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Comparing the best stargazing tours in Tekapo

Tekapo is one of the best places in New Zealand to join a stargazing tour as it is located the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.

With amazingly clear skies, low light pollution and a number of fantastic operators to choose from, it’s no wonder people flock to stargaze here.

Did you know? The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is one of only eleven in the world. It is also the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Our favourite stargazing experience in Tekapo

If you don’t have time to read this article in full, check out our favourite stargazing experience.

We recommend booking well in advance as spaces are strictly limited.

top Pick
A couple standing with the Milky Way overhead in Tekapo.

Chameleon Stargazing

Offering personalised tours to small groups, hot chocolate and marshmallows, and professional photos, Chameleon Stargazing is our favourite Tekapo tour.

Reviewing each of the Tekapo stargazing experiences

With a number of different tours and experiences, which is the best for you?

Join as as we compare Chameleon, Dark Sky Project and Tekapo Stargazing…

Chameleon Stargazing

If you’re looking for an intimate, small-group stargazing experience at an affordable price point (made even better with your NZTT discount), there is one clear choice – Chameleon Stargazing.

Chameleon has a secret spot that’s a 5-minute drive from the Tekapo town centre. You’ll be told where to meet when your tour is confirmed on the evening

What’s more, they even offer the choice of an English-language tour or one in Mandarin.

Whatever language you choose, you’ll be joined by a knowledgeable guide – George or Adria.

They’ll set up a couple of telescopes and will introduce you to the different constellations visible while you relax. Then you’ll take turns to look through the telescopes as you listen to their engaging commentary.

Questions are welcome at any stage and as they run tours with such small groups, you’ll get plenty of personal attention. They allow a maximum of 12-14 people on each public tour.

Plus, you’ll be provided with professional astro-photos (the perfect memento of your evening out) hot chocolate, marshmallows and comfy blankets to keep warm.

For a personal (and surprisingly affordable) experience, Chameleon is hard to beat.

Tour time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Did you know? If you don’t have your own transport or are travelling solo, you can request Chameleon pick you up and take you to their stargazing site.

My daughter and I did this and it was AMAZING! Small group, hot chocolate, marshmallow toasting, warm blankets and the most unreal views of the stars with and without the microscopes! Highly recommended!!! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Melissa McLaughlin – VanWynsberghe, NZTT member
A couple standing with the Milky Way overhead in Tekapo.

Dark Sky Project

Dark Sky Project offers two evening stargazing experiences – the Crater Experience and the Summit Experience.

Compare the difference between the two below…

Crater Experience

The Crater Experience is the most affordable (and shortest) nighttime Dark Sky Project experience.

This tour takes place at Cowan’s Observatory which is close to town; transport out to the observatory is included in your tour price.

Once you get to the site, you’ll complete a short walk in the dark (with red lights to help you see) to the viewing site.

Expect a few more guests on this tour (compared to Chameleon) – it’s not uncommon to have approximately 20 people out at the observatory. You’ll also be accompanied by additional guides though.

With three portable telescopes and another in the observatory dome, they have good viewing access to the night sky, and as such, can cover a wide range of constellations.

We love that this tour is suitable for people with special mobility requirements, making it suitable for almost anyone.

This experience is similar to the Summit Experience too, so if you like the sound of that one, but want to save some money, consider booking the Crater Experience.

Tour time: 1 hour, 15 minutes – including transport time.

The Milky Way Galaxy as seen on the night skies of of Queenstown.
Enjoy looking up at the night sky.

Summit Experience

The Summit Experience is the most complete (and longest) Dark Sky Project experience.

The experience takes between 1 hour, 45 minutes and 2 hours, including a 15-minute drive in each direction and a short walk to the observatory dome.

It takes place in a different location – the summit of Mount John, in the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory. At 1,029m above sea level, you’ll enjoy 360° panoramic views across the Mackenzie Basin.

Like the Crater Experience, you can expect a larger group (and more guides) than the more intimate Chameleon experience.

It’s worth noting that this location can be brighter than the area Chameleon uses because of its proximity to Tekapo.

Tour time: 1 hour, 45 minutes – including transport time.

Dark Sky Experience

If the weather isn’t great, or you’re passing through Tekapo during the day, check out the Dark Sky Experience [save with the promo code NZTTPLAY]. This guided tour is based inside and includes Māori mythology and astronomy.

Tekapo Stargazing at Tekapo Springs

The Tekapo Stargazing Experience at Tekapo Springs is quite unlike any others on this list as part of it takes place in a hot pool. That’s right – in a swimming pool!

You’ll start your experience indoors, with a rundown of the region’s astronomy.

Then, head outside onto the deck to look through a range of telescopes that are dialled into different constellations and planets.

Finally, you’ll hop into your togs/bathing suit and soak in the 38℃ hot pool.

Lounge on an in-water hammock while you listen to your guide share Māori myths and legends, providing a beautifully well-rounded tourism experience.

Expect more people at this experience than any other.

Tour time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

A couple laying down on their floating raft while in the middle of the pool and watching the beautiful stars of the Milky Way.

Which Tekapo stargazing experience is best for me?

We love all of the Tekapo stargazing tours for different reasons.

But which is best for you?

Join us as we compare the features of each below…

Chameleon Stargazing

  • Small groups – intimate
  • Hot chocolate & marshmallows
  • Professional photos
  • Affordable
  • Smaller telescopes

Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Tekapo Stargazing

  • Māori mythology
  • Hot pool soak
  • Hot chocolate
  • Smaller telescopes
  • Larger groups

Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Dark Sky Project: Crater Experience

  • Large telescopes
  • Multiple guides
  • All transport included
  • Larger groups
  • Shortest tour

Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Dark Sky Experience: Summit Experience

  • Large telescopes
  • Multiple guides
  • All transport included
  • Larger groups
  • Most expensive

Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Whatever you decide to do, we recommend spending a few nights in Tekapo to ensure your tour goes ahead.

The weather in this area can be unpredictable, and as tours can’t go ahead with significant cloud cover, cancellations are fairly common.

Happy stargazing!

This blog post was brought to you with information from NZTT member, Edris Boey.

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