New Zealand’s natural appeal is known to all, as the country lays out its charm in plenty. But raise your eyes a little and you will be blown away by a whole new splendorous thing. This beautiful nation, glorious as it is on the ground, is just as spectacular up in the sky. Could we interest you in a spot of stargazing?
New Zealand enjoys clear skies and has very little urban light pollution, making it a haven for stargazers. And the best part, you can sit back and enjoy this celestial display from pretty much anywhere in the country. However, if you really want to take stargazing to a different level, you should head over to these amazing destinations.
If you’re staying in Wellington then the closest spot for you is the amazing Zealandia Ecosanctuary. The place is pretty fascinating by itself, and it takes on a whole different appeal at night, which is when you must visit. The night tour begins about 30 minutes before sunset. For the next two and a half hours you will be able to get up close and witness nocturnal animals living in their natural habitats. If you are lucky, you might also spot the endangered native kiwi. But that’s not the main plan. The night is when you get a splendid opportunity to stargaze. The path is lit up with torches but they all have a red filter so as to not disturb the wildlife. This also generates minimal light pollution, creating the perfect conditions for spotting beautiful star constellations along the way.
If your bucket list does include stargazing, then we highly recommend making a visit to the Aoraki National Park. This natural reserve has a 4,300 sq. km chunk of land that holds the distinction of being the world’s first ‘gold’ status International Dark Sky Reserve. What this means is that there is no light pollution around it, making it possibly the best place in New Zealand to see the night sky in all its beauty. This is also the world’s largest IDSR and you can easily find yourself a corner to settle down for the night and spend hours, contemplating the never-ending expanse of the night sky. If your plans include visiting Aoraki Mt Cook and staying overnight, then step out for a post-dinner walk to enjoy a truly stunning shimmering canvas above.
New Zealand’s third largest island, Stewart Island, is a great place to take in the beauty of the night sky, over the country. The island is home to the Rakiura National Park, and many people opt for the night tour which brings out a whole lot of nocturnal creatures, including the now-endangered local flightless bird, the kiwi. While the night safari is a big hit, an even bigger draw is the chance to view the Aurora Australis – the Southern Lights – in person. Everyone knows about the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights, but not much has been said or written about the southern counterpart. This is a sight to behold, and with extremely low levels of light pollution, the view is indeed spectacular. The dark night sky and the bright dancing colours of the Aurora Australis make the night memorable for a long time to come.
When in the Aoraki Mackenzie region, make the time to visit Lake Tekapo. Famed for being one of the best places in New Zealand to stargaze, you really have to experience the night sky above Tekapo to understand what we’re so excited about. Take the stargazing a level above and make a trip to the top of Mt John. Here you can join the night tour at the observatory up there and also make use of the country’s most powerful telescope to spot up to 50 million stars. Nothing else can compare to that, believe us. No other stargazing experience can come close.
The best time to enjoy a spot of serious stargazing in Queenstown is in winter. Not the months of December-January, but think mid-year. New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere and winter starts in early July. Head to the Coronet Peak ski resort and spend a few hours night skiing on the slopes. Unfortunately, the floodlights are strong, and you might not get the best views on the slopes. However when you are driving back to Queenstown, pull into one of the many viewing stops along the highway. Turn off your car lights and get mesmerised by the amazing skies above Queenstown. This is a sight that you will never forget, and trust us, the night skies will not look this pretty from anywhere else. Do add this to your bucket list when in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a nature lover’s paradise, and the sheer number of natural parks and sanctuaries is amazing. If your holiday has brought you to Auckland, may we recommend driving down to Shakespear Regional Park? This is New Zealand’s most visited and most accessible open sanctuary. It combines conservation, recreation and farming, all within one massive area. You will spot some of New Zealand’s most threatened native wildlife here. There are no guided tours in the park and you are welcome to roam around here 24 hours a day. If watching animals in their natural habitat is on your agenda, we recommend a night trip to the top of the lookout. From this vantage point you will be able to get an uninterrupted view of the amazing night sky above you. This opportunity to stargaze is unbeatable, and when coupled with the possibility of spotting wildlife, it gets even better. Stay the night and complete the experience with an amazing sunrise.
New Zealand boasts of one of the world’s best one-day hikes. The Tongariro Crossing offers you a stunning landscape that is full of sulphurous lakes and sits in the midst of the towering mountains of Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom), Tongariro and Ruapehu. Unfortunately, all this makes the Tongariro Crossing one of New Zealand’s busiest walking tracks. However, night crossings are less frequented. Not only will you beat the crowds, but you will also manage to do some serious stargazing. The tour starts at around 2am. Ably helped by your headlamp and your hiking guide, you will pass between the dark shadows of the mountains with the stunning night sky as your watchful guardian. End the night tour with a spectacular sunrise from the top of red crater.
These are the top 7 places in New Zealand for ardent stargazers. Which one of them will you head to first? Simply decide on your itinerary, and leave the rest to us.