With its light pollution-free skies, New Zealand is an ideal location for stargazing enthusiasts. Particularly impressive are New Zealand’s southern regions which can offer some truly incredible viewing experiences.
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve offers guests an unforgettable stargazing experience; here, guests can spend the night under the stars in a glass-roofed Purepod, tour an observatory or learn more about Maori starlore through starlore lessons.
Imagine an evening sky so dark you can easily spot shooting stars and galaxies – this is what awaits visitors to Aoraki Mackenzie, the southern hemisphere’s first and world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve. Covering 4,300sq kms almost entirely devoid of light pollution*, Aoraki Mackenzie offers breathtaking vistas dotted with stars and planets galore.
New Zealanders have long celebrated the night sky as part of its natural and cultural landscape, and the Aoraki Mackenzie region stands out for having some of the clearest dark skies anywhere. Indeed, Aoraki Mackenzie was awarded Gold Tier status by the International Dark-Sky Association – its highest designation available to regions.
Mike Bacchus owns Lakestone Lodge on the banks of stunningly blue Lake Pukaki in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park – at the center of Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. Visitors come from far and wide to take in its breathtaking landscapes – vibrant lupin fields amid glacial lakes, snow-topped peaks rising out of golden mountains, but what truly impresses visitors are the stars at night.
Strict outdoor lighting controls create the ideal conditions for stargazing in this region, and there are several paid tours to take advantage of it. Tekapo Stargazing (opens in new window) provides an unforgettable combination of relaxation and education – they will transport you to their secret spot for hot pool relaxation as you are entertained by guides who combine astronomy with storytelling.
Mount John Observatory offers world-class astronomy at Mount Tekapo and hosts an international Dark Sky Reserve; visitors are also encouraged to participate in its Dark Sky Project. Officially designated in 2012, Tekapo’s International Dark Sky Reserve is a must-visit spot for stargazers. Tekapo Lake itself lies within New Zealand’s only International Dark Sky Reserve and makes an ideal stargazing location. It was designated officially in 2012; and is the largest reserve in the Southern Hemisphere. Tekapo also houses Mount John Observatory with world-class astronomy where you can take part in its Dark Sky Project initiative!
At this renowned observatory, expert guides will guide you outside and into the darkness to show how to identify stars in the sky and explain their meaning to Maori people. Stargazing plays an integral part of Makariki – Maori New Year celebration held annually on 24 June – so stars should definitely be noted!
New Zealand national parks are rapidly establishing themselves as go-to spots for astronomy-based recreation, with over 120 park units now offering night sky programs or related initiatives. This trend, which has significantly increased over the last several years, stems from increasing recognition that dark skies are essential to both wildlife health and human well being in addition to supporting astronomy.
Tekapo provides the ideal starting point for exploring Mackenzie Basin and Stewart Island, offering hiking, horseback riding, scenic drive tours or simply admiring its breathtaking beauty. Though there’s much to do during the daytime activities can often make for unforgettable starry-lit evenings here!
Stewart Island/Rakiura stands as one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserves and offers unrivalled stargazing experiences. Thanks to its remote location and minimal light pollution, you’re ensured a pristine view of Southern Hemisphere stars. Take a guided tour and discover its beauty – or learn about Maori Astronomy; don’t miss visiting Observation Rock and Church of Good Shepherd during your New Zealand honeymoon – the latter two being highlights in themselves.
Victoria Campbell, board member and Ngai Tahu tribal member at Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and Ngai Tahu member, believes New Zealanders are increasingly fascinated with the night sky for both cultural and environmental reasons. For instance, Maori astronomy revival is drawing people together to remember loved ones, seek inspiration in stars, and look ahead. Matariki marks Maori New Year in midwinter; New Zealanders have enthusiastically adopted its celebration as public holidays and many communities celebrate it each year for instance!
New Zealand’s Dark Sky Reserves have garnered international acclaim, earning worldwide attention for their exceptional skies. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve achieved gold status – the highest possible designation a Sanctuary can attain – while providing paid tours and experiences such as floating in hammocks and hot pools while guides provide entertainment and education through both astronomy and storytelling.
Great Barrier Island
New Zealand’s Dark Sky Reserves provide breathtaking stargazing at night. These areas boast minimal light pollution and natural illumination of the night sky, which allows more of the Milky Way and other constellations to be visible. There are also fewer lights reflecting off of water bodies so more Aurora Australis may appear!
Kaye and Luke Paardekooper took advantage of their UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve status to diversify into astrotourism with a luxury Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat featuring both wine cellar and observatory – hoping to offer an exclusive astrotourism experience alongside larger group tours available through University of Canterbury’s Mt John Observatory.
Great Barrier Island is the world’s first off-grid sanctuary, giving it dark skies due to its isolation. Join a guided stargazing tour with Good Heavens(opens in new window), relaxing on their comfortable “moon chairs” while waves lazily lashed against the beach as you look into space with their high-powered telescope and exploring Milky Way, planets, star clusters or simply enjoy great manaakitanga (hospitality) by enjoying light refreshments after dark!
New Zealand offers many other locations ideal for stargazing besides just its southern regions, however. Fiordland boasts the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve while Stewart Island and Rakiura both possess International Dark Sky Association certification as dark sky reserves.