The unpolluted skies above the South Island allowed photographer Paul Wilson to capture a series of stunning images of the Milky Way.

The galaxy is home to our solar system and measures about 100,000 to 120,000 light years in diameter.

It includes 100 to 400 billion stars and a lot of gas and dust.

The Milky Way forms a perfect arch in the night sky. Photo / Caters
The Milky Way forms a perfect arch in the night sky. Photo / Caters

It is estimated there may be 100 billion planets within the galaxy.

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New Zealand's night skies are a magnet for photographers and the country is one of only three in the world to have a gold-rated Dark Sky Reserve -- the Aoraki Mackenzie reserve, which includes Aoraki Mt Cook National Park.

In his photographs, Wilson uses the enormous galaxy to frame landmarks such as the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Waipapa Point Lighthouse, on a rocky promontory near the Catlins on the south-east coast of the South Island.

The wooden lighthouse alerts ships travelling along the treacherous coast, where the passenger steamer Tararua was wrecked in 1881 with the loss of more than 100 lives. Wilson used a 20-second exposure with an aperture of f3.5 shot through a 24mm lens on a Canon EOS 6D camera.

The Godley River near Tekapo. Photo / Caters News
The Godley River near Tekapo. Photo / Caters News