Stargazing at Castlepoint in Wairarapa. The area is on the way to becoming New Zealand’s largest dark sky reserve. Photo / Daniel Rudd, foreground.
“For my part, I don’t know anything for sure, but the star scene makes me dream.”
Vincent Van Gogh
As the night lengthens, our night sky appears. Our daytime activities may decrease, but we are gaining more in the horoscopes.
New Zealand has a lot of rural and dark areas away from light pollution, making it ideal for stargazing.
Astronomy journalist and author Naomi Arnold says these conditions mean New Zealand has some of the darkest night skies on the planet.
“It helps us stay in close contact with the constellations, stars and planets of the Southern Hemisphere, along with the wonders, history and cultural traditions that they contain,” he says.
During autumn, the star Sirius, the “star of dogs”, is tall and bright, and dominates the evening sky, northwest of the zenith, the highest point directly above us.
“You will notice that Orion, the Destiny, which was high in the summer sky, now appears below in the western sky when it“ turns away ”for the winter.
“If you have binoculars, you can see the Orion Nebula, a white glow. In the southeastern sky, Scorpio rises, which is a constellation that dominates our winter sky and will bring with it the heart of the Milky Way, which is a wonderful sight in many people on this planet.” They never saw the Milky Way due to light pollution, so take advantage of our unique perspective here in New Zealand, ”says Arnold.
Saturn and Jupiter appear after midnight as bright spots in the northeast before sunrise, when they disappear as the sun begins to rise.
On a clear moon-free night with little light pollution, Arnold says, you might be able to spot the two small galaxies that make up the Magellanic Cloud, which is located in the mid-sky to the southwest and looks like two white ghost spots.
“I love reading the monthly star chart emailed by the director of the Mount John Observatory at the University of Canterbury and astronomer Alan Gilmore, to see what appears in the sky every month.”
So ditch your blankets, check out the star map, grab a warm jacket and a pair of binoculars, and head to those starry spots across New Zealand.
The northern area
This northern region, full of small coastal towns and cities, is perfect for stargazing. Head to Hokianga and Doubtless Bay to find a space far from light pollution, or take a boat at night to enjoy the starlight over the ocean.
The most famous stargazing spot in the Auckland region is Utea Island / Great Barrier, which was the first island in the world to be granted Dark Sky Sanctuary status. It is especially unique considering Aotea’s proximity to a large city.
Enjoy a stargazing tour with Good Heavens to learn more about planets, stars, galaxies, constellations and nebulae, take a sunset tour with the Dark Sky Ambassador with Star Treks, and learn how to capture it all in an astrophotography workshop with Carol Eat.
Head south from the lights of Hamilton to places like Waitomo and Puebio, for a beautiful starry sky. If you don’t have a clear night, you can always go to the caves for a walk on fireflies in Waitomo for a backup option, as you will have a similar experience looking at the night sky.
Another great place in Waikato for stargazing is Raglan, where you can watch the sunset over the water and wait for the stars to shine.
Pinnacles is the highest point in the Coromandel mountain ranges and offers a great trek. It is one of the most popular day trips in the country, and it has been enhanced with the addition of an overnight stay in DOC cabins above. At the top of the Coromandel Forest, a night in a cabin is a lovely opportunity to witness panoramic views of the night sky.
Astronomers are often seen trekking the docks around the Rotorua lakes to capture the night sky with cameras. Favorite lakes for viewing the night sky include Lake Tarawera, Lake Ōkareka, and Lake Rotorua.
For a unique geothermal experience, head to Te Puia to see the Geyser By Night Show on a clear night, for a torchlight path through Te Puia Geothermal Valley.
If luxury and relaxation are your style, head to Nightsky Cottage to comfortably admire the stars in front of the fireplace.
The house has architectural skylights in the living room to allow the guests to enjoy the sky.
For those wanting a more star-studded adventure, take a guided sunrise stroll through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with Adrift Tongariro. You will start walking around 2 am, watch the falling stars, walk under the Milky Way with headlights, and continue to the top of Red Crater just in time for sunrise.
Pouakai Cabins is a 16-pier rustic cabin on Mount Taranaki and a great place to spend the night stargazing.
Or, you can go to the New Plymouth Observatory to use reflecting telescopes, including one that visitors can attach to their digital cameras.
Weirarapa is about to become more famous due to its starry skies as it is on its way to becoming New Zealand’s largest reserve. The night sky is so dark that the Milky Way can be seen from horizon to horizon.
Stonehenge Aotearoa is an open-air astronomical observatory that offers night and sunset tours. Henge integrates knowledge of stellar navigation in the Pacific Ocean and ancient interpretations of the sky.
In Wellington, visit the Carter Observatory to see the historic Thomas Cook Telescope and enjoy the interactive exhibits and exhibits in the full planetarium.
Wai-iti Domain, which gained prominence last year, is New Zealand’s first Dark Sky Park. Wai-iti covers 153 hectares of recreation protected land in the Tasmanian region and is famous for its pristine night sky.
Another beautiful stargazing spot in the area is on the shores of Lake Rotuiti, in Nelson Lakes National Park.
Kaikoura is a beautiful place on its own, and the place makes it a magical experience looking out over the night sky. Locals recommend going to the viewpoint at the top of the peninsula on a dark night.
The Hornoy region, north of Canterbury, is a rugged, rural area of the country with many stargazing outbacks. One of the best spots is Mt Lyford, an alpine village at 1,260 meters above sea level, nestled in the midst of Manuka forests.
To the south, head to the Waipara Valley and sleep under the stars on the remote PurePod on Greystone Vineyard, a luxurious interior made entirely of glass.
If you ask a New Zealander about the most popular stargazing destination in the country, they’ll likely tell you Tekapo. It is an internationally recognized dark sky reserve and is home to the Mount John Observatory at the University of Canterbury, known as the largest astronomical research observatory in the country.
One of the most popular Instagram photos in New Zealand has to be the rear view of a person submerged in Queenstown’s Hot Onsen baths, looking out at the Milky Way. Heated pools allow for incredible stargazing from your private cedar hot tub.
But if you know the area, you will know Lake Muki offers an impressive night view. The sky is very dark, the stars twinkling, the alpine views of the mountains and the lake make photography astonishing for astrophotography.
In the winter months, try skiing under the stars at Pico Coronet during the night skiing sessions.
Hang out with astrophysicist Paul Bishop on an evening sky tour from My Share City. This small town is seeking official recognition as the Night Sky community. He has taken night sky readings under the auspices of the University of Otago to help confirm that it has one of the darkest night skies in the country.
Travel through the depths of the fjords on a night boat and enjoy a unique night sky experience on the water. The captain turns off the ship’s lights to reduce light pollution. Lie on the deck and look up, remembering who sleeps under the same night sky.
Rakiura / Stewart Island is the second island in the world to gain official Dark Sky sanctuary status, the first being Aotea / Great Barrier Island.
There are several observation platforms throughout the island, including Observation Rock near Oban, Moturau Moana Gardens, Ackers Point, and Lee Bay. Or take a tour with Twinkle Dark Sky Tours to guide you through the universe. If you are lucky, you will be able to see Aurora Australis.