New Zealand

Astrotourism in New Zealand

Melanie Wright  |  27 March 2023

New Zealand is a dream destination for travelers seeking a unique and unforgettable astrotourism experience. The country's remote location and low light pollution make it an ideal location for observing some of the most spectacular astronomical events in the Southern Hemisphere. From witnessing the mesmerizing Southern Lights to stargazing in the clear skies of Mt Cook and on Stewart Island, New Zealand offers an array of astrotourism opportunities that are sure to leave you in awe. In this blog article, we will take a closer look at these amazing experiences and why they are a must-do for any traveler interested in exploring the wonders of the universe.

 Click the links below to skip through the article:

  1. What is Astrotourism?
  2. Best places to stargaze and see the Southern Lights in New Zealand
  3. Stargazing and Southern Lights tours with Viva Expeditions


Astrotourism in New Zealand


What is Astrotourism?

Astrotourism refers to 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 heading out at 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 (especially in the more sparsely-populated southern regions), making it ideal to stargaze, witness the aurora australis (southern lights) and see the planets align. Some of the best places to stargaze or see the southern lights in New Zealand are Dark Sky Reserves and Sanctuaries - areas where pollution from artificial light is extremely low, and is restricted to preserve the darkness of the night sky.


Lake Tekapo
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International Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo


The world's largest International Dark Sky Reserve covers 4,300km² (1,660mi²) of the Mackenzie Basin in the central South Island, including the township of Tekapo. Sitting on the shores of Lake Tekapo, the village 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 and 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 when the nights are longer, you may even be lucky enough 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!

> Go stargazing at Lake Tekapo


Aoraki Mount Cook
NightSky Lake stone lodge

Aoraki Mount Cook


Tucked away amongst the Southern Alps and just over an hour's drive from Lake Tekapo, it should be no surprise that Aoraki Mount Cook is another amazing location to stargaze and experience the night sky. Sitting at the foot of New Zealand's tallest mountain and within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, you will find virtually zero light pollution in the area at all. Here you can visit Big Sky Stargazing at the Hermitage Hotel, or just step outside your hotel and look up at the sky above.

> Go stargazing at Mt Cook, New Zealand


Stewart Island
Southern Lights over Stewart Island, by Sandra Whipp

Stewart Island - Photo by Sandra Whipp


New Zealand’s third largest island Stewart Island/Rakiura is a Dark Sky Sanctuary - yes, that's right, the entire 1,746 km2 (674 sq mi) island is a sanctuary for exceptionally dark skies! This was awarded to Stewart Island in 2019 by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) for having outstanding sky quality and nearly no threats to the quality of it's dark skies.

With 85% of Stewart Island protected as Rakiura National Park, this is not only a great destination for stargazing and viewing the southern lights here in New Zealand, it's also full of native wildlife. In fact, there are more kiwi on the island than people!

> Go Aurora Hunting on Stewart Island


Otago & Southland
Milky Way in Southland

Milky Way in Southland


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 (eg 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. 



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


But wait, there's more!

If you're not able to make it to these southern regions to enjoy their spectacular dark skies, there are places in more northern regions of New Zealand where you can still enjoy incredible stargazing, including Aotea Great Barrier Island (an International Dark Sky Sanctuary off the coast of Auckland), Ruapehu (central North Island), Coromandel Peninsula, and Castlepoint (Wairarapa).



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.


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 night sky tours.


Dark Sky Experience
20210320 Group aurora

Stargazing Experience at Mt John Observatory


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

A bespoke mountaintop stargazing experience at the world-renowned astronomical centre, Mt John Observatory. Great for all levels, whether you want to learn a little about our night sky, or are interested in 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 world's largest International Dark Sky Reserve, home to fantastic views of the milky way, southern cross and more.

Learn more here.


Stewart Island Aurora Hunters
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Stewart Island Aurora Hunters Tour


On this small group tour you have the opportunity to explore the night skies, searching for Aurora Australis and other secrets of the universe. A local Stewart Island aurora hunter will guide you, giving you tips on witnessing and photographing Aurora. You'll also enjoy the unforgettable experiences of spotting kiwi in the wild, and cruising the stunningly beautiful Paterson Inlet, with time at leisure to explore further and do your own thing.

Learn more here.


Southern Lights by Flight
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Southern Lights by Flight


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 expert astronomers and photographers.

Learn more here.


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