Stargazing in New Zealand – Simply Breathtaking!


Few places on this Earth offer a better location to explore the heavens than beautiful Lake Tekapo in New Zealand's central South Island. Apart from its isolation and tiny population, there are some key reasons why Lake Tekapo offers the best Star Gazing in New Zealand, and arguably the best in the world!

Stargazing in New Zealand – Simply Breathtaking!

The Perfect Conditions

Towering to the west of Lake Tekapo are the Mighty Southern Alps,  and these Alps scrub the prevailing wind of moisture by condensing the incoming warm air so it precipitates (rains) before crossing over, this causes the air to dry and therefore purges the atmosphere above the lake of cloud and humidity. If you combine this with the stabilizing effect a large deep body of cool water has on the local atmosphere (Lake Tekapo) then BINGO – you have enhanced clarity, perfect for star gazing and perhaps increasing the chances of seeing ET.

Enough of the Technobabble – what does this mean for you…  

stargazing map

Welcome to Cowboy Country!

Lake Tekapo in Mackenzie Country is the natural halfway point between Queenstown and Christchurch on the inland scenic route 72. Mackenzie Country is famous for its glacier-fed turquoise coloured lake’s, majestic views of the Southern Alps and stark valleys carpeted with golden tussock grass and you could be forgiven for thinking you are driving through the set of a classic Spaghetti Western and you would be right! Mackenzie Country has been used as a stand-in for the old American West, 'Good for Nothing’ New Zealand's first and last 'Gunslinging Western' was filmed here and one Hollywood critic wrote that this location has a "perfect mix of arid desolation and rough, frontier terrain to flawlessly mimic the American Southwest." 


Lake Tekapo Cowboy Country

The Night Sky - The Best Stargazing in New Zealand

But more importantly it’s the night sky that’s the crowd stopper and to me, it's no surprise that the sky over Tekapo has recently been recognized internationally as one of only three International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR) namely the Aoraki Mackenzie Night Sky Reserve. You will be staggered at the sheer intensity and depth of field experienced when stargazing here. With the naked eye or the help of a standard set of binoculars you can stare deep into the Milky Way or our own significant constellation the ‘Southern Cross’ or ‘Big Dipper’, the constellations of Orion and Scorpius are prominent at certain times of the year.

Is funny, if you are from the Northern hemisphere and are familiar with your own night sky, you will observe an upside-down view of the night sky when stargazing in New Zealand. People standing in each of the hemisphere's are upside down with respect to each other and have an inverted view of the same object out in space. This is very reason it was easier for me, a New Zealander from the Southern Hemisphere to pick out the shapes for which many constellations were named; when stargazing in the Sahara because I was viewing them the way the ancients saw them and named them, all of a sudden it made a lot more sense - so be prepared when in the Southern Hemisphere to be very confused.

Star Gazing Tour Tekapo

Mt John Observatory

For a long time the Mackenzie region has been recognized as the place for viewing and researching the southern sky, so its no surprise this is the chosen location for the now famous Mt John Observatory. The University of Canterbury run observatory, using the ‘Microlensing’ technique has discovered many planets orbiting distant stars and were the first to find planets using this technique. The area in and around the observatory, including the township of Tekapo, that have been subject to light restrictions to protect the sky from light pollution.

Tekapo's Mt John Observatory

Your chance to Stare into Deep Space - An Educational Tour

Here is your chance to test the limits of your imagination, the Mt John Observatory runs a selection of highly regarded and fascinating tours aimed at being both educational and fun, great for those wanting to learn more about the stars and our place in the universe!

Through both telescope and specialized binoculars and in the company of an expert star-watching guide you will be shown the Magellanic Clouds, many of the satellite galaxies to our Milky Way (only visible in the southern hemisphere) Alpha-Centauri, star clusters like the amazing Jewel Box and of course some awe-inspiring planets.

Deep Space Telescope

Would you like to go stargazing when on holiday in New Zealand? 

Chat to our Travel Specialists about adding Aoraki Mackenzie Region to your trip - they'll listen to your dream-trip must-do's and build an itinerary that's tailor-made to your desires.

Head over here to view some of our South Island itineraries that include Mackenzie Country.


Kirst Thorp
Kirsten Thorp
: 3 Feb 2014 (Last updated: 2 Mar 2022)

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