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Top 10 Stargazing Experiences in New Zealand for the Maori New Year

Celebrate ‘Matariki’ like a local and spot the star cluster associated with the holiday!

Among the Earth’s heavenly wonders, its starry spectacles have inspired many to honour them with celebrations, or take long journeys in search of the world’s best stargazing spots. New Zealand, in particular, is a hotspot for both. It enjoys its reputation as a haven for avid stargazers — thanks to clear skies, ideal weather, and minimal light pollution.

Alongside this, highlighting the best stargazing experiences in New Zealand is Matariki or the Māori New Year. In 2022, Matariki makes its debut as an official public holiday for New Zealand, which has re-introduced the indigenous celebration on a national scale. Definitely a win for inclusion, heritage, and dark sky conservation!

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Hamish Dowson

The Māori holiday that also highlights New Zealand’s stargazing experiences

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Mark de Jong

Matariki is a special occasion in the Aotearoa New Zealand calendar; it marks the start of the Māori New Year every 24 Jun. During the months of Jun and Jul, the Matariki star cluster reappears in the night sky, ushering in a New Year — according to the Māori lunar calendar. It signifies a time to reflect on the past year, celebrate the present, and plan for the year ahead.

Make your next trip an extraordinary one by celebrating Matariki with the locals and searching for the best stargazing experiences in New Zealand. We’ve rounded them up just for you.

Best stargazing spots in New Zealand

1. Good Heavens, Great Barrier Island

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Tourism New Zealand

Great Barrier Island is an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, which means it has the best conditions for observing starry skies and nocturnal activity in a natural environment. As one of only five Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world and the first island sanctuary in the world, Great Barrier Island is among the best places to stargaze on earth. That alone makes it one of New Zealand’s most outstanding stargazing experiences.

Far from big-city lights on an ‘off-the-grid’ island, the light pollution here is minimal. With small groups and stunningly scenic locations, this is an enlightening experience that takes you deep into the beauty and wonder of space.

Listen to the waves lap against the shore while gazing up and learning about the dazzlingly bright constellations — in comfortable, aptly named moon chairs to boot. Foodies ought to pick the package ‘Dining with the Stars’ for a delicious meal beneath the galaxy.

Whether with the naked eye or through a high-powered telescope, see the Milky Way, planets, or a distant galaxy. Hear stories and myths about constellations, super stars, and star clusters from the knowledgeable, friendly guides of Good Heavens Dark Sky Experiences. Conscious of the fragile island ecosystem, the guides tread lightly on the environment, leaving only footprints while living their mission of sharing the wonders of the starry sky.

2. Stonehenge Aotearoa, Wairarapa

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: JET PRODUCTIONS

The Wairarapa region is on track to become New Zealand’s largest Dark Sky Reserve and has one of the darkest and most pristine skies in the country. The town has already achieved an IDA “3K City” classification, which means it has shielded LED outdoor lighting — efficiently reducing sky glow and light pollution. What better stargazing experience than here, at the Stonehenge Aotearoa open-air astronomical observatory.

A modern interpretation of the mysterious ancient monument, Stonehenge Aotearoa is based upon starlore from Tangata Henua, Pasifika, and other cultures around the world. Book a daytime guided tour to learn about the henge, Māori starlore, Polynesian navigation, and archeoastronomy, or head here on a Fri or Sat night for a Star Safari followed by stargazing (weather permitting).

3. Guided Sunrise Hike, Tongariro Alpine Crossing

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Adrift Tongariro Ruapehu

Starspotting at sunrise is definitely one of the unique stargazing experiences you can sign up for when in New Zealand. Plus, it gives you the best of both worlds. Experience a guided sunrise Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike with Adrift Tongariro. This private guided tour starts and finishes at Adrift Tongariro base in National Park Village and is a spectacular way to experience the Tongariro Alpine Crossing under the night stars and breaking morning light at sunrise. Stand beneath the Milky Way at Tongariro with shooting stars streaming down the pre-dawn skies with a breathtaking sunrise and breakfast al fresco at the Red Crater.

4. Horizon Tours, Dunedin

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Tourism New Zealand

The Otago Peninsula coastline surrounding Dunedin provides a clear, breathtaking view of the night sky and a magical backdrop of coastal bird calls echoing across Hoopers Inlet. In the right conditions, this rural coastal area is a prime location for viewing the Southern Lights, Aurora Australis; needless to say, if this happens during your trip, it’ll be one of the best stargazing experiences of your life.

Join a unique star gazing journey with Horizon Tours to learn about celestial features of the Southern sky while sharing stories and waiata (songs) about how Māori viewed the night sky.  Learn celestial points of significance and listen to stories detailing Māori myths of creation — of how Te Ao Marama, the world of light as we know it, emerged. Learn about how Māori relied on detailed astronomical knowledge or tātai arorangi to navigate the ocean. Enjoy manaakitanga (hospitality) with a light supper and hot beverage as you marvel at the stories and raw nature of this southern destination.

5. Tekapo Stargazing, Takapō (Tekapo) Springs

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Miles Holden

The ultimate in stellar relaxation, Tekapo Stargazing is the only guided hot pools and stargazing experience in New Zealand. Plus, it’s located at one of the best stargazing sites on earth.

Wonder at the dazzling beauty of millions of stars in some of the clearest, darkest night skies in the world at Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Relax in soul-warming hot pools beneath the 4,300 square kilometres of officially recognised International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest reserve of this type worldwide.

Take delight in the exclusive use of a 38-degree pool. Lie back on a floating hammock or simply relax as you enjoy the starry blanket above you. Your guide will remain poolside to share local stories about New Zealand myths and legends combined with the science behind constellations, planets, and galaxies.

6. Dark Sky Project, Takapō (Tekapo)

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Tourism New Zealand

Dark Sky Project is a world leader in astro-tourism experiences. Located in the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, Takapō (Tekapo) is one of the quietest spots on the planet, yet it has one of the busiest night skies in the universe. Dark Sky Project offers a range of observatory and stargazing experiences designed to connect manuhiri (visitors) to the night skies, Māori heritage, and astronomy. In doing so, they aim to ignite a lifelong passion for dark sky preservation and what lies above.

Embark on an interactive journey delivering thought-provoking insight into the world of tatai aroraki (Māori astronomy) and its pivotal role in the Māori understanding of the universe. Using incredible immersive visual displays, visitors can explore the science-based narrative of how living beings came to be, and delve into the depths of the Milky Way.  This is also your chance to get a closer look at an impressive 125-year-old Brashear telescope that was recently restored for exhibition and use.

For stargazing and a staycation in the Tekapo area, you might want to check out the SkyScape bedrooms, which feature ceilings made of glass. That way, you can literally sleep under a blanket of stars.

7. Pukaki Wine Cellar & Observatory, Lake Pukaki

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Tourism New Zealand

Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory is located at Mt. Cook Lakeside Retreat at Lake Pukaki. Situated in the heart of the gold-level Aoraki International Dark Sky Reserve, the observatory is set in a rural location with absolutely no light pollution.

Start your experience in the wine cellar for a glass of whiskey or wine and nibbles while learning about the starry galaxies. The roof of the observatory slides back to reveal the dark night sky for both the naked eye and telescopic viewing. Perfectly located to explore one of the darkest skies in the world, this is a unique opportunity to use the latest technology in a spectacular natural environment.

Have you ever wondered how astrophotographers capture galaxies from far, far away? Bring your cameras for some amazing astrophotography opportunities you won’t get to do anywhere else.

8. Big Sky Stargazing, Mt. Cook, Mackenzie

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Night Skies over Red Tarns | Image credit: Lee Cook

Take a mesmerising journey through the cosmos as you explore the wonders of the night sky with Big Sky Stargazing. Their resident astronomy guides, Kate, Igor, and Brad, will take you on a one-hour tour of the night sky through high-powered telescopes. They share their knowledge about the night sky in an informative and approachable way, answering any questions you may have as they go.

Available on a clear night, the tour takes place close to the Hermitage Hotel. Guests are shuttled to the base and are treated to homemade hot chocolate and sweet treats, before stepping outside to witness the darkness as it comes alive with the stars.

9. Stargazing with Paparoa NatureTours, Punakaiki, West Coast

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: Stewart Nimmo

Paparoa NatureTours is famed for delivering guided tours to the Westland Petrel colony, sharing unique wildlife experiences and insights into the conservation issues that Petrel species face around the world.

Now offering stargazing tours, you can visit their purpose-built observatory to explore the Milky Way and discover the Southern constellations while being serenaded by the sounds of great spotted kiwi, morepork, or weka calling from the nearby rainforest. View the planets, nebulae, and star clusters through the computerised 260mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, or lie back with a pair of binoculars and take in the sights above.

10. Twinkle Dark Sky Tours, Stewart Island

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

The Gutter in Southland | Image credit: Great South

From craters on the moon to the centre of the galaxy, a Twinkle Dark Sky Tour will show you some of the most stunning sites in our solar system and the larger cosmos.

Due to its remote southern location, Stewart Island Rakiura is virtually free of light pollution, ensuring that the skies enjoyed are of the highest quality. The island’s beauty and breathtaking sceneries combine to provide an unforgettable stargazing experience in New Zealand. This was acknowledged on a worldwide scale in 2019, when Stewart Island/Rakiura was designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. At nearly 47º south, this is possibly the southernmost astrotour in the world, and one of the best places to observe the sporadic Aurora Australis!

Alternatively, you can also choose to book accommodations in Stewart Island for a starry staycation you won’t forget. The Stewart Island Lodge situates you near villages and restaurants plus gardens for leisurely walks and gifts you with peaceful views of the bay.

Other places you can stay-and-stargaze in New Zealand

explore, travel, top 10 stargazing experiences in new zealand for the maori new year

Image credit: rainforest New Zealand

Did a stargazing staycation sound like a better deal? These cushy accommodations let you live near some of New Zealand’s best stargazing spots, too:

  • Canopy Camping (various locations across the country, but some of our favourites are Wai-Dome-O, near the Waitomo Caves, and Laverick’s Bay Canopy Camping on Banks Peninsula)

So, where will you start? Will you go for a tour, or would you prefer to sleep under the stars? Plan ahead so you can tick off as many of New Zealand’s best stargazing experiences as you can. If you’re lucky, you might even get to spot the Matariki star cluster during the Māori celebrations. We hope it brings you good luck for the rest of the year. Kia ora!

Visit the official New Zealand website to start planning your trip now.


Brought to you by Tourism New Zealand.

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