Places to Go Stargazing
“Not just beautiful, though – the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing.
And they’re watching me.”
-Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
From time to time, we have to walk away, look up and sigh before the beauty of the universe. This blue sky darkens as the sun sets, illuminating the sky with thousands of millions of stars. Unfortunately, due to excessive pollution, we only see the clouds when we look up. Stargazing has become a rare getaway for most of us because the closest city to stargazing is the last celebrity gossip at the grocery store checkout. So as not to be a killjoy, here are a few places that are worth a visit for the ultimate stargazing outing!
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
A secret place of the best night views in the southern hemisphere, where you can see the Southern Dawn, the Southern Cross and the Southern Star. It is one of the largest reserves designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). It is almost 4,300 kilometers long on the South Island of New Zealand. Take a night stargazing tour at Mount John University Observatory or the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and Planetarium to see the Milky Way, Southern Cross, Alpha Centauri and Sirius. The reserve protects its dark sky heritage for the indigenous Maori people, for whom the stars play a role in navigation and folklore.
Pic du Midi, France
From the Pic du Midi, NASA scientists studied the lunar landscape in preparation for the Apollo landing. The mountain reserve is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Pyrenees-Mont Perdu landscape – and a national park. Take the cable car to the spectacular mountain observatory, perched above the clouds. Visitors can also spend the night as part of a package that includes overnight accommodation and meals, a visit to the telescopes and stargazing with the astronomers, and skiing.
Sedona, United States
The red rock landscape of the town of Sedona, in the Arizona desert, is one of the main tourist attractions and a popular film location in Hollywood. It has been awarded the IDA Dark Sky Community label for minimal light pollution. Night views through the telescope include the Whirlpool galaxy, or Messier 51a, located approximately 35 million light years away.
The Mont Mégantic National Park – the first starry sky reserve in the world – offers public access to the ASTROlab observatory and astronomy nights for visitors, especially those with starry eyes. Visitors can camp in the park, climb Mont Saint-Joseph and Mont Mégantic, follow hiking trails in coniferous and mixed forests, and go skiing and snowshoeing.
Zselic National Landscape Protection Area, Hungary
The Zselic Starry Sky Park has an almost untouched black sky, offering naked-eye views of the elusive Triangle Galaxy on a clear night. The park offers visitors an astronomy program that includes outdoor films at the planetarium, a meteorite collection, day and night telescopic observation and nighttime guided tours.
NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
NamibRand Nature Reserve is located in what IDA calls “one of the darkest (yet accessible) places on Earth”, as the closest inhabited communities are at least 60 miles from its location. Visitors looking for a stargazing experience in NamibRand Nature Reserve should visit the Wolwedans’ camps and lodges, where travelers can book an overnight stay focused on sustainable development in the desert with starry skies.
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
Enthusiastic travelers are familiar with this UNESCO World Heritage Site for reasons other than stargazing. Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park is also home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. However, visitors need not be prepared to hike the slopes of this not-so-sweet giant to have a memorable experience in the region. The national park also includes a series of hiking trails on slightly more accessible peaks, as well as a lower forested area where adventurers can admire the majestic Mount Everest surrounded by a wide night sky and a cloud of bright stars.