New Zealand's Lake Tekapo has been ranked one of the best spots in the world for stargazing.
San Pedro de Atacama in Chile was rated the best spot followed by Lake Tekapo, which also took out the number one stargazing location in New Zealand, according to hundreds of users of accommodation reservation website Booking.com who have endorsed the best spots for stargazing in both New Zealand and the world.
Kristian Wilson, the astronomy manager of Earth and Sky, which is the education centre linked to Mt John University Observatory and Cowan's Observatory in Lake Tekapo, said Lake Tekapo was internationally recognised for its stargazing attributes and attracted tens of thousands of international visitors each year with many of its night tours running at the 250-person capacity.
Mr Wilson said most of the areas in the Northern Hemisphere had too much light pollution which prevented good stargazing, whereas the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, of which Lake Tekapo was part, had used special shields and lightbulbs for 30 years to point the light downwards in order to preserve the night sky.
Mr Wilson said being surrounded by mountains which kept the low cloud away and made the stability of the night sky clearer and sharper because it was further away from the ocean also made Lake Tekapo a perfect location for stargazing.
The advantage Chile had over New Zealand was that some areas had not seen rain for years so there were fewer or no clouds obstructing the view.
Wadi Rum in Jordan is one of the worlds top stargazing spots. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user momo
And while many of the other best places to see the stars in the world were isolated, he believed the Mt John University Observatory was the most accessible spot as it was open to the public in the day time and ran sky tours at night.
Lake Tekapo Lodge owner Stephanie Hagen said the majority of guests were from big cities in the Northern Hemisphere, including Chinese visitors, who had never seen stars so clearly before. While the area had a number of other attractions, including the Church of the Good Shepherd, sparkling lake and hot springs, the stars were often one of the main reasons people visited.
"People are often intrigued by the Southern Cross and the fact the stars are so different from the Northern Hemisphere ... it's all round the other way. And if they are really lucky they can see the Aurora Australis. A lot of well-travelled people have already seen the Northern Lights but it's a real treat for them to see the Southern Lights."
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, has been rated the best place in the world for stargazing. Photo / Creative Commons by Flickr user Alessandro Caproni
Auckland Stardome astronomy educator David Britten said the moon also made it harder to view the stars, as was the case with Comet Lovejoy at the moment. The best time to view the comet with the naked eye would be from Friday and about an hour after sunset, he said.
Mr Britten was disappointed that only one of the eight best stargazing spots in New Zealand on the list was in the North Island - Ngongotaha, near Rotorua - and said Aucklanders did not have to travel far from the city for a nice night sky.
He said places such as the Coromandel also offered great viewing.
"From an astronomical point of view, there's another reason why New Zealand is so well placed and that is because east of us there's nothing - there's a whole Pacific Ocean. So if we are doing astronomical observations, the last observation after South America is New Zealand. So when observations are being made New Zealand is the first to pick up what Chile last saw so we fill in the gaps a lot."
Top eight stargazing spots in NZ
1. Lake Tekapo, Canterbury
2. Mt Cook Village, Canterbury
3. Twizel, Canterbury
4. Fairlie, Canterbury
5. Omarama, Canterbury
6. Arthurs Pass, Canterbury
7. Burkes Pass, Canterbury
8. Ngongotaha, Bay of Plenty
Top 10 stargazing spots in the world
1. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
2. Lake Tekapo, Canterbury, New Zealand
3. Sedona, Arizona, USA
4. Flagstaff, Arizona, USA
5. Merzouga, Morocco
6. Wadi Rum, Jordan
7. Ayers Rock, Northern Territory, Australia
8. Moab, Utah, USA
9. Port Dickson, Malaysia
10. Mitzpe Ramon, Israel