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Milky Way Awards: Kiwi photo one of 'best in the galaxy'

Thomas Bywater

Thomas Bywater is a writer and digital producer for Herald Travel

An Auckland-based photographer says he is over the moon after his picture of the Milky Way was selected as one of the best in the world.

Larryn Rae said the image was one of the most challenging shots he ever captured.
Climbing to the top of Fanthams Peak on the side of Mt Taranaki in sub-zero temperatures, it took months of meticulous planning.

"It's a shot I've been wanting for a while, but I didn't have the mountaineering skills to achieve it," he said.

Last August, weather conditions and the stars aligned to produce the unique photo of our place in the universe.

The resulting image of Taranaki won a place on the 2021 Milky Way Photographer of the Year, alongside stellar images of mountaineers in the Italian Dolomites and the Namibian Desert at night.

The annual award run by Capture The Atlas shortlisted 25 images for the annual award.

Our place in the Universe: Larryn Rae hiked for four hours in -15 C temperatures to get this image. Photo / Larryn Rae, shadowandshade.co.nz
Our place in the Universe: Larryn Rae hiked for four hours in -15 C temperatures to get this image. Photo / Larryn Rae, shadowandshade.co.nz

Rae who has been running a photography website 'Shadow and Shade' since 2015, says astrophotography is a tricky art to get right, but something anyone can get into.

"Definitely it's a specialised type of photography. We're dealing with a lot of different factors to get good results," he said.

"You need a good DSLR, a good lens and a tripod." Add to that wish-list, plenty of patience.

As anyone who took very blurry pictures of last week's 'Super Moon Eclipse' knows, it's not something you can achieve on the spur of the moment with your camera phone in hand.

"You need a long exposure to capture anything in space, and you need a tripod. You can't be taking photos of the stars on your phone handheld."

The Lunar Eclipse beside the Milky Way, taken from Taranaki. Photo / Larryn Rae, shadowandshade.co.nz
The Lunar Eclipse beside the Milky Way, taken from Taranaki. Photo / Larryn Rae, shadowandshade.co.nz

Taranaki's cool winter conditions and un-light-polluted skies have made it a reliable place for getting good images of the stars. While it's not a well-known as Tekapo for its dark skies, the area is a place Rae finds himself returning to again to capture photos of the 'blood moon'.

"The last two lunar eclipses in Auckland, I got clouded out both times," he said.

"This time I was so determined, I drove down to Taranaki where clear skies were guaranteed."

The images of the red moon against the Milky Way are out of this world, and won't be replicable for decades.

"I couldn't be more happy with the results that I achieved, really stoked."

New Zealand's best spots for stargazing

New Zealand is lucky enough to have several designated Dark Sky Sanctuaries and an international Dark Sky Reserve for stargazing and photography.

• Stewart Island, Rakiura Dark Sky Sanctuary

• Great Barrier Island, Aotea Dark Sky Sanctuary

• Aoraki McKenzie Dark Sky Reserve