Beyond the slopes:

Explore the dark sky wonders of Takapō (Tekapo) on your South Island winter trip with Ngāi Tahu Tourism’s ‘Dark Sky Project’

As the temperature drops and the mountains of Te Waipounamu, New Zealand’s South Island become blanketed in snow, this winter wonderland offers the perfect setting for adventure-seekers eager to hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding.

If you’re heading to the slopes this winter, it’s worth bearing in mind what else the South Island has on offer beyond the ski fields.

Just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Wānaka lies Takapō, a small lakeside town framed by the majestic Southern Alps and beneath the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. The drive is considered one of the most picturesque in the South Island, taking you through the golden tussock-covered mountains of Lindis Pass, and past Lake Pukaki where you can catch a glimpse of Aoraki, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, before arriving at the Takapō lakefront.

With minimal light pollution, The Dark Sky Project in Takapō is the perfect place to explore this internationally acclaimed dark sky reserve and marvel at the breathtaking beauty of the night sky and its serene surroundings.

Whether you prefer indoor or outdoor experiences, there’s something for everyone. The mountainside observatory provides guided stargazing tours to the summit of Ōtehīwai (Mt John), purpose-built observation craters, indoor astronomy experiences and all day dining options, ensuring a memorable experience for all.

Here are four activities to consider during your visit to The Dark Sky Project:

  1. The Summit Experience takes you to the summit of Ōtehīwai (Mt John), which, at 1,029 metres above sea level, offers 360-degree views across the Southern Hemisphere’s largest accredited International Dark Sky Reserve. Expert astronomy guides bring the experience to life by sharing the science and stories of our Southern Skies. This exclusive two-hour experience includes transport to and from Ōtehīwai (Mt John), use of extreme cold weather jackets to keep you warm at the summit, and full use of telescopes. This activity is perfect for an evening outdoor adventure.


  1. The Crater Experience allows you to explore the depths of the renowned Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve from purpose-built stargazing observation craters, which are sheltered from cold wind and light pollution. The Crater Experience lasts for 1 hour and 15 minutes and includes transport to and from Cowan’s Private Observatory, followed by a guided naked-eye discovery of the Southern skies, and telescope viewings.


  1. The Dark Sky Experience is a daytime, indoor astronomy tour lasting 45 minutes. It combines tātai aroraki (Māori astronomy), storytelling and science with fascinating multimedia installations in a ‘Big Bang’ of awe and inspiration. This experience is suitable for the whole family and can be enjoyed regardless of the weather. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about Māori astronomy ahead of Matariki.


  1. The Virtual Stargazing Experience is a daytime virtual astronomy experience that offers an educational and entertaining journey into the night sky, across the solar system, and beyond. Using state-of-the-art space rendering technology, visitors can explore and learn about the secrets of the night sky. This 45-minute tour reveals the universe through the unparalleled lens of science and technology and is a great family-friendly activity.


While you’re there, make sure to stop by Astro Café at the top of Ōtehīwai (Mount John) which boasts some of the best views across the Mackenzie Basin, Takapō and up to Aoraki Mt Cook. Described as “quite possibly one of the best locations for a cafe” by Lonely Planet, it offers a range of sweet and savoury options from the cabinet food selection and delicious barista-made coffees all served up with a side of breath-taking views during their opening hours of 9 am to 2 pm.


Alternatively, if you feel like a lakefront dining experience with incredible flavours and ambiance, be sure to make a reservation at the Dark Sky Diner. Using local ingredients, the menu offers a delightful fusion of modern Kiwi flavours and traditional Māori fare and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Whether you’re delving into Māori astronomy, embarking on a virtual journey through the cosmos, or simply enjoying a meal at the Dark Sky Diner, the Dark Sky Project promises an unforgettable blend of natural beauty and celestial wonder for all visitors – and is a great addition to your winter snow trip.


Learn more about the Dark Sky Project and  book your experience now. 

Show More
Back to top button