New Zealand's night sky: Unlike any other
“The area you go to is pretty remote and on clear days the stars are truly amazing. I have seen nothing like it anywhere in the USA, even in the remote areas of our national parks. I would recommend the tour to anyone I know.”
This recent review from Ben of Nebraska of our night tour to Tawharanui is just one example of the many like it we hear about the night sky around Auckland and New Zealand. So much of our tours are about the incredible flora and fauna you’ll find just by looking down and around, but it’s so important to take a moment to look up for a sight that’s just as precious and unbelievable.
Tawharanui by night
The main reason we tour Tawharanui at night is to offer our guests a chance to see the elusive kiwi in the wild. Plus, you can also see the beautiful morepork and other night-time critters.
However, the stars are another of the area’s exciting attractions. Tawharanui is far enough from Auckland city – or any other township – in order to suffer from no light pollution. This means you have an unrestricted view of the skies, with the slowly lapping waves on the shore reflecting the moon and starlight from above.
It’s not uncommon at all to see shooting stars and satellites during our visits to the area.
The world’s largest night sky reserve
The Aoraki McKenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest of its kind in the world. Ever since June 2012, 4,300 square kilometres around the McKenzie area in New Zealand’s South Island has been set out as the reserve.
The McKenzie area includes the country’s tallest mountain, Mt Cook, as well as small towns Twizel and Tekapo. This spot is also home to the Mt John Observatory, which is widely regarded as the world’s most beautiful and easily accessible observatories. This facility was placed in this particular spot after three years of testing to find the best location for star gazing.
And according to the executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association, Bob Parks, this South Island reserve is “one of the best star gazing sites on earth”.
What you can see in New Zealand’s night skies
As much as half of the world’s population can no longer see the stars due to growing levels of both air and light pollution.
Fortunately, even in New Zealand’s biggest cities, the stars are still present and visible whenever the clouds depart. When they do, we enjoy views of some very special stars.
The most famous is easily the Southern Cross, a set of four bright stars that have long been used in navigation, and are now a feature of New Zealand’s (current) flag). The Milky Way galaxy is another prominent feature in our skies, and at certain points during the year, you can even see constellations that are visible from the northern hemisphere, such as Orion and Scorpius.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist