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When the Lights Go Out

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Dunedin’s extended night hours, dimmed street lights and dark outskirts offer amazing opportunities to catch the dance of Lady Aurora and the Milky Way. Plus, if the clouds roll in, there are plenty of other extra-terrestrial-themed activities that pay homage to our night skies, too.

Night Sky Viewing

If you're the sort who marvels at the magic of nature, the Southern Lights will be right up your alley. When the conditions are right, the Aurora Australis is visible from many spots around Dunedin but best viewed on a south-facing beach like Blackhead or St Kilda. Sometimes visible to the naked eye, the real magic is best captured with a camera. You can join a tour and get help with your camera set-up or, if you know what you’re doing, you can seek the aurora yourself. Whatever your preference, the aurora is here, waiting... sometimes.

Planetarium at Tūhura Otago Museum

If you’d like to get some study prep in before heading out to view the night sky, head to the Planetarium to see ‘Live Space Tour’. This show covers what the Dunedin sky will look like that very night and points out the significant stars and constellations. Armed with this knowledge from the only 3D planetarium in Australasia, you’ll know just what you’re looking at when you head out to stargaze later on, thanks to the immersive 360 degree screen.

Horizon Tours

The stars have played an essential role in shaping mythologies, cultures and practices all over the world. A Southern Skies Stargazing tour gives you a uniquely Māori perspective on the night sky, highlighting the significant stars and features and the part they played in Māori creation myths, navigation, crop planting and harvesting. Combining waiata, stories, supper, and a closer look at the sky through a telescope, Horizon Tours will add meaning to your understanding of the stars that ensures you’ll remember this experience for years to come.

Beverly Begg Observatory

While most night sky viewers head to the Otago Peninsula, the savvy ones head to Robin Hood Park. It’s there, at Beverly Begg Observatory each Sunday night, that eager astronomers bring out the big guns, or rather, telescope, to get a first-class look at the stars and the planets. With members from the Dunedin Astronomical Society on hand to explain what you’re seeing and answer your questions, a visit to the observatory will be exciting, informative, and well worth the trip.

Blue Penguins Pukekura

On Pilots Beach, when the sun goes down, there’s a different group of stars for you to gaze at. These ones squawk a bit more than the celestial ones, but as they scamper ashore with water glistening on their feathers, they sparkle just the same. Blue penguins, the smallest penguins in the world, return to Pilots Beach each evening to bunk down in their burrows for the night. A guided tour ensures you’ll be in the best spot to see them, with plenty of time left afterwards to go looking for the Southern Lights.

Aurora on George

After a night of stargazing and aurora hunting, you’re going to need somewhere to sleep away the day, so why not stick with the deep space theme and stay at Aurora on George. Once you wake, you’ll appreciate the heated floor and amazing food options nearby. Treat yourself to an outer body experience with onsite yoga, pilates, spa, massage or just relax in their centrepiece garden. Aurora by name and by design - from the aurora artwork on the walls, to the celestial colour palette and modern décor, Aurora on George is a star among Dunedin accommodation options. 4 plus, in fact.

Glow-worms at Nicols Creek

Nichols Creek is a stunning bush walk by day, and come dusk, a starry wonderland with hundreds of glow-worms illuminating the damp rock walls. You’ll need a torch to navigate the short track in, but once there, turn it off to see the show. Let your eyes adjust and within a few minutes, you’ll be teleported to another galaxy. The name glow-worm is actually a heavenly error, as these bioluminescent creatures aren’t worms – they’re the larvae of the alien-sounding “fungus gnats”. These mosquito-like insects emit light from their bums in an effort to attraction prey, and inadvertently, people, wanting to view the cosmos a little closer to home.

Beam Me Up Bagels

The aptly-named Beam Me Up Bagels is a cult Dunedin classic, not just for night sky lovers, but for everyone. Their bagel flavours like jalapeno cheese, blueberry and good old sesame, are crammed with an out-of-this-world combination of ingredients. Space-nerds will love the sci-fi themed menu. Try the savoury Darth Bacon (streaky bacon, tomato relish, cheese, aioli and lettuce) or something sweet like the Obi Wan (Dunedin's own Bay Rd smooth peanut butter, chia, fair-trade bananas & Canadian maple syrup). Their bagels are sure to teleport your taste buds to a whole new world.

Ross Creek Star Installation

All From Water by local artists Katrina Thomson and Ross Sinclair, features 70+ handcrafted steel stars strewn across the face of the revamped Ross Creek Dam. Emerging from the native bush tracks to this vast installation is akin to exiting a wormhole to another galaxy, such is the juxtaposition of steel and nature. Representing the Southern Constellations, the work is inspired by the reflection of the night sky you’ll see in the reservoir itself and tells the story of how mana whenua used the night sky for navigation… a skill which might come in handy as you try to navigate your way back to your car through the myriad of tracks within the Ross Creek reserve.

Interplanetary Ride – Otago Central Rail Trail

As if biking the 152km Otago Central Rail Trail wasn’t hard enough, someone had not just the brawn to cycle the whole trail, but the brains to pace out a 100 million to 1, accurate scale of our Solar System along the way. Starting in Middlemarch, you’ll cross the orbit of Neptune, with the next planet, Uranus, a butt-aching 17km along the trail, and so on until you reach the centre of solar system, the Sun - aka, Ranfurly, with each revolution of your bike wheel is the equivalent of traveling 200,000km through space. The solid steel and barbed wire planets (which are also to scale) are well worth stopping for a breather to contemplate the immensity of space thanks to the largest bike-able model of the Solar System in the world.