The Best Stargazing Sites in New Zealand

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While New Zealand boasts a number of magnificent natural treasures, for this blog, we want you to direct your gaze upwards. No, we don’t mean pointing your device up into the sky to read it! On the contrary, we’re bringing you some of the best stargazing sites in New Zealand, promising skies that don’t exist even in your wildest dreams. In addition, we’ll be highlighting why the country is the ideal spot to stargaze, as the renowned astronomer Bart Bok once said, “The Southern hemisphere holds all the good stuff!”.

Tekapo church of the good shephard, starry night sky, stargazing

Why Stargaze In New Zealand

If you’re visiting New Zealand to rejuvenate and bring new-found vigour to your life, stargazing is a must-do experience. The country is known for having star-filled skies during the coldest months when there isn’t a single trace of the moon. Moreover, as one of the countries with minimal light pollution, the stars can be seen in all of their twinkling glory. Speaking of light pollution, New Zealand also prides itself on its commitment to preserving the night sky, thanks to contributions from devoted advocates in organisations such as DarkSky, which we’ll get into in just a moment.

Furthermore, New Zealand has some of the most accessible astronomical sights and Dark Sky reserves, resulting in heaps of guided stargazing tours that offer insight into the cosmic world floating above our heads.

Finally, due to its convenient location in the Southern Hemisphere, you have a first-row ticket to cosmic treasures that can’t be seen in the North, such as the Magellanic Clouds, Southern Cross, and the very heart of the Milky Way galaxy.

starry sky, milky way, night sky

Image – The Milky Way Galaxy

When to Stargaze in New Zealand?

When it comes to stargazing in New Zealand, apart from finding the ultimate spot, timing is of crucial importance. Dazzling dark skies can only be seen when they’re entirely dark (obviously), so you’ll have to plan your trip somewhere around the New Moon phase.

Additionally, most people are also questioning the right season for incredible stargazing. While there’s no “right” answer to this, during winter months, nights are much longer, meaning that you can admire the sky for an extended period. Moreover, at the same time, the skies are much clearer, so the stars can be observed in detail.

The downside? The Southern Hemisphere, especially the southernmost points, is known for having extreme weather, so you must pack all the warmest clothes you own, ensuring you don’t freeze as you admire the stars.

tree, winter landscape, hoarfrost

New Zealand’s Dark Sky Reserves

You already know by now that New Zealand is one of the best places to partake in big sky stargazing. But, to better understand how epic it actually is, you’ll be surprised to know that the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve and the first Dark Sky Sanctuary on an island have been established right here!

Here are some of the most noteworthy reserves:

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is one of the eight ‘Gold Level’ reserves in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. This area was established in 2012 by the International Dark Sky Association, consisting of Aoraki or the Mt. Cook National Park, and the Mackenzie Basin of New Zealand’s South Island. This sanctuary is famed for having the darkest skies with no light pollution in sight. Before it became one of the most attractive stargazing destinations for tourists, the Maori used it as a form of navigation and greatly contributed to the culture of its people.

Mount John Observatory options –

Night sky Tekapo

Image Credit: Rachel Gillespie

Aotea Great Barrier Island

Located northeastern of central Auckland stands the Great Barrier Island, more commonly known as Aotea in the Maori language. This area was recognised as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2017, and it’s the third in the world to ever receive this title. A complete night sky has become a part of traditions for the islanders residing here, given that more than half of the entire territory is under the surveillance of the New Zealand Department of Conservation. For you, this means you can observe starry skies in nocturnal environments, be it for scientific or educational purposes or simply because of your own pleasure.

Video credit AucklandNZ

Rakiura National Park / Stewart Island

With only 390 residents, Stewart Island is the third-biggest New Zealand island, and almost the entirety of it belongs to the Rakiura National Park. In 2019, this area was also rewarded the title of a Dark Sky Reserve, however, compared to the areas mentioned above, this one provides a rather unique experience. Namely, because of its location, Stewart Island is the best place to observe the southern lights, also known as the ‘aurora australis’. Summer nights are particularly short in this region, so to witness the sight yourself, you’ll need to plan your trip around the winter months.

Wai – Iti

Designated in 2022, the Wai-iti covers some of the lands of the Tasman District Council of the South Island. Also included are the Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and the Tunnicliff Forest, both of which serve as excellent spots for stargazing. In the beginning, this area served as a recreational spot for the people of Nelson, though it was later transformed into a rail connection. Now, the ‘Wai-iti Domain’ is back to its original purpose, only adjusted with slight improvements. The gorgeous night skies can be observed on the island sanctuary, and the South Dark Sky Committee is making further efforts to engage the community in astronomy events and so-called star parties, resulting in the conservation of the dark sky places.

Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve

Although fairly new, the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve, situated in the Wairarapa Valley of the North Island of New Zealand, is in compliance with the Reserve Lighting Management Plan. While only half of the outdoor lights are in accordance with the rules set by the Reserve, its changes are planned for the future, aiming for 100 per cent preservation.

astronomy, beautiful nature, bright

New Zealand’s Stargazing Hotspots

Now that you know the International Dark Sky Reserves, it’s time for you to start planning your itinerary to visit some of the hotspots of this star-kissed nation.

Referred to as ‘The Big Seven’, the following locations are ideal for big sky stargazing, as well as telescope viewings and frequent planetarium shows.

Stargazing, Queenstown

Located in the heart of the town, you can book a guided tour that will take you to Bob’s Peak on a platform above the Skyline Queenstown, offering clear views of the night sky. Here, you’ll also find high-end telescopes with which you can learn to navigate the Southern Cross and also observe the Milky Way, all kinds of stars and nebulas, and even other planets and galaxies – if you’re lucky enough. In the end, warm up with a cup of hot chocolate!

Keep in mind that stargazing is unavailable until March 2024, which gives you more than enough time to plan the perfect New Zealand trip!

Stars, milky way and southern lights over Kinloch, Queentown

Image – Stars, Milky Way and Southern Lights over Kinloch, Queentown

Dark Sky Project, Canterbury

You can find Mount John Observatory on the shores of Lake Tekapo, which will then lead you to the Dark Sky Project. You can book a variety of different guided tours, and people who know all about the cosmos will show you the wonderful southern skies. Of course, the weather might not always work in your favour, but that doesn’t mean your trip is all for nothing! On the contrary, the Indoor Star Experience of the Dark Project Observatory is open year-round, no matter the weather conditions!

Space Place (Carter Observatory), Wellington

It’s a well-known fact that learning new things nurtures the mind in wonderous ways, which further leads to improved mental health. That said, if you’re looking for an educational experience about the galaxies that linger over our heads, head to Wellington’s Botanic Gardens, specifically on its rooftop. There, you’ll find Space Place, featuring historic telescopes and a planetarium, giving you an in-depth look at the capital city.

Stardome Observatory and Planetarium, Auckland

Finally, if you’re looking for a fun experience for the entire family, plan a trip to Auckland’s Stardome Observatory and Planetarium which features an interactive gallery with all kinds of facts about the cosmos. The telescope will particularly be interesting for young star-lovers – they’ll be able to see the beautiful night sky with twinkling stars, invisible to the naked eye.

Mount Ngongotaha, Rotorua

If you’re looking for a more adventurous stargazing experience, especially fitting for adrenaline lovers, ride on a gravity-fueled cart across the gargantuan Redwoods. The shooting stars above you can quickly take your attention away, so try your hardest to keep your eyes on the road (easier said than done, right?) And if luck smiles your way, you might even catch the southern lights!

We hope that you’ve enjoyed our selection of the best stargazing sites in New Zealand. Just one look at the night skies will stay in your mind forever, so start planning your rejuvenating trip to the star-filled country.

milky way, 4k wallpaper 1920x1080, stars

To learn more about New Zealand’s natural treasures, read the rest of our blogs!

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