THE CLEAREST SKY ON EARTH

“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…” The words of the 19th century English lullaby could have been written by someone gazing at a New Zealand sky!!

clear sky3

New Zealand is geographically the most isolated country in the world. It takes 12 hours to fly across the vast Pacific Ocean to reach the east coast of the USA. It also takes 12 hours to travel north to the Asian mainland. It is around 26 hours flying time to Europe.

It’s not surprising that the three islands that make up this little country were the last to be inhabited by humans.

Being so far from the pollution generated in the USA and Asia, it’s not surprising that New Zealand boasts the clearest skies in the world. There has been dispute over this with Iceland claiming their skies are the clearest, but it is generally accepted New Zealand is top of the clear skies list.

DARK SKY RESERVE

In June 2012, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve was established in the Mackenzie Country in the centre of the South Island. Covering 4,300 square kilometres , including the tourist villages of Mt.Cook, Twizel and Tekapo, it is the largest of 11 Dark Sky Reserves in the world, and the only one in the southern hemisphere. A dark sky reserve is an area designated for nocturnal displays for education, entertainment and research. The New Zealand Dark Sky Reserve is classed as ‘gold level’ because the skies are almost totally free from light pollution. “To put it simply it is one of the best stargazing sites on earth.” Bob Parks, Executive Director of the International Dark Sky Association declared when the reserve was established.

OBSERVATORY

Located in the tourist region of the Mackenzie Country, Mount John is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world. It has 6 telescopes, including the country’s largest which can observe a staggering 50 million stars each clear night.

sky reserve1Mt. John Observatory

The pretty village of Tekapo, on the shores of Lake Tekapo is close by, and the attractive little Church of the Good Shepherd, is a popular location for Asian weddings. Couples are attracted to the pristine beauty of the area and the cute little church built beside the dramatic milky green waters of the lake. With the spectacular 12, 218ft (3,724m) snow covered peak of Mt. Cook towering over the scene, it is one of the world’s scenic wonder areas. Of course, the sparkling stars overhead, are also a magnet for any visitor, especially from Asia where clear skies are unavailable to them.

clear skyChinese Bride and Groom Wedding Photo at Tekapo

There are four observatory locations in the Mackenzie Country where visitors can gaze at the splendor overhead. This includes the only Planetarium in the world offering 2D, 3D and a Digital Dome.

clear sky43Clear Sky over Church of the Good Shepherd Tekapo

STARGAZING TOURS

People in many parts of the world have lost touch with stars in the sky with half  the world’s population unable to see them because of night light pollution, caused by lights bleeding from sprawling cities, but the sparsely populated Mackenzie District has no lights to affect the pristine sky. For this reason, increasing numbers of visitors are taking Stargazing Tours to experience a clear look at the stars and planets, even to see the craters on the moon and beyond to the celestial magic of distant galaxies. It is a humbling experience to gaze at the lights twinkling overhead that makes us all realize how small we are on this one little planet in a universe populated by countless million of them.

INTENSITY OF NEW ZEALAND LIGHT

For a number of years, I was a TV cameraman filming in the varying landscapes New Zealand is blessed with. I didn’t use any filters but was often asked which ones I used to make the colours in my films so vivid.  I think it’s the country’s geographic location surrounded by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean that is responsible for the unique intensity of the light. When I returned to New Zealand after 15 years in other countries, I was amazed at just how strong the light in New Zealand actually is. It is like comparing a colour photo taken on film with one taken digitally. New Zealand’s light has a digital look to it! I never wore sunglasses while I lived in Europe and America, but it is a necessity in New Zealand, especially over the summer months. Even on an overcast day, the light can be strong enough to make you squint without sunglasses.

clearsky65Sunny New Zealand Countryside

SOUTHERN LIGHTS

The clear skies over New Zealand also produce spectacular ‘southern lights’. Officially known as ‘Aurora Australis’, the spectacular displays can be seen at their best in the southern areas of the South Island. Hoopers Inlet on Otago Peninsula is one of the most popular vantage points to see nature’s light show. Hoopers Inlet is just a 20 minute drive from the centre of Dunedin, the South Island’s second largest city with a population of 120,000. A large variety of sea birds can be found in the glassy water of the inlet and when the sun sets, an almost spiritual stillness descends over the area.

Stargazers from around the world visit Hoopers Inlet in the hope of seeing the lights. I grew up in Dunedin and on a number of occasions, I gazed wide eyed as the sky turned from green to pink then purple as the southern lights magically performed across the brilliantly clear sky.

clear sky75Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) Over Otago Harbour

Have a look at these Southern Lights magically dancing across the clear sky in this short video.

Apart from a lake with the clearest water on the planet, which I wrote about in a previous blog, the country’s clear skies are another reason visitors are attracted to a land that is so different from the rest of the world.

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Comments

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