Earth and Sky

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Mount John

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Mount John is a roche moutonnee, an asymmetrical rock shaped by the movement of ancient glaciers. The large mass of bedrock attains an altitude of 1031 metres above sea level, rising approximately 300 metres above Lake Tekapo below. One of Mount John's claims to fame is that the highest recorded New Zealand wind gust occurred here on 18th April 1970 — 250 km/h or 135 Knots. Fortunately for us, it's rarely that windy!

On the summit of Mount John is the University of Canterbury's astronomical observatory. During the day its domes can be seen from the Tekapo township. The mountain was chosen as the best observatory site in New Zealand because of its high number of clear nights throughout the year, the stability and transparency of the atmosphere and the uniquely dark skies in the Mackenzie Basin, devoid of city light pollution. It is internationally recognised as one of the best-situated observatories for viewing the southern night skies. For example, the Magellanic Clouds (satellite galaxies to our own Milky Way) can be seen continuously throughout the year.

In addition, it is arguably one of the most beautifully placed observatories in the world, with the magnificent surroundings of glacial lakes and moraine, and the Southern Alps.

Aurora at Mt John 25 April 2012

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Aurora timelapse animation taken from Mt John looking South with Tekapo village on the left. The exposure on this one is slightly brighter, 20 seconds f/1.8 ISO 3200 from a Canon 5d mkii with a 24mm f/1.4 lens. There is a nice start to the aurora then it dies down sadly making the light pollution from the Ice rink very noticeable (they then turn there lights out - Thank you) and then the aurora flairs up again


We're shedding too much light on the situation
Established in 1965, the Mount John Observatory is the principal site for Astronomy research in New Zealand. It is also the most beautiful, easily accessible observatory in the world. Situated one thousand feet above Lake Tekapo and only eighteen minutes driving time from town it has an uninterrupted 360° panorama of giant mountains, lakes, rivers, ancient glacial deposits, vast tussock grasslands and many other attractions — plus it sits below one of the clearest skies in New Zealand. As well as the sealed access road there is a very popular public walkway linking Mount John with the village and lake below.

The StarLight Reserve initiative aims to protect and control the amount of ambient light surrounding this facility so that people of all ages can learn about the night sky in order to better understand and appreciate the environment, both above and around them. We heartily encourage you to see the majestic night skies that the region has to offer by joining one of our tours, either at Mount John or Cowan's Hill.

Lake Tekapo — The MacKenzie District
This area embraces the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park within the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site and has the highest mountains in New Zealand. It has a pristine, unpolluted dark sky and is home to the Mount John Observatory.

A bright future for dark skies
The Mackenzie District Council of New Zealand is leading the way with its initiatives to protect our dark sky through its Planning Regulations requiring controlled and responsible use of lighting. It is a partner in the efforts to ensure the night sky is protected for future generations.