The world's best stargazing spots
These dark-sky reserves offer unpolluted night-time vistas that will leave you starstruck.
Lying back, staring at a night sky emblazoned with sequins: there's something uniquely peaceful about staring out at the universe above, and nowhere more so than in one of the world's 'dark sky' reserves. This global network of dedicated parks is deliberately kept almost entirely free of artificial nighttime light, to ensure that visitors get the absolute best view of the spectacular show that plays out overhead each evening. Here are five of the world's absolute best star-gazing spots.
1. River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve, South Australia
The spectacular sights of the River Murray International Night Sky Reserve: credit SATC
Australia’s shiny new River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve hugs the curve of the Murray River, a mere 90-minute drive from Adelaide. Sign up for the Big Bend By Night tour to admire the spectacle of the Milky Way from Big Bend’s soaring red cliffs, before a night of bush camping; or take off in a houseboat to admire that nightly show from the top deck, as you float along the mighty Murray between Younghusband and Blanchetown.
2. Death Valley National Park, California
Despite being not too far flung from the neon glare of Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park is home to some of the darkest skies in the States. The Las Vegas Astronomical Society throws regular “star parties” in this otherworldly terrain, and during peak season (November to April) park rangers lead stargazing tours of the country’s largest Dark Sky Park. To rub shoulders with stars of another sparkle, throw in a stay at The Inn at Death Valley – a luxe desert oasis once frequented by the likes of Marlon Brando and Clark Gable.
3. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, credit Tourism NZ
Some of the best night skies in the Southern Hemisphere await avid stargazers in the Mackenzie Basin on NZ’s South Island, specifically at Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. A nice little astrotourism industry has grown up around these unpolluted night skies. Tekapo Star Gazing tours combine a guided telescope stargaze with a soothing dip in the balmy waters of Tekapo Springs; while Dark Sky Project works with the Mt John Observatory to help visitors unpack the mystery of that great celestial dome.
4. Pic du Midi International Dark Sky Reserve, France
Intensive efforts to combat light pollution over the Pyrénées helped Pic du Midi become Europe’s first Dark Sky Reserve (bestowed by the authority on such matters, the International Dark-Sky Association). A cable car whisks visitors up to an elevation of 2877m, to the literally breathtaking Pic du Midi Observatory. Make a night of it by booking a stay in the highest hotel in Europe, with a spot of stargazing at the observatory used to chart the moon’s surface for NASA’s Apollo Missions.
5. Warrumbungle National Park, NSW
Night skies at Warrumbungle National Park, NSW: credit DNSW
Shaped by an ancient shield volcano, the craggy ranges of Warrumbungle offer truly stellar night-time views of the Milky Way. Warrumbungle National Park, north of Dubbo, became Australia’s first-ever Dark Sky Park in 2016 – set up camp for the night to see why. Science buffs should schedule a visit for the Labour Day weekend in October, when Siding Spring Observatory on the park’s fringes throws StarFest to share its pioneering astronomical work.
Published Friday 28 February 2020; Words by Krysia Bonkowski.