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Best Places to Stargaze and see the Milky Way in New Zealand


New Zealand’s remote location and low pollution makes our country one of the best for stargazing. There’s nothing quite as magical as parking up your campervan away from the city lights and seeing the twinkling stars of the Milky Way. If you’re lucky you may even spot the occasional satellite or meteor.

The South Island – with its large areas of minimal or no light pollution – offers some of the best opportunities to see the Milky Way. And with so many other great things to do in the South Island, a campervan rental is the perfect way to travel. The North Island also has its fair share of places to enjoy some celestial magic. In this blog, we’ll take a look at the top spots in each island, including:

  • Aoraki Mount Cook
  • Lake Tekapo Dark Sky Reserve
  • Stewart Island/Rakiura Dark Sky Sanctuary
  • Great Barrier Island Dark Sky Sanctuary
  • The Tongariro Crossing
  • Coromandel Peninsula
  • Wellington

We’ll also share tips on:

  • The best time to see the Milky Way
  • Touring the most epic stargazing spots with Mighty Campers

Ready to have stars in your eyes? Let’s dive in!

Aoraki Mount Cook

About halfway down the South Island in the Mackenzie Region, far from the city lights, Aoraki Mount Cook is a must-do for stargazers. If you’re planning a South Island road trip, this spot is one you’ll definitely want to add to your itinerary.

Around 4300 square kilometres of the Aoraki Mount Cook region was recently recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest of its type in the world. With light pollution strictly controlled in the area, the reserve is one of the best places in New Zealand to see the Milky Way at its dazzling best.

The very best way to experience the sky in this part of the South Island is on a stargazing tour. Here are some worth checking out:

  • Big Sky Stargazing: Take a one-hour tour with experienced guides who will help you discover the Southern Cross, planets, star clusters, distant galaxies, and of course, the spectacular Milky Way. Prices start at $45 per person.
  • Alpha CruX: A must-do for keen astrophotographers! Alpha CruX offers private tours and astrophotography lessons throughout the Mackenzie Region. Prices start at $250 per person.
  • Billy the Bard: For something a little different, hear the stories of ‘staryteller’ Billy the Bard. As the stars begin to reveal themselves, hear stories, poems, and legends of the skies and the local area. This unique experience is by donation only.

To make the most of your stargazing opportunities while you’re here, park your campervan up under the stars at Glentanner Park Centre.

Responsible freedom camping is also permitted on council-controlled land within the Mackenzie Region.

To help find camping areas near you, be sure to download the thl Roadtrip app. This handy app is an essential tool for your New Zealand road trip. It can also help you find supermarkets, dump stations, public toilets and pretty much everything you need when you’re travelling by campervan rental.

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Lake Tekapo

In the heart of the Mackenzie Region, Lake Tekapo is famed for its breath-taking scenery. With its snow-capped mountain ranges, turquoise waters, and big bluebird skies, Lake Tekapo stargazing is a South Island must-do.

When the sun sets and the sky darkens, Lake Tekapo reveals a whole new dimension of beauty. Take in the unforgettable view of millions of stars within some of the clearest, darkest skies in the world.

To appreciate the full beauty of Lake Tekapo by night, book yourself into one of the top-notch tours on offer:

The Dark Sky Project offers three incredible experiences:

  • The 105-minute Summit Experience takes place at the summit of Mount John – home to the Mt John Observatory. Prices start at $149.
  • The Crater Experience – a 75-minute tour from Cowan’s Private Observatory. Prices start at $99.
  • The Dark Sky Experience – an indoor, daytime 45-minute tour at the Dark Sky Project Base. Prices start at $30.

Tekapo Springs offers a unique two-hour guided hot pool and stargazing experience. Start off with a guided tour of the night sky before enjoying a long relaxing soak in the soothing hot waters. Prices start at $99 per person.

Park up your campervan and continue your stargazing experience with an overnight stay at the Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park or one of the great freedom camping areas in the region.

Mackenzie Relax-5.jpgImage Source: Christchurch Image Library

Tongariro Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most scenic hikes. And at night, this mountainous landscape becomes the backdrop to spectacular starry skies. As the soft light of the heavens begins to glow, the undulating mountains create a captivating contrast that is simply magical.

For the ultimate experience, book the Private Sunrise Tour. See the Milky Way like never before, watch shooting stars, marvel at the sunrise, and enjoy an alfresco breakfast. This eight-hour tour costs $600 per person.

Plan an overnight stay at Tongariro Holiday Park or at one of the region’s nearby freedom camping spots.

Coromandel Peninsula

The pristine Coromandel Peninsula, just a few hours’ drive from Auckland, is a haven for nature lovers and those looking to get away from the city hustle and bustle. This beautiful North Island region not only offers endless beauty by day, but also puts on an impressive starry display at night.

To learn more about the night sky, book a Stargazers tour where you’ll have the chance to view the planets, stars, galaxies and more through the 14” Celestron Pro telescope. Prices start at $30.

Camp overnight at the Whitianga Campground, just minutes from the beach and surrounded by native bush. Make yourself a hot chocolate, grab a blanket, and head down to the beach to continue your stargazing.

Freedom camping in Coromandel is allowed in some areas, but please remember to park up only where permitted.

p-274DC3EC-CE71-620A-4FD19D9D86270A46-2544003-v2__ScaleHeightWzc1MF0_CropWidthWyI4NDAiXQ.jpgImage Source: Coromandel Tourism

Wellington

It may be one of New Zealand’s bigger cities, but Wellington offers some great stargazing opportunities – you just need to know where to look!

One of the best places, especially if you’re travelling with littlies, is the Space Place Observatory. Here, you can learn all about the planets, stars, and constellations at a planetarium show and with a telescope viewing.

Another great spot to view the skies in Wellington is Te Raekaihau Point. Despite being so near the city, there is very little light pollution which makes for some great night sky viewing.

Continue your stargazing with an overnight stay at the Owhiro Bay freedom camping site at 176 Owhiro Bay Parade.

Great Barrier Island

With a reputation as one of the best stargazing spots in the world, the Dark Sky Sanctuary of Aotea Great Barrier Island is an unmissable experience. This remote island is within the Auckland region and can be reached either by plane or a 4.5-hour ferry ride.

Great Barrier is totally off-grid and relies on renewable solar energy. It’s also around 100 km away from the city lights making it the ideal spot for stargazing.

Make the most of your visit to the Barrier with a Good Heavens guided tour. Your friendly guides will share their extensive knowledge, not only about the stars above but also about this unique island and its fascinating history and culture. Choose from three stargazing experiences starting at $120 per person.

It is possible to take a campervan or motorhome to Great Barrier on the SeaLink car ferry. We recommend booking in at one of the DOC campgrounds. Freedom camping is not available on the island.

GOOD-HEAVENS-B.jpgImage Source: Great Barrier Island Tourism

Stewart Island/Rakiura

This beautiful island, at the very bottom of New Zealand, is the second of our two Dark Sky Sanctuaries, and the southernmost in the world.

With minimal light pollution, this Stewart Island/Rakiura offers unparalleled stargazing opportunities, most especially during winter (June, July, and August). If you’re lucky, you may even get to see the mesmerising lights of the Southern Aurora. Summer stargazing is great too, but you’ll need to wait until after midnight until it’s dark enough!

As a bonus, Stewart Island is also home to the Southern brown kiwi and offers plenty of great experiences to enjoy if you wish to plan a few days' stay.

To get to Stewart Island, you’ll need to book a ferry from Invercargill or Bluff.

When is the best time to see the milky way?

The Milky Way is visible in New Zealand between February and October, but the best views are during the winter months. It is at its very brightest between June and July, so dress up nice and warm when enjoying a night under the stars.

The bright light from the moon can affect visibility, so for the best view of the stars, time your stargazing with the new moon. Cloud cover can also impact your view of the Milky Way, so cloudless nights make for the best viewing experience.

Tour the most epic stargazing spots with Mighty Campers

Throughout this blog, you may have noticed that most of these top stargazing spots are in the South Island. There is no better way to enjoy a South Island road trip than by campervan. Discover the freedom and flexibility of planning your own journey. Stop whenever and wherever you like. There’s simply no better way to explore New Zealand!

The team Mighty Campers make it easy with our popular South Island driving routes. And with so many great South Island campgrounds to choose from you’ll never be without a place to park up and sleep under the stars.

Start your journey from one of our South Island branch locations in either Christchurch or Queenstown. If you are from the north and want to explore the stars in Wellington, start your journey at our Auckland branch.

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Ready to stargaze in all of New Zealand’s best places?

From soaking in a hot pool and watching shooting stars, to checking out the rings of Saturn through a telescope, New Zealand has stargazing opportunities for every type of traveller and every budget.

Enjoy New Zealand’s stunning scenery by day and marvel at the Milky Way by night! To make the most of our incredible starry skies, book your Mighty campervan hire today.

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