by Chad Bennett in Cool Travel on Friday 13 September 2013

If you live in one of the world’s thriving metropolises, chances are the artificial light created by the city makes it nigh on impossible to take in the wonders of the night sky. The Earth and Sky Observatory Tour atop Mt John, 1,029 metres above sea level, gives stargazers a majestic window in the universe unaffected by city lights.

Thanks to the township of Lake Tekapo below, which powers down its ambient light throughout the night, Mt John University Observatory offers one of the clearest astronomical views anywhere in New Zealand. As part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – one of only four International Dark Sky Reserve locations in the world – Mt John Observatory provides an unmatched view of the Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies to the Milky Way that are only visible in the Southern Hemisphere.

Operated by the University of Canterbury, the observatory’s commitment to an unpolluted look into the universe is so much so that the final ascent to the site in one of Earth and Sky’s minivans is undertaken in complete darkness.

Once up there, visitors are greeted by the zany duo of Chris and Joseph, whose entertaining yet extremely informative commentary provides an insightful complement to the celestial delights overhead. The lads’ lightsaber-esque laser pointers assist during their naked-eye tours, and they’re backed up by five high-powered telescopes of which the 1.8m MOA Telescope is the largest in New Zealand.

The unique view of the starscape above draws visitors from all over the world and as the spectacular images show, it is easy to see why.

All images courtesy of Maki Yanagimachi, Earth and Sky Mt John Obersavtory.