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TRAVEL & LEISURE

The Eight Best Places to Stargaze Near Auckland

From satellite stations to the only island-based dark sanctuary in the world, you'll want to look up here.
By Laetitia Laubscher
October 18, 2018
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The Eight Best Places to Stargaze Near Auckland

From satellite stations to the only island-based dark sanctuary in the world, you'll want to look up here.
By Laetitia Laubscher
October 18, 2018
  shares

Attention: Auckland residents with an affinity for gazing up at multitudes of luminous balls of gas that are made of mostly hydrogen and helium and held together by their own gravity (stars), we have made you a bit of a stargazing to-do list for this coming summer.

The following eight sites are scattered across the Auckland region, from its quieter outskirts to its West Coast beaches, offering not only an opportunity for some romantic stargazing or some astronomy photography, but also some interesting New Zealand history, beautiful wildlife and stunning nature.

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TAWHARANUI REGIONAL PARK

Another Warkworth stargazing site worth mentioning is Tāwharanui Regional Park. Just about 80 minutes drive out of Auckland, the park offers a tent campsite so that you stay overnight staring at the skies above. For those who like a bit of surfing, Tāwharanui is known to have some good waves as well, so you can follow up your night of stargazing with an early morning surf. Note that campsite bookings need to be made with the Auckland Regional Council beforehand.

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WARKWORTH SATELLITE STATION

Just off to the right of the well-known Warkworth Honey Centre is one of Auckland's best locations to gaze at a pretty untarnished night sky — the Warkworth Satellite Earth Station.

New Zealand sent its first first phone messages to Britain by satellite in 1965 using INTELSAT-1, and soon after the Satellite Earth Station was built in Warkworth in 1971. The spot was chosen specifically for its spectacularly clear night sky and well sheltered position.

The station was primarily used for telephone services, but ended up being used for a lot of television broadcasts as well. Before the construction of the satellite station, New Zealand used to have to wait for film to flown over from Australia — major events like Neil Armstrong's moon landing in 1969 had to be watched well after the rest of the world as New Zealanders waited for the tapes to arrive from across the ditch. The Warkworth station was also credited with being the only reason why New Zealand could broadcast its 1974 Commonwealth Games live to the world.

These days the satellite dishes at the station are semi-retired, with one being dismantled and the other being converted into a radio telescope and lent out to Auckland University of Technology. Nevertheless the dish makes for a great foreground object for star photography and the sheltered nature of the site means that you can stare at those clear skies for as long as you like without getting hurried along by a cold breeze.

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PAKIRI BEACH

Better known for its romantic horse rides and surf breaks, Pakiri also has some of the most pristine night skies in the Auckland region. Named after Ngāti Wai chief, Te Kiri, the 14-kilometre long white sandy beach is a perfect spot to park up away from the maddening crowds and soak in the view of the stars. The beach is also surrounded by excellent little vantage points for you to set up your DSLR and get some decent night photography done.cp-line

MURIWAI BEACH

A little closer drive from Auckland, Muriwai beach might be a little bit more light polluted than its neighbours further north, but it makes up for it with its beautiful, sparkly, black sandy beaches and pretty nature. The beach's unique black sand was caused by iron spat out by ancient volcanoes nearby and carried along by the longshore drift — including the Kaipara Valcano which erupted around 16-23 million years ago roughly.

While you're in the area, the gannet colony on the southside of the beach is also worth a visit, as is a daytime walk to the Mokorua Falls (just check to make sure that the rāhui has been lifted before doing the walk).cp-line

Russell Street.

PIHA BEACH

The landscape of New Zealand's most famous surfers beach is something to be appreciated in both daylight and under moonlight. Lion Rock makes for a great foreground object for star photography, while a couple of the lookout points on the road in to the beach make for majestic spots to park up and stargaze without getting too cold.

Like its sister beach Muriwai, Piha's light quality is a bit lower than the more rural options on this list, but being only 40 kilometres from Auckland central city, it's a stargazing spot that won't necessarily require an overnight trip.

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WHATIPU BEACH

On the southern tip of the West Coast sits Whatipu, a quiet beach with a beautiful night sky and a cave system which historically had a cult partying status. After World War One and up until the 1950s, the main cave of the Whatipu Caves had a wooden dance floor and played host to "wild" dance parties with the hottest accordion bands in town playing until late. Guests would either show up by horse or by ferry. These days the dance floor is covered by roughly five metres of sand, but Whatipu still hosts some musical numbers from time to time. In 2009, Auckland band An Emerald City recorded their debut album Circa Scaria inside the main cave.

The road access to Whatipu is unsealed and the beach is pretty poorly signposted, but the views of the milky way are worth your while and guaranteed to leave you awestruck.

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GREAT BARRIER ISLAND

Earlier this year Great Barrier Island hosted a month-long star-focused festival to mark the Māori New Year. The off-the-grid island served as the perfect location; it's one of only four dark sky sanctuaries and the only officially recognised island dark sky sanctuary in the world. Away from the lights of Auckland, light pollution is minimal making it ideal for stargazing. Local company Good Heavens hosts stargazing tours, including private guided experiences and dining with the stars.

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MANUKAU HEADS

Across the waterway from Whatipu, Manakau Heads is yet another stunner location for staring up at the heavenly bodies. From the Manukau Heads lighthouse you'll have both expansive views of the night sky and the lush Waitakere Ranges, Auckland City and the whole of the Manukau Harbour. The surrounding marine area near the lighthouse is also incredibly special as it is home to the world's rarest marine animal — Maui's dolphin.

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Published on October 18, 2018 by Laetitia Laubscher

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