Find a place to see the stars
The Big Seven
The Big Seven astronomy attractions in New Zealand are open to the public for telescope viewing and planetarium shows most days and evenings.
Enthusiasts in both main islands offer guided tours of the southern night sky.
Explore the map
Many astronomical societies operate observatories on a few nights each month and are very happy to share their knowledge of New Zealand’s night skies with visitors.
Note : these local astronomy groups welcome interested visitors to their observing nights. Not all groups have a formal charge for their time and expertise. Please show your appreciation by making a donation to the group’s funds.
Accommodation with Astronomy
What better way to appreciate the southern night sky than to spend the whole night under it. These overnight stays are specially designed to enhance your dark sky viewing opportunities.
New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to explore the night sky.
In fact, the sky is so clear that the world's largest Dark Sky Reserve and the world's first Dark Sky Sanctuary on an island have been established here.
- The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is one of only eight ‘Gold Level’ reserves in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. Established in 2012, the 4357 sq km Reserve is in the Mackenzie District and recognises the almost complete lack of light pollution in the area.
- All Aotea/Great Barrier Island was designated in 2017 as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. The island is the third place in the world to be designated a dark sky sanctuary. A Dark Sky Sanctuary is an area that has an exceptional quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.
- In 2019, the island at the southern end of New Zealand – Rakiura/Stewart Island – was also awarded International Dark Sky Sanctuary status. The main populated area is at nearly 47 degrees South, making this one of the best places to observe the aurora australis – the southern lights. Winter is best for dark sky viewing as the summer nights are short at these latitudes.
- A dark sky park of 135 hectares in the north of the South Island - Wai-iti Dark Sky Park - was recognised by the IDA in 2020. It includes the Wai- iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest, just south of Wakefield. The vision of the governing body - Tasman Dark Skies - is to see the night skies of their whole region protected as a taonga for the enjoyment of everyone and future generations.
- The Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve is our newest (2023) addition to certified dark sky areas. This 3665 sq km area is home to 21,000 residents. One hundred percent of the lighting in the core is compliant with the Reserve Lighting Management Plan. Changes to public lighting within the periphery are underway, with over 50 percent of all street lighting already in compliance.
In this directory, there are more than 40 locations from north to south listed where night sky viewing is recommended. A night sky guide will help you identify different celestial objects visible in the night sky, such as stars, planets, galaxies, and constellations. This will help you appreciate the beauty and complexity of the southern night sky.
However, you don't need to spend many days in New Zealand to realise that the weather can change quickly - and often. So don't be disappointed if it's cloudy at night - in a few days, perhaps at your next location, it will be clear again!
Wherever you are in New Zealand, consult this directory to find the friendly locals who know the sky like the back of their hand!
Why did the director of a southern hemisphere observatory, Dr B J Bok, say to members of the Royal Astronomical Society in London - “Gentlemen, you live under the wrong half of the sky!” ?
Find out where to learn more about New Zealand astronomy, weather predictions and more.
Stars. It’s strange to see there are so many of them; though in some detached part of our brains we know there are trillions of trillions of them. But we forget to look. We keep meaning to, but it might only be once or twice a year we find ourselves looking up on a dark night at our own sliver of the universe.
When we do, we feel ourselves pleasantly diminished by the majesty of what we contemplate. As we renew our connection with immensity we’re humbled without being humiliated. It’s not just us, personally and individually who are diminished in comparison. The things that trouble and bother us seem smaller as well.
The sight of the stars – perhaps glimpsed above a suburban railway station coming home late after an extended crisis in the office, or from a bedroom window on a sleepless night – presents us with a direct, sensory impression of the magnitude of the cosmos. Without knowing the exact details we’re powerfully aware that their light has been beaming down changelessly through recorded history; that our great grandparents must have from time to time looked on just the same pattern of tiny lights. They look so densely packed and yet we grasp that they are in fact separated by astonishing gulfs of empty nothingness; that around them circle unknown worlds – lifeless maybe or perhaps teeming with alien vitality and harbouring dramas of incomprehensible splendour and tragedy about which we will never know anything. Perhaps in a hundred or a thousand generations our descendants will be at home even there.
It is sublime because we are drawn entirely out of the normal course of our daily concerns and our thoughts are directed to matters in which we have no personal stake whatever. Our private lives fall into the background, which is a contrastive relief to the normal state of anxious preoccupation with the local and the immediate.
We’re taught that interest in the stars is scientific, but it should be humanistic. If a child gets excited by the stars, parents feel that they should undertake a visit to a planetarium and make a stab at explaining thermonuclear fusion, gravity, the speed of light, red giants, white dwarfs and black holes. The presiding assumption is that an interest in the stars must be directed towards knowledge of astrophysics.
But very few of us will become science professionals. We can afford to be impressionistic because it never will really matter whether we can remember much of the detail. We’re amateurs and we need something else. The stars matter in our lives because they offer a consoling encounter with grandeur, because they invite a helpful perspective on the brevity and littleness of human existence.