If there’s one thing humans across the globe have been doing since time immemorial, it’s looking up at the dark night sky and feeling awe. Gazing up at the stars can be a humbling, mystifying experience and the southern hemisphere is actually better situated to gaze into our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
Here are 7 destinations which provide some of the best stargazing experiences in the southern half of the globe:
1. Wiruna -Australia
Wiruna isn’t an International Dark-Sky Association-certified site, but it is an area in New South Wales that has been specifically designated for stargazers. The Astronomical Society of New South Wales owns the land and provides observation facilities, as well as accommodations for stargazers from around the world. Wiruna is near Ilford, about 220 kilometers northwest of Sydney. The area is considered one of the premier stargazing sites in Australia and, indeed, the world over.
2. Cape Town -South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa, is the home of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). The primary telescopes, including the South African Large Telescope (SALT), are located at the Sutherland site, some 370 kilometers from the Cape Town site. While the SAAO may seem like it’s too technical for amateur astronomers, it hosts open nights throughout the year when visitors can talk to scientists.
3. NambiRand Nature Reserve -Nambia
The NambiRand Nature Reserve in Nambia is one of the southern hemisphere’s few certified Dark Sky reserves and the only one in Africa. It was officially designated by the IDA in 2012. The park is a large private preserve, one of the largest in Africa, that operates primarily on the proceeds of low-impact tourism. Overnight programs give visitors the opportunity to sleep in open-air units at the Soussusvlei Desert Lodge where they can view the stunning night sky in one of the darkest locations on the planet.
4. Uluru -Australia
While Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) isn’t designated as a Dark Sky Reserve by the IDA, it is undoubtedly one of the best stargazing spots in Australia. While the inselberg is stunning by day and most famous for its red glow at dawn and dusk, stick around after hours to witness an amazing display across the nighttime canopy. Look for the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and the aurora australis.
5. Kruger National Park -South Africa
One of the largest game reserves on the African continent is also one of the best places to view the southern night skies. The park is home to 9 different trails, some of which require overnight stays in the park to traverse. There are several camps and lodges in the park as well, where visitors can rest up overnight before heading out again. Visitors should look for the Southern Cross, Scorpio and, if you’re lucky, the rings of Saturn.
6. Atacama Desert -Chile
The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is world-renowned for how dry it is; it’s reportedly the driest place on earth. People have compared parts of it to Mars, leading to film producers filming scenes set on Mars in this location and even NASA using it as a test site for eventual Mars missions. But the Atacama’s unique landscape also make it one of the best stargazing locations in the world.
7. Aoraki Mackenzie -New Zealand
Located on New Zealand’s South Island, Aoraki Mackenzie is another IDA-certified Dark Sky Reserve comprising Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin. Lighting control started in the 1980s to minimize light pollution experienced by Mt. John Observatory. Since then, lighting control has been used to protect wildlife, promote nightsky tourism and even preserve Maori culture, as the indigenous peoples of the island used the stars to navigate the island and incorporated them in their lore.