Backyard stargazing can become rather dull. To experience the full body of the night’s sky, you must be willing to venture out into the world. Because touring the globe in search for the best stargazing sites can be a daunting task, I’ve prepared a ‘modest’ list of places worth visiting. Australia and New Zealand have both been nominated as capitals of astronomy. So, without further ado, here are my top picks for the best stargazing Australia and New Zealand spots. You don’t have to be an astronomy geek to appreciate the awesome sight of the night skies.
Best Places for Stargazing Australia & New Zealand
Stargazing New Zealand – My Top Picks
1. Akaroa Hills, New Zealand
A stone throws away from Christchurch, lies the small harbour town of Akaroa. Colonized at the beginning of the 19th century by the French, the “Long Harbor,” as the town is referred to by the Maori, slowly began to attract tourists from all corners of the globe. It doesn’t matter if you want to see Hector’s dolphins or the remnants of a volcano, because Akaroa welcomes all.
One of the least-known attractions of this city is its stargazing tours. If you’re lucky enough to find the right spot (check around the Akaroa Hill, plenty of places to set camp) the sky will surely offer you a show beyond your wild expectations. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way in all its splendour, the Southern Cross, the Magellanic Clouds (or the Nubeculae Magellani as experts call them), and more.
2. Queenstown Hills, New Zealand
If stargazing in New Zealand were to be king, then the area above Queenstown would be the crown jewel. Perched on a hill, this so-called sweet spot for stargazing is best described as the epitome of a successful sky-watching trip.
Accessible only by a Gondola, this area has plenty of space for setting up camp and, of course, your telescope. On the topic of space objects visible from Queenstown Hill, there are plenty to ‘choose’ from – the Southern Cross, galaxies, nebulae, planets (Jupiter, Venus, Saturn), and, of course, the Milky Way.
3. Tekapo River, New Zealand
Stretching across the Mackenzie Basin, the Tekapo River area is not just a great spot for bird watching, trekking or kayaking. It’s actually one of the most sought-after stargazing locations, a fact confirmed by the numerous tours available for booking.
Because it’s considered one of the world’s least polluted areas, the banks of the Tekapo River are ideal for both stargazing and astrophotography. So, be sure to bring along all the gear you own, because this will be a night to remember. Although you can probably rent out a telescope, bring your own camera if you want to snap some awesome vacation pics.
To name some of the few things you’ll be able to see, we have the Eta Carinae star system, a binary star system located in the Caterina constellation which is five million times brighter than our Sun; the spectacular Horsehead Nebula, a dark nebula and stellar nursery (yes, it gives ‘birth’ to bouncing baby stars) located in the Orion constellation; and, last but not least, New Zealand’s contribution to astronomy – the Kiwi constellation or Galactic Kiwi. It can be seen between the months of February and November.
Stargazing Australia – My Top Picks
4. Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia
Located on the southeastern coast of Australia, K’Gari or Fraser Island is a popular destination for tourists willing to savour the Australian way of life. Some of the local attractions include the Lake Mckenzie, the Champagne Pools and the Maheno Ship wreck.
Of course, Fraser Island is also known for its great stargazing spots. If you plan on traveling to Aussie’s K’Gari, you’re in for quite a treat. On a clear night, you can see The Crux or the Southern Crux, as it ’s often called; the Coalsack Nebula, a dark nebula located in the Crux Constellation and known in the Aboriginal culture as the head of the emu. Another stargazing attraction is the Centaurus Constellation, which, of course, contains Alpha Centauri, aka the closest star to Sol.
The sunsets are pretty spectacular too!
5. Coonabarabran, New South Wales
Coonabarabran or Coona, as it’s often called by the locals, has been dubbed the capital of Australian astronomy. And it’s of little wonder since the region houses the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Siding Spring Observatory, and the Australian Astronomical Observatory.
In terms of stargazing, you can opt for one of the many tours offered by the local observatories. The tours give you access to high-power telescopes or find a secluded spot to set up your own. To name just a few of the sky objects visible from Coona – the moons of Jupiter, Saturn’s ring, the star Antares, the Butterfly Cluster (open star cluster), Ptolemy’s Cluster, Southern Crown, the Tarantula Nebula, the Ring Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, and the 47 Tucanae globular cluster.
6. Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park
Spanning an area of approximately 1,400 square kms, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is home to the Anangu people as well as many natural wonders. Listed with UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, the park has much to offer; rare plant species, odd animals, and plenty of areas for those into hiking and rock climbing.
For an amateur stargazer, especially those who are into camping as well, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a treasure trove. Once the sun goes down, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way in all its splendour; as well as the Magellanic cloud.
The world has so much to offer for those willing to venture into the wild to discover the night sky. Stargazing is marvellous, but why not take something of that sky home with you? In other words, you should consider bringing along a camera to take a couple of shots of the sky. Don’t forget your astrophotography gear. So, grab your telescope, pack your bag, because a whole world full of wonder awaits.
Author: Lauren Ray John is a Senior Editor at TelescopeReviewer. She writes reviews for different types of telescopes. Lauren has always loved the astronomy field, so she decided to take life into her hands and follow the career she has always wanted.