Seven Epic Spots For Stargazing In New Zealand
With dark clear skies, unique celestial displays and earthly landscapes that look like they come from another planet, New Zealand is one of the world’s premier stargazing destinations.
Whether you’re peering up at the heavens from a city observatory or staring up at the sky from some remote corner of the country, you’ll be blown away by these seven stellar stargazing spots.
Aoraki Mount Cook
About 4300 square kilometres of wild South Island terrain is protected as an International Dark Sky Reserve — the largest reserve of this kind anywhere on earth. In fact, this area around Aoraki Mount Cook has been awarded ‘gold’ status, meaning there’s virtually no light pollution at all. Visit Big Sky Stargazing at the foot of Mount Cook learn about all the constellations, planets and galaxies you can spot from a team of professionals. Don’t miss the view from the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre’s deck to see the stars sparkle above the craggy mountains. Or just stroll out the front door of YHA Aoraki Mount Cook and point your head skywards to admire the star-studded canvas above.
This mountain-fringed lake also falls within the South Island’s International Dark Sky Reserve, making Lake Tekapo another glittering destination for stargazing. Join a Dark Sky Project tour at the Mount John Observatory, a world-class research centre containing New Zealand’s most powerful telescope perched at the peak of Mount John. At ground level, Tekapo’s dramatic mountain scenery provides a stunning backdrop for the stars twinkling in the deep black skies above. And during winter, this part of the South Island comes alive with the Southern Lights — all the more reason to book a stay at the brand spanking new YHA Lake Tekapo.
Sheltered by mountains and gifted with plenty of unpolluted sky, New Zealand’s adventure capital is also one of the country’s top stargazing spots. Catch the gondola high above Queenstown to examine the heavens through a telescope on one of Skyline Stargazing’s daily tours, which even include dinner for a truly unforgettable night under the stars. Looking for something a little more high octane? During winter, some Queenstown resorts offer night skiing on weekends, so you can watch the stars sparkle as you’re cruising down the slopes.
The sky above New Zealand’s biggest city might be dimmed by light pollution, but Auckland is home to two great vantage points for stargazing. One is the Auckland Stardome, an observatory and planetarium that puts on family shows that are tailor-made for kids. The other is the Shakespear Regional Park, 40 minutes’ drive north of the city. This open sanctuary shelters NZ’s most endangered native wildlife, and stays open until 9pm in summer and 7pm in winter — head there after sunset to see the stars glisten above the Auckland skyline in the distance.
Tongariro National Park
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the world’s most scenic hikes, and it’s no less spectacular after dark. Weaving between dramatic peaks like Ngauruhoe (better known as Mount Doom), Tongariro and Ruapehu, the trail is busy during the day but positively serene at night. Don a headlamp and follow your guide on an overnight crossing through the Tongariro National Park, when bright stars illuminate the shadowy mountains before giving way to a sunrise that will take your breath away. Exhausted after your epic all-nighter? Then YHA National Park and YHA Ohakune are the perfect places to crash.
In the capital, catch the cable car up to Carter Observatory — New Zealand’s national observatory gives visitors a glimpse of the heavens that’s almost as impressive as its panoramic views over Wellington below. Outside of the city, the Zealandia eco-sanctuary offers an equally extraordinary after-dark experience — book a night tour to meet native New Zealand animals like the kiwi under the moonlight, gazing up at the stars above.
Better known as the Southern Lights, Aurora Australis is the Southern Hemisphere’s version of the Northern Lights. And because New Zealand is so close to the South Pole where the Southern Lights originate, it’s one of the few points on the planet where you can witness this brilliant celestial wonder. Shining shades of purple, green, yellow and blue, the Southern Lights appear as sheets of light shimmering in the sky during the winter months in New Zealand. The further south you go, the more likely you are to see Aurora Australis light up the sky — explore remote areas around Dunedin, Tekapo and Queenstown on a clear night in July and August for your best chance of catching this awesome natural light show.
YHA Auckland City
This modern, recently refurbished backpacker hostel combines the excitement of the city with a safe and secure environment.
YHA Wellington is one of the best-located backpacker hostels in town, complete with two kitchens, vibrant communal spaces, and an on-site espresso bar.
YHA National Park
A backpacker hostel for the volcano fanatics, YHA National Park is an ideal hub to explore the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing as well as skiing Mt Ruapehu.
YHA Aoraki Mt Cook
Situated in a refreshingly remote part of the South Island, YHA Aoraki Mt Cook is a log cabin-style backpacker hostel that's surrounded by the monumental views of the Southern Alps.
YHA Queenstown Central
In the fast-beating heart of Queenstown, this modern backpacker hostel is a secure, comfortable base near everything this alpine town has to offer.
YHA Lake Tekapo
Brand new and state of the art, YHA Lake Tekapo hostel features unobstructed lake views, modern facilities, and an adjoining cafe.
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