So many visitors to Oamaru and the surrounding area comment on how clear the night sky is here, and how there are so many more stars here than back home. I’m not sure that there really are any more stars in New Zealand than anywhere else, but the fact that we have a lot less light pollution than other places certainly makes it seem like there are. In 2012, the nearby town of Lake Tekapo became a UNESCO-registered “Dark Sky Preserve” in recognition of all that they do to protect the night sky from being affected by streetlights and other man-made phenomena, and in 2017 Oamaru also announced that it will be replacing its existing streetlights with LEDs that will also further reduce any light pollution that degrades stargazing in the area.
Wherever you go in North Otago, if the sky is clear at night and the moon is cooperating (best viewing is when the moon is new or as close to new as possible) you are virtually assured a great chance to see the stars in all their glory. Among the things you can see in the Southern Hemisphere that you cannot see in the North are of course the Southern Cross; the Magellanic Clouds, two galaxies beyond our own that appear as small ‘clouds’ of stars; Canopus, the second-brightest star in the night sky (though visible in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it is more readily visible in the Southern); and the constellation Centaurus, ‘home’ of the closest star to Earth other than the Sun, Alpha Centauri.
If you are interested in capturing images of the night sky, there are numerous good spots to do so in our area, including Moeraki, the beaches, and the Elephant Rocks, all of which offer dark skies and foreground interest to aid in creating a pleasing composition. Pen-y-bryn Lodge is even offering a special package for people interested in exploring the southern night sky, with a two-night stay in Oamaru, complete with a view of the skies through their telescope and a primer in astrophotography, and a night at SkyScape in Twizel in the high country where there is virtually no light pollution at all and the sky is wide open above you. For more information visit their website by clicking here.