Do you have FAQs about stargazing on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand? Would you like to know more about our island or the services we offer? The gear we use or what to wear? We have collated the answers to the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about stargazing below.
Please find more specific information about our different experiences here.
If your experience can’t go ahead, we will contact you between 6-7pm on the night of your experience. If the weather is looking patchy we will keep an eye on the sky and the forecasts for you. Please ensure we can contact you. Phone/internet coverage on the island can be patchy.
If you have another night on the island for stargazing, we will postpone your experience to this date. This is pending availability, but usually we can make it work. If not, we will cancel your experience and give you a full refund.
Go to the Experiences tab on our website. You will see the types of tours we offer there.
Once you've chosen the right experience for you, choose the best date. Preferably the first date you are available. In the booking form, please fill in the required information giving us as much detail as possible. I.e. If you are available on more than one 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 on +64 27 4290877 to book.
We endeavour to be great hosts. We will meet you at your tour location and escort you to your comfy chair and blanket. Following a brief introduction, you will be guided through our starry sky using our laser pens, binoculars and an 8” telescope.
Expect to see a place where stars are born, the Southern Cross, star clusters and planets (when they are visible). We will guide you through beautiful stars and interesting constellations, accompanied by their stories and a hot drink too.
Your questions will be answered by your knowledgeable, local guide. Your guide is your night sky companion as you lean back in comfort under our stunning Dark Sky Sanctuary sky.
Good Heavens offer two different types of Group Experiences. One with, and one without the moon. Anyone can join these experiences, up to a maximum of twelve participants. We limit participant numbers as want you to be able to hear and interact with your guide.
We also offer a Private Experience. Our guide will come to you at your accommodation or you can come to one of our locations along Medlands Beach.
Private experiences are perfect for a romantic experience for two. Or a great way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or perhaps even a proposal! They are perfect when you have smaller children, or for larger groups of family, friends or colleagues. This option also suits if you have an interpreter or want to indulge in a glass of wine while stargazing.
Private experiences are available between March and November. Please contact us to enquire.
Good Heavens offer Moon Walks for approximately one week each month. During a Moon Walk, the moon is large in the evening sky. This allows a short walk on the beach in the moonlight. We will also look at brighter stars, star clusters and nebulae using our binoculars and 8” telescope. Please note that during this time the Milky Way is less visible. To check moon phases, follow this link.
Look Up and Get Lost
During our Look Up and get Lost Dark Sky Experience, the Milky Way is clear to see 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.
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.
Your local Good Heavens guide:
- Is licensed to use a laser pointer to guide you through the sky and
- Will provide every group member 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.
She will set up comfortable chairs with blankets, so you can lean back and focus on the sky above. You’ll also be given a hot drink to warm you up inside.
Wear warm clothes. The sky does cool down after dark, even in our subtropical climate, and even in summer.
Timing your stargazing experience
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. It also gets dark a lot earlier and tours can start at 7:30pm. This is great when you are stargazing with young ones.
Throughout the height of summer, we have a 9:30pm or 11:30pm start time. A great thing about our subtropical island in summer is that the temperature is lovely for stargazing in comparison with most other places in New Zealand.
Variable start times in autumn and spring
In autumn and spring, when temperatures are more moderate, start times vary from 730-900pm. These times depend on when it gets dark, so check your exact start time when you book.
Throughout the year, there are many interesting constellations and star clusters to gaze at. Let us know if you would like to see a specific star sign or constellation. We are happy to recommend the best time to see your favourite in the evening sky.
If you specifically want to take advantage of the super dark sky of our Dark Sky Sanctuary, it's best to come when the moon is not in the evening sky. This website has got great info on the moon phases.
Yes, at certain times of the month the moon will affect your experience.
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 at this time! But, if you would like to see the Milky Way in all its glory, join us at another time. When the moon is a waxing crescent for instance, or not in the evening sky. Use this moon phase link to help you plan your visit.
Our favourite large planets, Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the evening sky for around six months each year. So if you are keen to see them during your stargazing experience, pick your time wisely. They are absolutely amazing to view.
Venus is also a sight to behold. She is often to close to the sun to be seen. Sometimes however, Venus is visible in the predawn and sometimes in the evening sky. In 2023 Venus is visible from March - July in the evening sky and Mars will be visible in the evening sky from December 2022 - July 2023.
This link will help you see when the planets are visible in the evening sky. And this link will help with your planning for 2022 and this one will show you what’s up in the evening sky in 2023. You are also welcome to 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, the Galactic Centre, the brightest and densest part around the constellation Sagittarius is visible at some time throughout the night from February to October, as you can see here. In the southern hemisphere we enjoy visibility longer because the peak occurs in the evening sky in winter, when days are shorter and nights are longer.
Farther south is better
The farther south you are, the higher up in the sky Sagittarius will rise. On Great Barrier Island, we are far enough south 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, have the best visibility high in the night sky during summer. They are very special ‘clouds’ we would love to tell you more about.
The constellation Orion with asterism The Pot is another famous and fabulous summer feature. The brightest star Sirius in the constellation Canis Major are also visible at this time
In New Zealand we also love gazing at Matariki in the evening summer sky. This star cluster, known as the Pleiades in other parts of the world, heralds the Maori New Year in June/July. We’re happy to tell you how it fits together.
Great Barrier Island / Southern Hemisphere Location
The southern night sky contains a greater range of interesting features than the northern sky. This is true for both naked eye and telescope observing.
The southern sky has the three brightest stars: Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri. It also has the best examples of almost every type of astronomical object. New Zealand, in addition, has a superb view of the Large & Small Magellanic Clouds. These two extraordinary clouds are galaxies, visible to the naked eye. They are not visible in the northern hemisphere.
Visitors to New Zealand can also gaze into the centre of the Milky Way, directly overhead during winter. South of the Tropic of Capricorn the Southern Cross is visible throughout the year. All of NZ is in this position.
The two largest globular clusters in the sky are also only visible in our southern hemisphere sky, though not always at the same time.
Aotea Great Barrier Island is an island, 88km northeast of Auckland, New Zealand. The island is stunning, but not for everyone. It's off the grid and isolated. It's pristine and quiet.
Local travel info
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. You can find more info here.
To come stargazing on Great Barrier Island, you will have to stay overnight. This is because the last plane leaves around 7pm in summer, earlier in winter. The ferry goes less frequently, maximum 7 times a week in summer, but only 3 or 4 times 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!
Plenty to do
And as its name suggests, Great Barrier Island is great. There is plenty to do. Walk the most stunning beaches and soak in hot pools surrounded by bush. Enjoy the vistas from several mountain tops and check out the many art galleries.
There are many well maintained walking tracks. The island is a haven for many taonga or natural treasures. 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. And it’s also perfect to get lost in the stars.
A great option for a family is to book a Heavens Above Dark Sky Experience. During this private experience, we can tailor the experience to the needs of your family. And activities can be targeted at your children (from 5 years up). Our guides can take more time to answer the questions from their inquisitive minds. In autumn, winter and spring we can start these experiences earlier in the evening. A start on dark makes these experiences as accessible for your children as possible. Talk to us and we can discuss what will work best for your family.
We recommend a minimum age of 8 years old for our group experiences. 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 child is under 13 years old.
A great option for a family with young children is to book a Heavens Above Dark Sky Experience. During this private experience, we can tailor the experience to the needs of your family. Activities can be targeted to your child(ren) (from 5 years up).
A private experience is also suitable for parents with babies or small children. They enable us to come to you and conduct a stargazing experience just outside of their bedroom window. This does require that your accommodation has a clear view of the sky.
Private experiences are available from March – November. Talk to us and we can discuss what will work best for your family.
Some parents with babies manage to snuggle into our moon chairs with their child. Often children will doze of quickly in their parents arms in the dark. You will know best if this is suitable for you and your little one.
night sky companion as you lean back in comfort under our stunning Dark Sky Sanctuary sky.