Frequently asked questions

We understand planning your visit and stargazing experience can evoke many questions. We've created the following answers to questions we receive regularly - we hope they help. If we haven't covered your question, please don't hesitate to contact us.




Before my experience

What is included in my guided experience?

All experiences are fully guided by experts in their field. Please refer to the specific tour pages for full information on 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 ; our private Cowan's Observatory for the Crater Experience).

Where and when do I check in?

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 Cowan's Observatories in the evening. You can park your car outside Dark Sky Project in the Takapō Western Carpark.

What do I need to wear?

Warm clothing is essential on our outdoor evening experiences, regardless of the season. The temperature can vary, but 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 wintry 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. The following is a guide only for what to wear:

  • 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, jersey, snow jacket, gloves, scarf and hat.

Are the outdoor evening experiences family-friendly?

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.

Are the experiences accessible?

Please let us know your accessibility requirements when booking and we will endeavour to make special arrangements for your experience.


How much astronomy knowledge is required?

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.

How much time is spent stargazing on the experiences?

While our guides tailor the experience to the weather and the group. All evening tours include stargazing. The Summit Experience includes viewing through up to 16" optical telescopes, the Crater Experience includes viewing through up to 14" optical telescopes.

Will I see the Milky Way?

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, if 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 in itself is an incredible sight to see, especially through a telescope!

When can I see an Aurora?

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 phenomena! 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!

How big are the telescopes we get to look through?

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. You will also get to go inside one of the Mount John domes which houses a 16" Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector or a 14” telescope dome at Cowan’s Observatory (when available).

Can I look through the MOA telescope?

Unfortunately not even the astronomers who carry out the research at the University of Canterbury Mt 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 MOA is so delicate and sensitive that when it is in operation no one can be in the same room, as our body heat makes it too hot! If it is a cloudy night and no research is being undertaken, you may be allowed inside to have a look at the MOA telescope and learn a bit more about it.


Can I take photos on my tour?

You can take pictures during your tour. If you need guidance on the best settings for astrophotography, feel free to ask our experimented guides. Most of them are also keen astrophotographers! Very importantly though, make sure you deactivate the flash before taking any picture, as bright light will disturb the scientific operations happening at the observatory.

How do I download the digital pictures from the astrophotographer?

You can access any photos taken on your tour by our astrophotographer via our Flickr page.