Third International Starlight Festival at Aoraki/Mt Cook

The Third International Starlight Festival will be held at the Hermitage, Mt Cook over three days in 2017, 13-15 October.

The Festival will celebrate the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve ( whose mission is to encourage and protect dark skies free of light pollution in the Mackenzie, and to promote star gazing and astro-tourism. We do this by organizing a Starlight Festival every second year for the benefit of the public and international tourists. Astro-tourism in the Mackenzie at Tekapo and Mt Cook is now one of New Zealand’s biggest tourist attractions, with about 200,000 people coming to Tekapo annually, many from Asia and Europe, to see the stars.

The 2017 Festival will be our third, after very successful events in 2013 in Tekapo and 2015 at Twizel. The Festival will be a mixture of events including lectures, workshops, exhibitions, videos and documentaries, planetarium shows and of course, star-gazing.

We have engaged three world-class speakers to come to Mt Cook for the Festival. They are:

  • Dr Natalie Batalha NASA Ames space scientist, Moffett Field (near San Francisco), California. (Time Magazine in April 2017 named her as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet). She will talk about ‘A Planet for Goldilocks’ and the search for habitable Earth-like planets
  • Kevin Govender, Director of the Office of Astronomy for Development of the International Astronomical Union, based in Cape Town, South Africa. He will talk about ‘Astronomy for Humankind’.
  • Sze-leung Cheung, Director of the Office of Astronomy Outreach of the International Astronomical Union, based in Tokyo, Japan. He will talk about ‘The threat of LEDs to astronomy and how to build a dark-sky-friendly future’.

All three are outstanding speakers, and Sze-leung Cheung is fluent in Chinese   as well as English, so can give his talk in both languages to attract overseas tourists.

More details on the Third Starlight Festival and our keynote speakers are at On-line ticket sales are now open from the website. The website also has all accommodation options in and near Mt Cook.

Mark Gee from Wellington will show some of his stunning night-sky time-lapse animations and on the morning of Oct 14 will conduct an astro-photography workshop for everyone wanting to learn these techniques.

Steve Chadwick from Palmerston North will show his amazing night sky animations and photography, as will also the renowned Fairlie and Tekapo astrophotographer, Fraser Gunn.

There is also an astro-photography exhibition with nine of New Zealand’s top astro-photographers exhibiting their images.

The Festival features videos, exhibitions, workshops, planetarium shows and stargazing (at the new Mt Cook Observatory) over three days, 13-15 October.

Pukaki Observatory at the Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat (at the southern end of Lake Pukaki) will host a special stargazing and wine-tasting evening on Sunday October 15 with hosts Kaye and Like Paardekooper and astrophotographer Mark Gee.


John Hearnshaw

Chair, Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve Board