New Zealand

Astrotourism in New Zealand

Ersan Fedai

Ersan Fedai  |  15 September 2021

Space travel and tourism is well underway thanks to the likes of Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, who are taking people on commercial flights into the Earth’s atmosphere. There is a huge waitlist and cost to take these commercial flights! However, did you know can experience the wonders of our galaxy from here in New Zealand?

 Click the links below to skip through the article:

  1. What is Astrotoursim?
  2. Best places to Stargaze and see the southern lights in New Zealand
  3. Stargazing and Southern Lights tours with Viva Expeditions

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What is Astrotourism?

Astrotourism is space related experiences you can do here on earth. Travel to rural locations with beautiful landscapes that have low levels of light pollution where you can witness the night sky at its best. Astrotourism includes stargazing tours, witnessing a solar eclipse from special viewpoints, looking at planets from telescopes, heading to research facilities and observatories or visiting remote locations to witness the magnificent southern and northern Lights.

This type of tourism and travel involves us heading out and night and looking up at the sky to see all the magical wonders of the universe. However, this this type of travel doesn’t always involve travelling too far, especially if you live in New Zealand!

Best places to stargaze and see the southern lights in New Zealand

New Zealand has plenty of rural space and dark areas away from light pollution, making it ideal to stargaze, witness the aurora australis (southern lights) and see the planets align. Here are some of the best places to stargaze or see the southern lights:

Lake Tekapo

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South Islands International Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo is surrounded by a beautiful mountain overlooking a pristine lake, making it one of the best places to stargaze in New Zealand. Head up to Mount John Observatory, a world class research centre, home to New Zealand’s most powerful telescope. You can learn about constellations and stars from expert astronomers and guides here.

The dramatic mountain scenery provides a perfect backdrop for the stars in the sky above. In the winter months where the nights are longer, you may even be lucky to witness the remarkable Southern Lights. Lake Tekapo is a perfect destination for night sky tours and a great place to get fantastic photos of the Milky Way!

Aoraki Mount Cook

NightSky Lake stone lodge

Just round the corner from Lake Tekapo it should be no surprise that Aoraki Mount Cook is another amazing location to stargaze and experience the night sky. Protected as an International Dark Sky Reserve and the largest one of its types. You will find virtually zero light pollution in the area at all. Here you can visit Big Sky Stargazing at the Hermitage or just step outside your hotel and look up at the sky above.

Stewart Island

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New Zealand’s third largest island and national park, Stewart Island/Rakiura is a Dark Sky Sanctuary. This was awarded to Stewart Island in 2019 by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) for having outstanding sky quality. With 85% of Stewart Island is protected as Rakiura National Park this is not only great for stargazing but also a fantastic spot for viewing the southern lights here in New Zealand.

Otago & Southland

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Full of snow-capped mountains and gifted with plenty of unpolluted sky, New Zealand’s south-eastern and southern most regions are amazing for stargazing. Popular spots for astrophotography and aurora hunting include; areas around Queenstown like Lake Hayes, Oreti Beach or Bluff Hill near Invercargill, Waipapa Light House, Curio Bay and Nugget Point in the Catlins, and Second Beach, Sandfly Bay and Hoopers Inlet near Dunedin. 

Fiordland

Travel deep into ones of New Zealand’s most beautiful regions, Fiordland. Take an overnight boat cruise which will have you soaking up the stunning stary night sky while on the water. All you need to do here is lay back on the deck of your boat and look up and the clear skies above and maybe falling asleep under the stars.

Other place in New Zealand that are also notable to mention for Dark Skys include, Aotea Great Barrier Island (an International Dark Sky Sanctuary), Ruapehu (a Tongariro Night Crossing!), Coromandel Peninsula and Castlepoint in the Wairarapa.

Matariki

In New Zealand we celebrate Matariki, the Maori New Year, in the months of June and July. The Matariki star cluster reappears above the horizon, ushering in a new year according to the Māori lunar calendar. Other names for the Matariki cluster of stars internationally include the Pleiades, or Subaru. You can take part in festivities around New Zealand that mark Matariki, such as light shows on the Auckland Harbour Bridge or at Te Papa Museum in Wellington. This is a great opportunity to learn more about this star cluster and the significance it holds in Māori culture. 

Viva Astro tours in New Zealand

We here at Viva have embraced the stunning night sky here in New Zealand and put together some unique Astro tours and nigh sky tours.

Dark Sky Experience

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Spend two nights on this group tour of star gazing, astronomy and astrophotography at Tekapo and Mt John, located in the Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.

A bespoke mountaintop stargazing experience at the world-renowned astronomical centre; UC Mt John Observatory, great for all levels, whether you want to learn a little about our night sky, or a keen to do a little astrophotography.

Learn more here.

Magical Mount Cook

On this tour you will discover one of New Zealand’s most beautiful regions, Aoraki Mount Cook. Spending 3 luxurious days exploring mountains, glaciers, lakes and star gazing.

The lodge is located in the middle of the largest International Dark Sky Reserve, if the weather behaves you will have fab views of the milky way, southern cross and more.

Learn more here.

Stewart Island Aurora Hunters

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On this small group tour you have the opportunity to explore the night skies, searching for Aurora Australis and other secrets of the universe.  At the same time spend your days exploring the best Stewart Island has to offer from Kiwi spotting to cruising the Paterson inlet, with time at leisure to explore further and do your own thing.

A local Stewart Island aurora hunter will give you tips on witnessing and photographing Aurora. She will also have a telescope and binoculars available for use.

Learn more here.

Southern Lights by Flight

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Many people spend a small fortune to fly to Norway, Canada or the Arctic Circle to see the Northern lights, but did you realize that you can see the same phenomena on a flight departing from Christchurch New Zealand.

Witness the world’s most remarkable natural lightshow the Aurora Australis from the air on this Air New Zealand exclusive charter flight, led by leading New Zealand astronomer, Dr Ian Griffin.

 Learn more here.

 

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