In the early days of human history, the night sky was a central character in cultural lore and belief systems. Before artificial light and electrical power, the stars were the primary show available to everyone each night, and the stories about stars, constellations, and other astronomical phenomena seem almost as numerous as the stars themselves. This holds especially true for the Māori of New Zealand, who not only had a complex lore about the night sky, but used the stars for navigation around New Zealand’s islands.
Thanks to this origin, New Zealand has long been a haven for astronomers and increasingly for astrotourists. Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, located in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, is one of the best places in the country to view the night sky. Comprised of Aoraki-Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin, the Dark Sky Reserve was certified in 2012 to continue protecting the dark skies in the area.
Stargazing enthusiasts should plan a visit to Mt. John Observatory, which offers night sky tours and observation through one of the facilities’ many telescopes. Tours must be booked in advance through the exclusive tour operator Earth & Sky and originate from the nearby town of Tekapo.