Southland

Dark Sky Sanctuary

Dark Sky - Aurora Australis - Stewart Island
Rebecca Wilson Jennings
Dark Sky - Aurora Australis - Stewart Island

The remote location of Stewart Island/Rakiura means it is virtually free of light pollution, making the views experienced there of an exceptional standard. The island's scenery and outstanding landscapes also combine to make the night sky experience second to none. In 2019 this was recognised at a global level and Stewart Island/Rakiura was declared an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.

Only the second island in the world to achieve this recognition, Dark Sky Sanctuary status is awarded to areas that possess an exceptional quality of starry nights. It ensures light pollution levels are controlled and will help safeguard the unique skies above Rakiura for future generations of local and visitors alike.

There are number of viewing platforms around the island:

Observation Rock: This viewing platform is the closest to the town centre of Oban. The walk is relatively steep although only 30 minutes return from the town centre. It is a great place to view the night sky as well as the islands majestic sunrises and sunsets. The view is 270 degrees and the main view is to the south.

Moturau Moana Gardens: these gardens are a one hour return walk from Oban. Moturau Moana Gardens translates to ‘islands of bush above the sea’ and they are a native garden gifted to the people of New Zealand. The garden offers 180 degree views south over Halfmoon Bay.

Ackers Point: this lookout is the site of an historic lighthouse and is a 2-3 hour return trip from Oban. The platform at the end offers excellent 270 degree views to the east and back towards Halfmoon Bay and the surrounding area.

Lee Bay: approx. an hour walk from Oban, Lee Bay is the official entrance to Rakiura National Park. It has a chain sculpture that matches another found at Bluff, symbolising Maori legend in which Maui fishes up the North Island from the South Island (his waka (canoe)) and drops his anchor – Stewart Island. The views here are to the north, offering a panorama of the islands coastline.

The Auckland Observatory Stardome has a free monthly map of the stars and the night sky over New Zealand available to view on its website. Information on the maps and how to read them is also provided. You can view the most recent three months charts here. There are also several Apps available to be downloaded that map the night sky.