The Great Escape

The Best Stargazing Experiences in New Zealand

The world's best stargazing experience awaits.

best stargazing experiences new zealand

Grab your swag, a map and a few mates—this is The Great Escape, your modern camper’s guide to getting off-grid under the Southern Cross. Cruise over to the rest of our coverage for stargazing guides, birdwatching tips, and learn how to get the most out of Earth’s best playground with sustainability in mind. Make campfire cocktails, discover how to forage safely, and cook gourmet meals in the wild (because you can do better than baked beans).

Enter here for a chance to win a night away in a tiny house, yurt, or train carriage.

Stargazing in New Zealand offers an experience like no other, especially during Matariki. Matariki, known as Māori New Year gives people the chance to connect with their whanau (family) to reminisce and reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to the year ahead.

It is also a star cluster that appears in the early morning sky in New Zealand during mid-winter, late May to early July, the best time to view the Matariki star cluster is early morning, right before dawn.

It is closely connected with the maramataka (the Māori lunar calendar), the reappearance of Matariki in the early morning sky brings the past year to a close and marks the beginning of the new year. The Māori lunar calendar begins in the month of Pipiri (around June-July) when Matariki rises in New Zealand’s northeast sky. Because it is connected to a lunar calendar the date of the celebration changes every year. The dates vary according to tribes and geography. 

Traditionally, festivities were conducted to celebrate Matariki. They followed the harvesting of crops when the pātakapātaka (food storehouses) were full, freeing up time for family and leisure. These festivities included the lighting of ritual fires, the making of offerings, and celebrations of various kinds to farewell the dead, honour ancestors, and celebrate life.

Nowadays, across New Zealand, people come together to remember their ancestors, share food, sing, tell stories and play music. Sharing food is an essential ingredient of modern Matariki – which coincides nicely with the seasonal yearning for warmer comfort foods —as families, extended tribal families and communities get together to savour the fruits of the harvest.

Here are the best destinations to view the Matariki Star Cluster and the best stargazing experiences in Aotearoa.

Wairarapa

The Wairarapa region is on track to become New Zealand’s largest Dark Sky Reserve and has one of the darkest and most pristine skies in the country. The town has already achieved an IDA “3K City” classification, which means it has shielded LED outdoor lighting – reducing sky glow and light pollution. What better place to stargaze than here, at the Stonehenge Aotearoa open-air astronomical observatory.

A modern interpretation of the mysterious ancient monument, Stonehenge Aotearoa is based upon starlore from tangata whenua, Pasifika and other cultures around the world.  Book a daytime guided tour to learn about the henge, Māori starlore, Polynesian navigation and archeoastronomy or head along on a Friday or Saturday night for a Star Safari followed by stargazing (weather permitting).

best stargazing experiences new zealand tongariro alpine crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Stargazing during sunrise is the best of both worlds. Experience a guided sunrise Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike with Adrift Tongariro. This private guided tour starts and finishes at Adrift Tongariro base in National Park Village and is a spectacular way to experience the Tongariro Alpine Crossing under the night stars and breaking morning light at sunrise. Stand beneath the Milky Way at Tongariro with shooting stars streaming down the pre-dawn skies with breathtaking sunrise and breakfast alfresco at the Red Crater.

Taupo

Nestled between the Kaweka and Kaimanawa forests in the central North Island of New Zealand, a visit to these lands is a privilege experienced by only a few. Accessible only via helicopter, a bedroom designed for stargazing awaits you in the heart of the exclusive Owhaoko ancestral lands. No roads, no cell phones, no people, this is the place to lie back and marvel as the stars twist and turn in a sparkling show of nature above you.

Takapō (Tekapo)

The ultimate in stellar relaxation, Tekapo Stargazing is the only guided hot pool and star gazing experience in New Zealand, located at one of the best stargazing sites on earth.

Wonder at the dazzling beauty of millions of stars in some of the clearest, darkest night skies in the world at Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Relax in soul-warming hot pools beneath the 4,300 square kilometres of officially recognized International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest reserve of this type worldwide.

Exclusive use of a 38-degree pool to lie back on a floating hammock or simply relax as you enjoy the starry blanket above you. Your guide is poolside to share local stories about New Zealand myths and legends combined with the science behind constellations, planets and galaxies.

best stargazing experiences new zealand mt cook

Mt Cook

Take a mesmerizing journey through the cosmos as you explore the wonders of the night sky with Big Sky Stargazing. Their resident astronomy guides, Kate, Igor & Brad, will take you on a 1-hour tour of the night sky through high-powered telescopes. They share their knowledge about the night sky in an informative and approachable way, answering any questions you may have as they go. 

Available on a clear night, the tour takes place close to the Hermitage hotel. Guests are shuttled to the base and are treated to homemade hot chocolate and sweet treats, before stepping outside to witness the darkness as it comes alive with the stars.

Stewart Island

Explore Stewart Island’s Dark Sky Sanctuary. From craters on the moon to the centre of the galaxy, a Twinkle Dark Sky Tour will show you some of the most stunning sites in our solar system and the larger cosmos. 

Due to its remote southern location, Stewart Island Rakiura is virtually free of light pollution, ensuring that the skies enjoyed are of the highest quality. The island’s beauty and breath-taking sceneries combine to provide an unforgettable night sky experience. This was acknowledged on a worldwide scale in 2019 when Stewart Island/Rakiura was designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. At nearly 47º south, this is possibly the southernmost astrotour in the world, and one of the best places to observe the sporadic Aurora Australis.

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The Great Escape

The 19 Best National Parks in Australia

Explore rugged mountain ranges, find secluded white sand beaches, and more.

best national parks australia
Photo: @nathsway

Grab your swag, a map and a few mates—this is The Great Escape, your modern camper’s guide to getting off-grid under the Southern Cross. Cruise over to the rest of our coverage for stargazing guides, birdwatching tips, and learn how to get the most out of Earth’s best playground with sustainability in mind. Make campfire cocktails, discover how to forage safely, and cook gourmet meals in the wild (because you can do better than baked beans).

Enter here for a chance to win a night away in a tiny house, yurt, or train carriage.

Australia has some of the most diverse landscapes in the world. There are ancient gorges occupying dusk red deserts, limestone cliffs outlining sapphire coastlines, and million-year-old rainforests, protecting our most treasured wildlife.

To date, there are more than 600 National Parks in Australia, each unique to its location and array of ecosystems, marine plants, and animals. That means over 28 million hectares of land is designated as national parkland, which accounts for almost 4% of Australia’s land areas.

While you probably won’t be able to tackle all of them in a lifetime, we’ve narrowed down the best ones to add to your next road trip.

best national parks australia
Photo: @helloemilie

Kakadu National Park

Northern Territory
It’s Australia’s biggest national park, covering nearly 20,000 square kilometres, and it’s one of the most magical places in the country. As with any desert landscape, you can watch the scene come alive as the sun rises, but here, you feel alive. From the lush rainforests to the rocky gorges, the swimming pools, and the oldest indigenous rock art in the world, it’s truly a place like no other. Embark on multi-day hikes, learn about the indigenous culture, or simply marvel at the ancient landscape. You can cruise along the Yellow Water Billabong to spot crocodiles and the millions of migratory birds.

best national parks australia
Photo: @megforbesphotography

Dorrigo National Park

New South Wales
Only an hours drive from Coffs Harbour, this national park resembles the set of Avatar more than a park. The World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest is an adventure lover’s playground, offering waterfall walks, bird watching, varying levels of hiking, suspension bridges, and wildlife encounters. Make your way to the Skywalk lookout for the best views or venture deep in the rainforest to discover rocky caverns and Crystal Shower Falls, which you can walk behind. You can even go for a swim in rainforest pools.

best national parks australia
Photo: @ourwildwandering

Ningaloo Marine Park

Western Australia
Ningaloo Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, offering a slew of outdoor adventures, including swimming with whale sharks. Here, you will find one of the world’s largest aggregations of whale sharks, making it a great place to glide alongside these gentle giants, but also manta rays, turtles and humpback whales. On land, join a guided kayak tour, sleep in a luxe safari camp on the beach, and hike the nearby Cape Range National Park, known for its gorges and rock wallabies.

best national parks australia
Photo: @discoveryguide

Purnululu National Park

Western Australia
350 million years ago, this striking land formed, cultivating a maze of orange and black striped karst sandstone domes. Today, you can visit the domes, get up and close and marvel at the other sculptured rocks, formed by the semi-arid savanna grasslands. Join a guided tour to learn about the area’s Aboriginal heritage, hike into the gigantic Cathedral Gorge, tackle the Piccaninny Creek loop. There are dozens of remote trails to follow here, so get walking.

best national parks australia
Photo: @ingooeland

Mungo National Park

New South Wales
Mungo National Park is best described as Mars in Australia. This extraterrestrial looking landscape is made of ancient sands and is of great significance to the Ngyiampaa Mutthi Mutthi and Southern Paakantyi people. There have been several archaeological finds including Mungo Lady and Mungo man—the world’s oldest human cremations. Erosion has sculpted sand and clay into fragile formations, which are a marvel to see. You can camp here, or simply take the day to wander the sands of time, visit Lake Mungo, or learn about the long history of Aboriginal people and the establishment of the park.

Photo: @oursandyvan

Daintree National Park

Queensland
Growing for more than 180 million years, this rainforest is one of the most extraordinary places on earth. You will find species of flora and fauna, found nowhere else in the world, and feel the ancient energy with every step. Spot crocodiles or go spearfishing, the activities are endless. Visit the spellbinding Mossman Gorge, stay in a luxury lodge and heal in the spa, browse at art, and discover the rainforest at night with a tour that will show you a new side of the rainforest you don’t get to see in the day.

best national parks australia
Photo: @kate.hanton

Grampians National Park

Victoria
This incredible mountain landscape is for food lovers, wine lovers, and adventure seekers. Frequented by rock climbers, the Grampians offer rugged mountainous terrain for hikers, but also vineyards, rocky escarpments, and eco-cabins to bunker down in. It’s also one of the most popular places to see wildflowers in spring. You can taste the region’s wine legacy and indulge in local produce at the many small towns dotted along the landscape.

best national parks australia
Photo: @goshakaalugolla

Blue Mountains National Park

New South Wales
The Blue Mountains are renowned as one of the most spectacular parks in the state, if not the country. The ancient landmass is just under two hours from Sydney, making it a popular weekend destination. Here, visitors can walk along its cliffs, hike the temperate rainforests, explore the valleys and plateaus, chase waterfalls, and swim in spring pools. There are many popular hikes including the Ruined Castle Hike, the Grand Canyon Walk, and the unmissable, Three Sisters formation at Echo Point.

best national parks australia
Photo: @rhaneejayzee

Cooloola National Park

Queensland
Also known as the great sandy national park, Cooloola is made up of massive dunes, towering cliffs of coloured sands and wide ocean beaches, offering some of the clearest waters in Australia. You can venture through forests and paperback swamps, only to find freshwater lakes and turquoise beaches on the other side. Hike to Double Island Point Lighthouse for the views or paddle the Upper Noosa River. If you love being outdoors, this is the park for you.

best national parks australia
Photo:@keiranlusk

Litchfield National Park

Northern Territory
Thundering waterfalls and natural pools await in Litchfield National Park. Only a two-hour drive from Darwin, this park is a popular day trip, for hiking, swimming, and general exploring. Spot the surreal, tombstone like termite mounds dotting the park, swim under a waterfall or sleep in the park at a safari camp. You can also visit historic ruins, and stay for the clearest night sky you will find in the Top End.

best national parks australia
Photo: @racheldebels

Kosciuszko National Park

New South Wales
Also known as the snowy mountains, Kosciuszko National Park is a haven for snow sports, alpine hiking, mountain biking, camping and cave exploring. Climb Australia’s highest mountain, ride the slopes at Perisher or Thredbo, and stay in heritage lodges atop snow-capped peaks. Even when the snow melts, it becomes a popular destination for mountain biking and hiking. You can go 4WDriving in Jindabyne to discover hidden spots you can’t reach with a standard car.

best national parks australia
Photo: @photobohemian

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Northern Territory
Also known as Australia’s red centre, this national park is home to the world’s most famous monolith, Uluru. Rising from the red earth, this impressive ancient wonder is deeply spiritual and sacred to the local Anangu people, who have lived here for more than 22,000 years. You can explore the base and learn about the stories, but be mindful of its sacred status. Nearby, you can stay at a luxury campsite or there are plenty of resorts to choose from. During the day, explore the nearby tracks including The Olgas, or take it up a notch and go camel-back, for the ride of a lifetime. The Field of Light art installation is a must, as is the Sounds of Silence bushtucker dinner, where you will learn about Dreamtime stories under a dark sky and tuck into local bushtucker.

Photo: @joriccioni

Eurobadalla National Park

New South Wales
Situated on the south coast is Eurobodalla National Park, home to some of the best and most dangerous beaches in the state. Most beaches here are not patrolled and are known for their strong rips, so if you do go into the water, be cautious of conditions. You will also find stunning lakes, and plenty of hiking trails to conquer. The Bingi Dreaming Track is a full day hiking on the 13.5km coastal route, tracing the songlines of the Brinja-Yuin people.

best national parks australia
Photo: @deni_cupit

Freycinet National Park

Tasmania
Known as the jewel of Tasmania, Freycinet National Park is a remarkable place where crystal clear waters and curvaceous white sand beaches meet pink granite peaks, through a Jurassic Park-style rainforest. You can hike the ranges, swim at Wineglass Bay, take a boat ride from bay to bay, or camp at a luxury eco-retreat near the village of Coles Bay. The park is 2.5 hours from Launceston, and definitely deserves a few days of exploring.

best national parks australia
Photo: @oliver.whone

Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park

Tasmania
It’s a mouthful, but this national park has everything you could want and more. Expect dramatic, serrated peaks, glacial-carved lakes, grasslands, and a rainforest. It’s an alpine wilderness, like no other. Partake in the world-class hikes, connect to nature, encounter Tasmania’s unique wildlife, and stay at the stunning Pumphouse Point. You can also join a canyoning tour if you’re a thrill-seeker, or go wildlife spotting after dark.

best national parks australia
Photo: @_markfitz

Whitsunday Islands National Park

Queensland
This national park is a destination in itself. Frequented by visitors from around the world, the Whitsunday Islands offer postcard moments from silica sand beaches, clear waters, fringing reefs, and enchanted forests. You can walk along the swirling sands of Whitehaven Beach, swim with turtles, and hike the headlands for views from above. The best way to soak up the park is by taking to the air, to soar over the iconic reef and wavy sand beaches.

best national parks australia
Photo: @hooltaye_w_podrozy

Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park

South Australia
If you’re a hiker, the Flinders Ranges offers the best multi-day hike you will find. There are over 95,000 hectares to explore, including rugged mountain ranges, peaceful creeks lined with red gums, and dramatic gorges to see. You can camp under the stars, spot native wildlife, and learn about the rich cultural heritage. Of course, if you don’t want to spend the next few days walking the remote land, you can always stop by for the day and go four-wheel driving, or bushwalking.

best national parks australia
Photo: @babs.jojo

Dandenong Ranges National Park

Victoria
The Dandenong Ranges offers outdoor adventures, but also offers a place for families to enjoy. Less rugged than most national parks, this one provides an escape from the city, where you can wander through secret fern glades, towering forests, and eclectic villages. Stumble into Belgrave, and board the steam train that takes you through the Sherbrooke Forest. You can enjoy Devonshire teas, savour fresh-picked berries, and sink into a cosy cafe.

best national parks australia
Photo: @beginningofmay

Nambung National Park

Western Australia
Here is where you will find the amazing Pinnacles Desert, also known for its beautiful beaches at Kangaroo Point and Hangover Bay. It’s only a two-hour drive north of Perth and offers unique natural attractions. The Pinnacles, which were created millions of years ago lends to a landscape resembling mars, more than earth. You can walk around and get up and close to the natural structures, before visiting the nearby beaches, known for top-notch surfing, and bottlenose dolphins.

best national parks australia
Photo: @tribegonetravelling

Coffin Bay National Park

South Australia
Coffin Bay seems to fly under the radar, but is well worth a visit. This remote land is mainly made up of coastal scenery including glassy waters, windswept cliffs, and massive dunes. The waters are still, perfect for wading into. There are camping sites set up all around the park. You can go hiking, kayaking, and four-wheel driving. The best beaches are north, and you can only access them with a 4-WD. The fishing here is also great, given the clear waters and sheltered bays.

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