When it comes to stargazing, few countries can beat New Zealand. With minimal air and light pollution, New Zealand is a stargazing aficionado’s dream come true. There are several splendid stargazing spots in New Zealand. All three islands that make up the country have their unique spots.
To make it easier for you to browse, I’ve divided this list into three main sections, according to the island they are on. Happy stargazing!
Best stargazing spots in the North Island
1. Great Barrier Island/Aotea
The Great Barrier Island is one of the “not-to-be-missed” additions to this list. This place is the first island in the world to be awarded the International Dark Sky Sanctuary status and for a good reason!
The skies here are spectacular because of the minimal population and pollution levels. The region is primarily off-the-grid, which means that the Great Barrier Island is pretty serious about maintaining its Dark Sky Sanctuary status.
A great idea would be to make an overnight trip of it because the island boasts of multiple accommodation options with some truly jaw-dropping views!
2. Shakespear Regional Park
About a 45-minute drive from the Auckland CBD is the Shakespear Regional Park. This park is not only a great place to view the night sky but is also home to some of New Zealand’s most endangered native animals.
The park stays open till 9 pm on summer nights but closes at about 7 pm in winters. Take a picnic basket along, spread a blanket, and prepare to be mesmerized by the stunning views of the Milky Way.
3. The Auckland Stardome
Possibly one of the best places to stargaze on the North Island, the Auckland Stardome has something for every astronomy fan. The most popular tour is ‘Our Night Sky’, where a presenter takes you on a live journey of the sky and points out the visible planets and constellations. Tickets usually start at about 15 NZD or about 10 USD for adults.
The Stardome boasts of the spectacular Zeiss Telescope, which is a Cassegrain reflector, manufactured by Carl Zeiss. The telescope promises viewings of at least 3-4 deep-space objects on a clear night.
The observatory also has several courtyard telescopes, that are operated by an experienced team who will help you locate different deep-space objects.
4. Tongariro National Park
The hikes through Tongariro will take you through some fabulous landscapes.
While attempting a night hike, be sure to take a guide with you. If you aren’t familiar with the hike, the terrain can be surprising because it is so undulating. Adrift Tongariro offers several guided walks that you can choose from, depending on the duration you want to hike for.
The sunrise walk is, of course, the one to choose if you are a fan of the skies. On a clear night, you will have unrivalled views of the Milky Way, and you should easily be able to point out the common constellations of stars.
5. Stonehenge Aotearoa
You didn’t think England has sole dibs on this one, did you? Jokes aside, Stonehenge Aotearoa is a modern reinterpretation of the ancient and mysterious original.
Located in the Wairarapa region, this site is almost at the bottom of the North Island. It is perhaps a tad more accessible from the capital city of Wellington than it is from Auckland. The guided tours of the sky are held every Friday and Saturday, and you have the chance to look through their giant telescopes at the skies. Tickets are relatively cheap and start at 15 NZD or 10 USD for adults.
6. Warkworth Radio Astronomical Observatory aka, Warkworth Satellite Earth Station
I’ll be the first to admit that stargazing at this location needs careful planning. You see, the Warkworth Observatory is not generally open to the public, unlike other entries on this list of stargazing sites in New Zealand.
You will need to get onto one of their special tours to get a chance to look at the heavens through their Warkworth 30m Radio Telescope. The advantage is that this place is less than an hour’s drive from Auckland’s CBD. The skies over the Observatory make for incredible stargazing because they offer relatively clear views, away from most flight paths.
The Warkworth Observatory is also recognized as a place of historical importance since the onsite satellite dishes were why New Zealand was able to televise the 1974 Commonwealth Games live globally.
7. The Coromandel Peninsula
The beautiful Coromandel Peninsula is more than just home to Narnia. The dark skies over the region offer stargazers the ability to lie back and watch the stars while listening to the gentle waves of the sea.
If there’s one thing you need to do while planning your Aotearoa holiday, it is to look up this little known company called Stargazers. They offer beautiful accommodation, with options to suit all budgets. However, the best thing is that they offer amazing guided tours of the Coromandel sky from the heart of the New Zealand bush. If you choose to stay at their Bed & Breakfast, these tours are offered as a complementary part of your stay.
They have a professional 14″ Celestron telescope in their custom-built rotating astronomy dome, that will allow you to get a seriously good look at the skies. On a clear night, you should be able to view several planets and stars.
8. Space Place at Carter Observatory
The Space Place at Carter Observatory is located in the Kiwi capital city. While in Wellington, don’t forget to head to Space Place to get a look at the dark skies through their historic Thomas Cooke telescope. They also boast a superb planetarium with multiple programs to suit various ages. More information can be found here.
There are several other spots on the North Island that are worth exploring, especially if you are in the area. If you have the time, check out the areas of Piha and Muriwai, next to Auckland. These areas do have a little light pollution but are pretty good for a casual night of stargazing. Also, check out New Plymouth in Taranaki- a few spots along Surf Highway 45 in this region offer splendid views of the Milky Way. Wellington’s Zealandia is also pretty good, but they do not do specific stargazing tours.
Best stargazing spots in the South Island
Before I start this list of the best stargazing spots in New Zealand’s South Island, I have to give you fair warning. The South Island isn’t as densely populated as the North Island and hence, with less light and air pollution, there are fantastic stargazing spots around every corner! Hence, I’m only going to list the best of the lot, but that doesn’t mean that these are the only ones on the South Island.
9. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve
Let’s be honest, you can’t talk about stargazing in New Zealand and not mentioning this region. Sorry North Islanders, but if there’s one place in New Zealand that you must visit if you’re into stargazing, it’s this one!
The only Dark Sky Reserve in the entire Southern Hemisphere, this 4300 square kilometre area is also the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world. It has been awarded Gold status, which basically means zero to very minimal light pollution.
Do not miss a tour to the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory, where the expanse of open skies and the resulting views are absolutely breath-taking. They offer guided tours and is a great place to observe the sky through their 6 powerful telescopes, including New Zealand’s largest.
10. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
This national park will blow you away, and not just because of its blue lakes and snow-covered mountain peaks. Because of the minimal light pollution in the area, the skies over the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park are absolutely phenomenal. Even if you aren’t the most serious fan of astronomy, the view of millions of stars will leave you awestruck.
If you’re lucky, and it is a clear night (the weather here can be super fickle), you will be able to observe constellations that are only seen in the Southern Hemisphere, including the Southern Cross, and the Magellan Cluster.
11. Lake Tekapo
Imagine going out for a stroll after dinner, walking towards the Church of Good Shepherd, and looking upwards at the millions of stars, in a sky that is darker than a Night Fury. Yep, just living your everyday life in Tekapo!
If you google images for stargazing in New Zealand, I can bet my life that the Church of Good Shepherd in front of an amazing sky dotted with stars, will be one of those pictures! The church is Instagram famous, so if you’re in the area, stay until it’s dark and the stars are out. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
Also, check out the Dark Sky Project and book yourself a place on one of their excellent stargazing tours. Try their Crater Experience at Cowan’s Private Observatory; you can thank me later!
The West Coast is another beautiful part of the South Island that is great for stargazing. While light pollution levels are slightly higher than the Mackenzie Region, they are still low enough to offer amazing views.
If you are keen on a guided tour, Richard from Stargazing Punakaiki conducts personal 1-1.5 hour trips by prior arrangement and helps you identify planets and stars. Stargazing Punakaiki can be contacted through social media.
Halfway between Queenstown and Wanaka is a little hamlet called Cardrona. With a tiny resident population, the area enjoys dark skies with little light pollution. Stargazing Cardrona offers unique stargazing tours, where you will learn about the Cardrona night sky and then use their telescope to observe the planets and stars. More information on their tours can be found here.
Polish up your night photography skills because your ’gram needs a picture of you in front of “that Wanaka tree” at night with the sky ablaze with stars. And if you’re really lucky, you might even witness the Aurora Australis, aka, the Southern Lights.
If you’re in the South Island, you simply can’t skip Queenstown! One of New Zealand’s most popular tourist spots, Queenstown is famous for its gorgeous surroundings. The Southern night sky over Queenstown is stunning, and a stargazing tour at Skyline Queenstown is exactly what the doctor ordered!
Best stargazing spots in Stewart Island
16. Rakiura National Park
Although Stewart Island is known to be one of the best places to chase the Aurora Australis, it is also an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. The skies there are pretty much free of any light pollution due to its remote location. This makes the island the perfect place to get your fill of stargazing. Rakiura National Park is also home to local protected wildlife.
TIP: Walk up to the Ackers Point & Lighthouse on the island and take in the exceptional view!
No matter which spot(s) you choose, New Zealand has a plethora of stargazing spots that will blow your socks off! If you are looking for more information on the best things to do in New Zealand, we’ve got you covered. Check out this guide on what New Zealand is famous for.