The Best Times and Places to See the Milky Way in New Zealand
One of the most prominent features seen on a clear night in New Zealand is the Milky Way. The band of light that stretches across the sky is our own disc-shaped galaxy, seen edge-on from the Southern Hemisphere. But when is the best time to see the Milky Way in New Zealand? Find out in this guide to the best times and places to see the Milky Way, including some photography tips.
For more astronomical features of the night’s sky, check out What to Look for When Watching the Stars in New Zealand.
Top Spots for Seeing the Milky Way in New Zealand
Where should you go to get the best views and photos of the Milky Way in New Zealand? Try these:
- Lake Tekapo, Canterbury, South Island
- Twizel, Canterbury, South Island
- Aoraki Mt Cook, Canterbury, South Island
- Stewart Island, Southland
- Wairarapa, Wellington, North Island
- Cape Campbell, Marlborough, South Island (where the featured image was taken).
See more details on each of these destinations and others in our 5 Best Stargazing Sites in New Zealand.
Dark Sky Reserves: The Best Places to See the Milky Way in New Zealand
New Zealand is home to two “Dark Sky Places”: the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and Stewart Island/Rakiura Dark Sky Sanctuary. With some of the darkest skies in the world, they are some of the best places to see the Milky Way in New Zealand.
The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve covers a 4,300km² (1,660mi²) area is inside the Mackenzie Basin of the South Island, which encapsulates Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and the villages of Tekapo, Twizel and Mt Cook.
The Stewart Island/Rakiura Dark Sky Sanctuary is some 30km (19 miles) off the southern coast of the South Island. It is home to the small village of Oban and the Rakiura National Park. With that, Stewart Island has earned its Dark Sky status for its remote location that is almost free from light pollution.
The night’s sky in these two zones is protected under their International Dark-Sky Association status, meaning that there are restrictions on the amount of artificial light produced in these areas. Learn more about New Zealand’s dark sky reserves here.
The Best Time to See the Milky Way
Although the summer months can be a huge benefit for seeing many star constellations from New Zealand, winter is the way to go if you want to see the Milky Way.
The Galactic Centre of the Milky Way galaxy is visible from February to October, but at its brightest in the winter months of June and July. Learn more about the New Zealand seasons here.
Other conditions are necessary to observe the Milky Way at its best, such as no cloud cover and when there’s little light from the moon. Even if you’re in a Dark Sky Reserve, the moon’s light can drown out vivid views of the Milky Way. Plan your stargazing for when the moon is in its first phase (New Moon) for better views of the stars.
Tips for Taking Photos of the Milky Way
Many travellers to New Zealand want to see the Milky Way to take an awesome shot, so be prepared by following our photography tips!
Wrap Up Warm
As mentioned, the best time to see the Milky Way in New Zealand is in winter when temperatures can drop to -3°C (26.6°F) at night on the South Island. See our Packing List for Winter in New Zealand and How to Stay Warm When Camping in New Zealand for nifty tricks on how to stay warm!
A DSLR with full manual controls, a high ISO setting and a lens of at least f/2.8 is the minimum requirement for decent photos of the Milky Way. You might also want your lens to be wide-angled if you want to capture the full view of the Milky Way arm seen from New Zealand. Oh yeah, and make sure you have a sturdy tripod, as you’ll need to take photos with shutter speeds of near 30 seconds.
A red torchlight/headtorch will allow you to see and fiddle with your camera settings without your eyes having to adjust to the dark. White light can be a pain for stargazing. A couple of hand warmers, which you can get at outdoor stores, is also a good idea to wrap around your lens in case it fogs up in the cold. Remember to pack some rubber bands or hair ties to attach the warmers to your lens.
For more photography tips, check out this handy Astrophotography Guide on New Zealand Sorted. You can also see How to Photograph Aurora Australis (The Southern Lights) with advice that applies to taking photos of the Milky Way.
More About Stargazing and the Milky Way in New Zealand
That’s it for our guide on the best time to see the Milky Way in New Zealand. For more star-related advice for New Zealand, take a look at the following guides:
- The Best Times and Locations to See the Southern Lights in New Zealand
- 5 Best Stargazing Sites in New Zealand
- 15 Things to Do After Dark in New Zealand
Finally, discover more about good timing in our guide, When is the Best Time to Visit New Zealand?