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Night sky magic in store for stargazers and astro-tourists

1 September 2017 

Stargazers and astro-tourists will be treated to three days of night sky magic at the Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival.

The biennial festival runs from October 13-15 in Mt Cook Village and Tekapo and celebrates the Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park as one of the best stargazing locations in the world.

Festival-goers will learn about the night sky, the effects of light pollution and gain an understanding of outer space through a mix of scientific, educational and cultural events, such as lectures, planetarium shows and a photography exhibition.

Keynote speakers include NASA scientist Dr Natalie Batalha, who was named as one of the 100 most influential people on Earth by Time Magazine in 2017 for her contributions to the discovery of habitable exoplanets. Dr Batalha will discuss the possibility of finding potentially habitable environments in the not-so-distant future.

Another festival highlight includes a lecture and video presentation by award-winning photographer and time-lapse filmmaker Mark Gee, whose short film Full Moon Silhouettes gained international acclaim. Gee enjoys the challenge of combining New Zealand’s striking landscapes with the ethereal beauty of the night sky in new, creative ways.

“We’re extremely lucky to have the likes of Dr Natalie Batalha and Mark Gee on board for the festival, alongside several other exciting speakers,” says Professor John Hearnshaw of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Canterbury. “We hope the varied programme will attract all sorts of people, from international visitors and academics to amateur astronomers and families with school-age children.”

The Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park region has some of the most beautiful scenery in New Zealand; from clear starry nights and crisp sunny days to turquoise blue lakes and snow-capped mountains. It is home to the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory in Tekapo and the southern hemisphere’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, which at 4,300 square kilometres is also the largest in the southern hemisphere.

The dark sky reserve is ‘gold-rated’ due to the quality of its almost light-pollution-free skies, devoid of urban light. On a clear night, a spectacular number of stars are visible to the naked eye.

Festival organisers

The Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival is organised by the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve Board in partnership with the University of Canterbury through the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Festival location

The main festival venue is the iconic Hermitage Hotel in Mt Cook Village, including the adjoining Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and Digital Dome Planetarium. Some events will be held nearby, including in Tekapo.


Tickets are on sale now and some events are free. For more information, visit


Media contact

Annabelle Bray

Mackenzie Marketing Executive



027 200 1575

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