the night sky.
Astrophotographers can often be seen heading to the docks around Lake Rotorua to capture the night sky on camera. Favorite lakes for gazing into the sky at night include Lake Tarawera, Lake Ōkareka and Lake Rotorua.
For a unique geothermal experience, head to Te Puia for the Geyser By Night show on a clear night, to follow a torchlight trail through the geothermal valley of Te Puia.
If luxury and relaxation are your go-to styles, head to Nightsky Cottage to enjoy the stars comfortably in front of the fireplace.
The lodge features architecturally designed skylights in the lounge to allow guests to enjoy the paradise above.
For those interested in a more active stargazing adventure, go on a guided sunrise hike along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with Adrift Tongariro. You will start your hike at around 02.00, watch the shooting stars, hike under the Milky Way while wearing your headlights, and continue to the top of the Red Crater at sunrise.
The Pouakai Hut is a 16-bed inland cottage on Mount Taranaki, and an impressive place to stay for the night for stargazing.
Or you can head to the New Plymouth Observatory to use their reflector telescopes – including a telescope that visitors can connect to their digital cameras.
Wairarapa will become much more famous for its starry skies as it is well on its way to becoming New Zealand’s largest Dark Sky Reserve. The night sky there was so dark, the Milky Way was visible from horizon to horizon.
Stonehenge Aotearoa is an open-air astronomical observatory and runs evening and sunset tours. Henge combines knowledge of Pacific stellar navigation and ancient interpretations of the sky.
In Wellington City, visit the Carter Observatory to view the historic Thomas Cooke telescope and enjoy interactive galleries and exhibits in the full dome planetarium.
Receiving prestigious status last year, Wai-iti Domain is New Zealand’s first Dark Sky Park. Wai-iti covers 153 hectares of recreational reserves in the Tasman district and is known for its beautiful night skies.
Another beautiful stargazing location in the region is by a pier on Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lake National Park.
Kaikōura itself is a beautiful location, and its location provides a magical experience gazing up into the night sky. Locals recommend heading to the lookout point above the peninsula on dark nights.
The Hurunui region in northern Canterbury is a rugged, rural part of the country with lots of remote stargazing areas. One of the best locations is Mt Lyford, a mountain village that sits 1260m above sea level, nestled in the manuka forest.
Further south, you can head to the wine-making region of the Waipara Valley and sleep under the stars in the secluded PurePod on Greystone Vineyard, a luxurious outback cottage made entirely of glass.
If you ask New Zealanders about the country’s most famous stargazing destinations, they’ll likely tell you Tekapo. It is an internationally recognized Dark Sky Reserve, and is home to the University of Canterbury’s Mt John Observatory, which is recognized as the best astronomical research observatory in the country.
One of New Zealand’s most famous Instagram poses is the back view of a person soaking in the Queenstown Onsen Hot Springs, looking out over the Milky Way. The hot tub allows for incredible stargazing from your private hot tub covered in cedar trees.
But if you know the area, you’ll know Lake Moke features some amazing night views. The sky turns dark and the stars sparkle and the backdrop of the alps and lakes makes for a spectacular astrophotography shot.
In the winter months, try skiing under the stars at Coronet Peak during their night ski session.
Went with astrophysicist Paul Bishop on a tour of the night sky from Naseby’s. This small town is seeking official recognition as the Night Sky Community. Night sky readings have been carried out under the guidance of the University of Otago to help confirm that the country has some of the darkest night skies in the country.
Take a deep trip into the fiord by overnight boat and experience a unique night sky over the water. The captain will turn off the boat lights to reduce light pollution. Lie back on the deck of the ship and look up, and remember who else slept under the same night sky.
Rakiura / Stewart Island is only the second island in the world to attain official Dark Sky Sanctuary status – the first being Aotea / Great Barrier Island.
There are a number of viewing platforms around the island, including Observation Rock near Oban, Moturau Moana Park, Ackers Point and Lee Bay. Or take a tour with Twinkle Dark Sky Tours to help guide you through the universe. If you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of the Aurora Australis.