I happened across a star gazing tour while visiting Skyline in Queenstown. It wasn’t something I had planned on doing, but it may have been the highlight for the three days I was there. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and for good reason. A person can do just about any extreme adventure there…bungy jump (from the world’s first or world’s highest), jet boat, river raft, canyon swing, zip line, etc. And yet, with all of that I chose to go star gazing.
Admittedly I was quite sick in Queenstown. I had planned to zip line and luge down the very mountain I star gazed from, but that morning I nearly fainted in the shower. I thought it would be best to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.
The tour was led by a professional astronomy guide. She pointed out specific stars, constellations, satellites, etc. She had the most amazing laser pointer. There really isn’t any way to describe it, other than she could literally circle what she wanted us to be looking at. There were two large professional telescopes for us to look through as well. The group was a bit large when it came to looking through the telescopes, but it worked out. I would recommend not going during a public holiday (I went on Boxing Day). I thought there were too many kids which was a bit weird since the tour didn’t start until 1045pm.
Although I assumed I’d just be “looking” at stars it turns out that I actually learned A LOT.
- In the northern sky it’s quite easy to locate the North Star, follow it down to the horizon, and find North. It’s not as easy in the southern sky. The pointer stars must be located, then using them the Southern Cross must be located. After that, Achernar must be located. And, finally trace a straight line between the long axis of the Southern Cross to Achernar. Half way, is the South Celestial Pole Follow it down to the horizon and find South. Whew…that’s a lot of work.
- Orion is upside down.
- Magellan saw two “things” that looked like clouds, but never moved. After his death they were discovered to be dwarf galaxies. They were later named…wait for it…Small Magellan Cloud and Large Magellan Cloud.
- I also didn’t know there were constellations that could only been seen in one hemisphere or the other. Now that I know it makes sense. The Big Dipper for instance can only be seen in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Cross can only be seen in the Southern Hemisphere.
I’m sure there is a lot more, but those were the key things I learned in the 60+ minutes (which seems like a lot to me). I did take some photos, but I was too caught up learning that I didn’t spend much time finding the perfect exposure and composition.
It’s essential to book this tour ahead of time. I was able to get the very last spot by booking it earlier in the afternoon, but that was pushing it. The biggest problem would be picking the right night. I got extremely lucky. I do think they cancel and reschedule if it’s too cloudy.
- Phone: 441 0101
- Website: skyline.co.nz/stargazing
Although I took photos, I would recommend just going up and enjoying the tour. It was too complicated.