There is so much to know about stargazing in New Zealand. We have collated the answers to the most FAQ below.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any other questions.
Please find more specific information about individual tours here.
We will meet you at your tour location and escort you to your comfy moon-chair and give you a blanket when it’s cold. Following a brief introduction, you will be guided through our starry sky using our laser pens, binoculars and an 8” telescope.
You will be shown a place where stars are born, the Southern Cross, star clusters and planets (when they are visible). You will be guided through some interesting and beautiful stars and constellations and all of this will be accompanied by stories of the stars.
Your questions will be answered by your local guide who will serve you a hot drink and be your knowledgeable companion as you lean back in comfort under our stunning Dark Sky Sanctuary sky.
During a Dark Sky Experience you can expect to learn:
- to identify several constellations
- how to find the Southern Cross and how to use it to find South
- how to orientate yourself using the stars and why stars appear to move
- to tell whether you are looking at a star or a planet
- how to find places where stars are born
- why stars have different colours
- more about our nocturnal environment
If you have specific questions, your guide will be pleased to answer them.
Great Barrier Island was accredited in 2017 as a Dark Sky Sanctuary, the darkest of all the Dark Sky Places!
This accreditation by the International Dark sky Association based in the USA meant that our island was the first island in the world to achieve this status.
Great Barrier Island is well away from city lights and is completely off the grid. Light pollution is minimal. So when you look up, it’s just the stars, the planets and you. Plus, it is also a stunningly unspoiled island with plenty to explore during the day.
Yes, at certain times of the month.
When the moon is large in the evening sky, the night sky will be brighter during your Experience. On these nights, we offer our Moon Walk Experience instead of our Dark Sky Experiences.
Our moon is absolutely stunning to view! But, if seeing the Milky Way in all its glory is what you desire, we suggest you join us when the moon is a waxing crescent, or not in the evening sky. Use this moon phase link to help you plan your visit.
Good Heavens offer Moon Walks approximately one week each month. During a Moon Walk, the moon is large in the evening sky, and this allows us to move with the moonlight illuminating our path along the beach. We will also look at brighter stars, star clusters and nebulae using our binoculars and 8” telescope. To check moon phases, follow this link.
During our Dark Sky Experience, the Milky Way is clearly seen and thousands of stars form a beautiful night-time tapestry. We will stay at the tour location and focus on the stars and planets (when visible) that illuminate our Dark Sky. Both dim and bright stars, star clusters and distant galaxies are visible for the majority (approximately three weeks) of each month.
Good Heavens offer two different types of Group Experiences, one with, and one without the moon. These are experiences that anyone can join in with, with a group size of up to twelve people. You will be coming to us, at our group location in Medlands.
We also offer two Private Experiences, one with, and one without dinner. Our guide will come to you at your accommodation or at a beautiful beach nearby. They're perfect for a romantic experience just for two, perhaps even a proposal! They are also perfect for if you have smaller children, are a group of family, friends or colleagues or if you have an interpreter.
Your local, passionate Good Heavens guide will:
- Use a laser pointer to lead you through the sky
- Provide you with binoculars to look at middle distance objects
- Direct an 8” Dobsonian Telescope onto stars, planets and deep sky objects for you to take a closer look.
Comfortable chairs and blankets will be provided, so you can lean back and focus on the sky above. You’ll also be given a hot drink to warm you up inside.
Best time to come stargazing
There are pros and cons for summer, winter, autumn and spring.
In winter the stunning, dense galactic centre of the Milky Way is visible and high up in the sky. Plus Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the winter months over the next few years. They are a sight to behold! Check this page to see when they will be in the sky.
In winter it gets dark a lot earlier and tours can start at 7:30pm whereas in January we have a 9:30pm start time.
But in summer there are still many interesting constellations and star clusters to gaze at and the temperature is lovely.
Temperatures are more moderate and start times are from 730-830pm in autumn and spring, depending on when it gets dark. Check your exact start time when you book.
Our favourite planets, Jupiter and Saturn are visible at night from May - November 2019 and from May-December 2020. They are absolutely amazing to view. Venus comes and goes, being close to the sun.
This link will help you see when the planets are visible. Or contact us for the best time to visit if you have a specific planet wish.
Yes. You can see the spiral arms of the Milky Way in summer.
However, it is in winter that we see the centre of the Milky Way in the Southern Hemisphere. This central bulge of the Milky Way can be seen around the constellation of Sagittarius.
The farther south you live, the higher up in the sky Sagittarius will rise. On Great Barrier Island, we are far enough south in the southern hemisphere to be privileged to see the Milky Way high overhead with much more detail than in the northern hemisphere.
The Magellanic Clouds, only seen in the Southern Hemisphere, are high in the night sky during summer. They are very special clouds we would love to tell you more about. They are also visible in winter, but lower in the sky.
The constellation Orion with asterism The Pot, the brightest star, Sirius and constellation Canis Major are some famous and fabulous summer features.
The southern night sky contains a greater range of interesting features than does the northern. This is true for both naked eye and telescope observing. The southern sky claims the three brightest stars (Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri) and the best examples of almost every type of astronomical object. New Zealand has a superb view of the Large & Small Magellanic Clouds - two extraordinary galaxies visible to the naked eye. These clouds are not visible in the northern hemisphere.
Visitors to New Zealand can stare into the centre of the Milky Way, directly overhead during winter. To see the Southern Cross throughout the entire year one needs to be south of the Tropic of Capricorn, which all of NZ is. The two largest globular clusters are also only visible in our southern hemisphere sky, though not always at the same time.
Go to the bookings page on our website. You will see the types of tours we offer there.
Once you've chosen the right tour for you, choose the best date and fill in the required information giving us a much details as possible. I.e. if you are available on more than on night, please let us know. It increases your chances of the weather being right for an amazing Dark Sky Experience!
Alternatively, send us an e-mail or give us a ring.
Bring warm clothes. The sky does cool down after dark, even in summer.
Great Barrier Island is an island, 88km north east of Auckland, New Zealand. The island is stunning, but not for everyone. It's off the grid and isolated. It's pristine and quiet.
Please visit our travel info page for information on transport, accommodation and activities of Great Barrier Island.There is also more info available on the official Great Barrier Website, and you can find essential information and some great itinerary ideas for the island here.
A great place to stay to enjoy the dark sky is the XSPOT, where you can enjoy a private dark sky experience over winter at a reduced rate. You can find more info on xspot.co.nz here.
To come stargazing on Great Barrier Island, you will have to stay overnight, as the last plane leaves around 7pm in summer, earlier in winter and the ferry goes up to 7 times a week in summer, but only 3 or 4 times a week in winter.
If your travel schedule allows, come for at least two nights, longer if you can. Staying longer increases your chances of a successful dark sky experience!
And as its name suggests, Great Barrier Island is Great. There is plenty to do. Enjoy the most stunning, lonely beaches, soak in hot pools surrounded by bush and enjoy the vistas from several mountain tops.
There are many well maintained walking tracks. The island is a haven for many endangered flora and fauna: seals, dolphins and orca can be spotted in the ocean surrounding the island. It is the perfect place to unwind and ground yourself here on earth.
We recommend a minimum age of 8 years old for our Look Up and Get Lost group experience. Many younger children find an evening tour lasting for an hour and a half too long and tiring. However, you know your child best and will know if they will enjoy the experience and be able to concentrate for that long.
A great option for a family is to book a Heavens Above Dark Sky Experience. During this private experience, we can then tailor your experience to the needs of your family, with activities targeted at your children (from 5 years up) and have more time to answer the questions from their inquisitive minds. In autumn, winter and spring we can start these experiences earlier in the evening, just as it is starting to get dark, to make it as accessible for your children as possible. Talk to us and we can discuss what will work best for your family.
A child is under 13 years old.