This New Zealand Island Could Be the World’s Best Place for Stargazing

Most modern humans grow up without ever truly seeing the night sky, at least not like our ancestors did. The worldwide population explosion and the dramatic rise in light pollution are literally blanking out the stars. Thankfully, the International Dark-Sky Association (that’s really a thing) is working to change that by preserving the world’s darkest places for future generations. One island off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand, may just be the best island in the world for stargazing.

Great Barrier IslandAotea to the Māori people — lies 60 miles off the coast of central Auckland. The island is New Zealand’s sixth largest, yet almost 60 percent of its landmass is marked as a nature reserve. For mainland Aucklanders, it’s long been a place to escape for bushwalking and relaxing on the beach. Those visitors and its roughly 1,000 permanent residents appreciate a quieter pace of life. There are no streetlights, billboards, or even a municipal power grid. Development and modernity are slow. This all adds up to a purposefully undeveloped destination that remains today largely as it has been for hundreds of thousands of years.

So, it’s no surprise the IDSA recently recognized Great Barrier Island as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. It joins New Mexico’s Cosmic Campground and Gabriela Mistral (a Chilean government observatory) as one of only three world destinations to bear that official designation. Perhaps most importantly: it’s the only Dark Sky Sanctuary island.

night sky stars

And, it is very, very dark. The IDSA nominates each destination based on its level of darkness. Official Dark Sky Sanctuaries are the strictest as they must be in a remote, isolated location and have a firm plan in place for long-term conservation. To qualify, each sanctuary must also meet or exceed a night-sky brightness of 21.5 MPSA (magnitudes per square arc second), the official unit used to measure the brightness of the night sky. The MPSA of Great Barrier Island is 21.79.

Gendie Somerville-Ryan — the island’s resident dark-sky enthusiast and driving force behind the push for its Sanctuary status — sent the readings to the IDSA. “They replied to tell us that our readings were technically higher than the device can record—that our skies are dark beyond measurement!”

For visitors and amateur stargazers, this is incredible news. It’s estimated that in many parts of Europe and the United States, it’s possible to see only 500 stars with the naked eye. Around dense U.S. population centers and the east coast, in particular, that number plummets. On Great Barrier Island, visitors can easily see more than 5,000. A visit here is like walking through the grand finale of a planetarium show.

From Auckland, getting to Great Barrier Island is accessible via a 30-minute puddle-jumper flight or a quick boat ride. Sealink Ferry’s Island Navigator offers year-round service between Wynyard Quarter, Auckland, and Great Barrier Island. An on-board cafe, bar, and two movie lounges help pass the time. If you’re new to stargazing, the guided tours from Dark Sky Ambassadors at Good Heavens can help make sense of the island’s skies.


Lose the Liquid with the Best-Smelling Solid Colognes

Rub a finger into the pot, dab some of the cologne on pulse points (like the wrist and neck), and enjoy
Food & Drink

What Is Mamajuana? Only the Best Drink from the Dominican Republic.

If you’ve been to the island nation, you probably already know Mamajuana. If not, you should.

Part Bunker, Part Art Gallery, This Home Is Unlike Any We’ve Ever Seen

We’ve seen homes built into the sides of cliffs, but this one goes a step further, letting the natural rock become a part of the interior.
Food & Drink

10 Fall-Flavored Whiskeys for a Not-So-Basic Autumn

Spice up the season with hints of pumpkin spice, maple, and apple cider in the grain mash you love so dearly.

The Best Car Camping Gear for Any Season

Long nights, coolers full of beer, and comfortable beds are a good recipe for year-round car camping adventures.

Lume Traveler No. 1 Trailer Features a Panoramic, Retractable Roof for Stargazing

Other features highlights include a sizable outdoor kitchen, full-sized bed, felted wool upholstery, sustainable teak trim, hand-stitched leather, and plenty of cabinet space.

Going Deep: Explore the 4 Most Amazing Caves in the U.S.

From the longest to the most batty, the U.S. is home to some truly stunning caves.

Recyclable Cups, Bowls, and Plates to Make Your Next Camping Trip Easier

You can stick with the "leave no trace" mantra but avoid cleaning day-old food gunk off of reusable plates

Essential Everyday Carry Gear for the Outdoorsy Guy

When you get a last-minute invite for an adventure, can you hit the trail with what you’ve got in your pack?
Food & Drink

How to Clean a Fish: A Quick Reference Guide

Knowing how to clean a fish is essential for anglers and aspiring chefs. This simple guide can help you prep your catch in no time.

The Best Labor Day Sales on Camping Gear

These Labor Day sales from REI, Backcountry, and Walmart make right now the perfect time save big on camping gear.

When You Buy Toms’ New Climbing Shoes, You Can Help Change a Kid’s Life

Every $20,000 raise through this pre-order campaign helps build a climbing wall in a Boys and Girls Club across the U.S.

White Water Rafting the Rapids of the Gauley River in West Virginia

It's officially Gauley River rafting season — here's everything you need to know.

5 Easy Camping Meals: Being in Nature Never Tasted so Good

Now all you need to worry about is what liquor you'll bring in your flask.