Celestial New Zealand: Stargazing in the South Island

New Zealand’s inky black skies showcase thousands of glittering constellations. Home to the darkest skies in the world, stargazing here is truly unique.

New Zealand’s central South Island is home to the  4300sq km Lake Tekapo region, recently named the world’s first “starlight reserve” by UNESCO. Here, light pollution is strictly controlled, creating a stargazing experience that’s second to none. The Starlight Reserve encompasses some of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes and includes New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook, as well as bright turquoise lakes. Keen stargazers will discover features that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere – from the Southern Cross to the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way, New Zealand’s unique skies will take your breath away.

Navigating by the stars

In ancient times, the stars acted like compass points to guide the indigenous Maori people to New Zealand. They followed celestial maps in their tribal canoes, leaving homelands in the Pacific and crossing vast seas with only on the stars for navigation. The Maori people celebrate the importance of the night sky during Matariki, known as Maori New Year. Near the end of May, a cluster of tiny stars rises in New Zealand’s north-east horizon, marking the start of a month of celebrations.

The Aurora Australis

Also known as the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis is particularly active in New Zealand during crisp, clear winter nights. Sheets of vibrant greens, yellows, purples and blues dance silently across the sky. It’s a phenomenon caused by the collision of energy-charged particles above the North and South Poles. The different colours are caused by the different kinds of gas particles. The Southern Lights occur predominantly in the southern half of the South Island – to increase your chances of seeing this phenomenon, aim for a clear, cold night that’s close to a new moon in either July or August.

Tekapo’s Earth and Sky

For an unforgettable stargazing experience, head to Tekapo’s Earth and Sky, who run day and night tours at the Mount John Observatory. Using a 16 inch telescope and large binoculars you’ll be shown New Zealand’s spectacular celestial features and star clusters like the Jewel Box, as well as planets and distant galaxies that will leave you in awe.

At First Light Travel, we’re experts on New Zealand – we would love to help you incorporate unique stargazing experiences into your vacation here. Contact us now, or find out more on our website.

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