We've created the following answers to questions we receive regularly, we hope they help with the planning of your visit.
If we have not covered your question below, please don't hesitate to contact the team on 0800 327 5759 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Before my experience
All experiences are fully guided by experts in their field. Please refer to the specific tour pages for full information on the inclusions. All experiences depart from Dark Sky Project at 1 Motuariki Lane. The Summit and Crater experiences include return coach transport to their locations (University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory for the Summit Experience and Cowan's Private Observatory for the Crater Experience).
Our outdoor evening experiences depart from Dark Sky Project at 1 Motuariki Lane. Please arrive at least 20 minutes prior to your tour's departure time.
If you have booked the Summit or Crater Experience, a coach will take you to the tour locations and return you to Dark Sky Project. For safety reasons, you are not permitted to drive up Mt John or to Cowan's Observatory in the evening. You can park your car outside Dark Sky Project in the Takapō Western Carpark.
Warm clothing is essential on our outdoor evening experiences, regardless of the season. The temperature can vary, it will also depend on the wind speed as well. Wind chill can drop temperatures below zero.
The Summit Experience is hosted at the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory, approximately 1,029 metres (3,376 ft) altitude in a glacial region, with high wind exposure. During the winter months it often snows.
Please wear strong, sturdy footwear suitable for walking on uneven terrain with minimal lighting. No glowing, flashing or light up shoes or clothing are permitted. We recommend wearing the following:
- Summer (November - March): thermal wear, long pants, socks, sneakers, jersey, jacket and hat.
- Winter (April - October): thermal wear, warm long pants, woollen socks, hiking boots or sturdy footwear that covers the ankle, jersey, snow jacket, gloves, scarf and hat.
Our outdoor evening experiences are family-friendly with an age restriction of 5 years and over. Due to the late hours and cooler temperatures, we recommend selecting an earlier evening departure if you have younger children.
The Dark Sky Experience is indoors, 45 minutes and operates during the day, making it a great family option for those with young children. There are no age restrictions on this tour and under 5's are free.
Please let us know your accessibility requirements when booking and we will endeavour to make special arrangements for your experience.
Dark Sky Project offer two evening stargazing tours, the Crater Experience, and the Summit Experience from the top of Mount John. We also offer an indoors, day time astronomy tour called the Dark Sky Experience, which is held at the Dark Sky Project Base (please note, this tour does not include any stargazing).
The Crater Experience is a wonderful introductory experience to stargazing in Takapō (Tekapo). Stargazing takes place at Cowan’s private observatory in a purpose-built crater, which limits light pollution and provides extra protection from the wind. In case of adverse weather, the ticket will be changed to a Virtual Stargazing Experience with the corresponding partial refund (see our Terms and Conditions). The Crater Experience is particularly recommended for anyone who may have special access requirements. This tour is 1 hour 15 mins in duration, including transport time.
The Summit Experience is New Zealand’s premier stargazing tour, with stargazing taking place from the Summit of Mount John, home to the world leading research facility the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory. At 1,029m above sea-level this tour offers 360 panoramic views across the skies of the Mackenzie basin. This tour is 1hour 45mins in length, including transport time.
Both the Crater Experience and the Summit Experience will conduct stargazing using the naked eye guided by lasers, telescopes and through our observatory dome.
Our Dark Sky Experience is our indoor, all weather, daytime option, with tours operating up to 5 times each day. Held at our world class astronomy centre at the Dark Sky project base, this tour combines science, Māori astronomy and fascinating multi-media installations together in a ‘Big Bang’ of awe and inspiration. Suitable for all ages.
Yes, we accept bookings on the day of the trip. However, please be aware that trips are extremely limited in capacity and often sold out, so you do run the risk of missing out.
Both of our stargazing tours, the Summit Experience and the Crater Experience are weather dependent. In the event that the guiding team lead determines no stargazing is possible due to inclement weather conditions, the options customers are offered will depend on the experience they booked for:
- For the Crater Experience, the ticket will be changed to a Virtual Stargazing Experience, an alternative indoor tour in our purpose-built technological experience. This will be an hour in duration, at the value of $69 per adult, $35 per child. You will then be refunded the balance of your original ticket price. Alternatively, you can decide to change your booking into an open-dated ticket, allowing you to book back with us any time you want within a year.
- For the Summit Experience, customers will be offered a full refund for their booking. Alternatively, they can transfer to a later departure the same night, or another date of your choice (subject to availability), as well as change their booking into an open-dated ticket, allowing them to book back with us any time you want within a year. The voucher is transferrable to another person.
Truly, pay us a visit any time of year and you’re guaranteed a memorable experience. It all depends on what you’d like to do while you are here. Some of the popular drawcards are to:
- Frolic in the lupins – Late spring
- See the southern Lights - March to September
- Stargazing – Winter
- Water Sports – Summer In fact, a few trips might be in order!
Check out Tekapo Tourism for more things to do in Tekapo year-round.
No matter what time of the year, you'll always see something above that will blow your mind! The sky is often clearest during the cooler, winter months and at its darkest when there is no moon. That being said, the moon is incredibly fascinating in itself!
What's visible in the sky changes all the time. Our knowledgeable guides tailor their tour content to what is in the sky on that particular night and season, and will showcase the very best of the night sky whenever you choose to visit.
Our indoor Dark Sky Experience operates all year round, in all weather conditions and during the day.
No prior astronomy knowledge is required, however our experienced guides will tailor content based on your group’s preferences and existing knowledge. All experiences have ample time for questions and answers to ensure your knowledge is enhanced.
The Milky Way is the collective starlight of the billions of stars that make up our galaxy and can be seen clearly from the Southern hemisphere, provided the sky is clear of clouds and not too light polluted by the moon. During a full moon, a lot of starlight does get washed out, however a full or near-full moon is an incredible sight to see, especially through a powerful telescope!
We do not run tours specifically to see an aurora. An aurora is a very rare phenomenon often only predictable a day or two in advance.
Auroras are dependent on the activity of the sun and require big solar flares or winds to shoot out in our direction, arrive on Earth and excite the gases at our North and South Poles. It is this interaction between the energy from the sun and the gas particles in the atmosphere that emits the beautiful colours and for this to be visible we need very dark, clear conditions, and for the aurora to reach Mt John. The sun lets off many flares every day that do not cause this phenomenon!
We recommend you keep an eye on our social media where we give updates and alerts for upcoming auroras, then you might be able to book a tour when one is predicted! Remember, the further South you are, the more likely it is you will witness the unforgettable Southern Lights!
You will get the opportunity to look through various telescopes on your tour. We have portable 9 ¼ inch telescopes which, depending on the eye piece chosen by your guide, can range from 60-120x magnification. The guide will decide on what magnification to use depending on the size, brightness and distance an object may be from our perspective.
Unfortunately, not even the astronomers who carry out the research at the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory get to view through the MOA telescope. The MOA telescope takes images of planets and other objects in deep space, these images are then viewed on computer screens in a different room.
The stargazing in both experiences is very similar: same dark sky, same expert guides, and nearly same telescopes. The bigger telescope at Cowan’s Private Observatory (on the Crater Experience tour) is 14” in aperture, versus 16” for the biggest one we stargaze through on Mount John (on the Summit Experience tour). With the Summit Experience, you will stay 15 minutes longer at the observatory compared to the Crater Experience.
In case of cloudy weather, the Summit Experience will be cancelled, while the Crater Experience will be turned into an indoors Virtual Stargazing Experience with a partial refund (see our Terms and Conditions).
Another difference is in the environment. The Summit Experience takes place on Mount John, which is the only professional research observatory in New Zealand, as well as the southernmost optical research facility in the world! This is a rare and exclusive opportunity to stargaze surrounded by large observatory domes, alongside a world renown research observatory.
Please note, the University of Canterbury telescopes are actively engaged in undertaking scientific research. You may see the domes moving around and catch a glimpse of the telescopes at work through the opening, but access to these private facilities is restricted
You can take pictures during your tour. Very importantly though, make sure you de-activate the flash before taking any picture, as bright light will disturb the scientific operations happening at the observatory.
If you need guidance on the best settings for astrophotography, feel free to ask our experienced guides. Many of them are also keen astrophotographers!
If you are looking at where to see the Southern Lights in NZ, then Tekapo is the place to be.
The Aurora Australis in the Southern sky is a stunning display best viewed in the South Island. Tekapo is conveniently so removed from big cities, that the lack of light pollution makes it a perfect spot for seeing the Aurora. The cooler months of March through September is prime viewing time. Solar activity is needed to create conditions for the Aurora, more precisely, strong gusts of solar winds reacting with the magnetosphere.
The best way to stay informed is to track the Aurora Australis forecast and look out for readings of Kp5 or higher. A super clear and dark night is ideal, as is getting up as high in the hills as you can. A full moon can be a light pollutant, so keep an eye on the lunar cycle if you can. Getting prime conditions to view the Aurora Australis in the Southern hemisphere can be hard—but it is worth it!
… and don’t forget to use your compass to make sure you are looking SOUTH!
Our departure times are calculated according to the sun's altitude. At the time of the first tour, the sun is at a minimum of 8 degrees below the horizon. This ensures that stargazing starts after the official nautical twilight (12 degrees below the horizon).
Your group will arrive at the Mt John Summit or Cowan's Private Observatory at the end of twilight. You will witness the sky darkening over the first 30 minutes of the tour and by the time you start looking through telescopes, the sky will be at its darkest.
Every night beholds something different. Our skies are continually changing across the seasons and the evening. Due to weather and atmospheric conditions, we are unable to guarantee exactly what you will see on any given night.
If you have further questions about your specific tour, please contact our astronomy guides at email@example.com