Frequently Asked Questions

A) Since you will be within a part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve during your tour, parts of the Milky Way will usually be clearly visible on a sufficiently dark night. On brightly moonlit nights, the moonlight will illuminate the earth’s atmosphere, significantly reducing the visibility of the Milky Way from earth. 

A) The best time for stargazing and astrophotography is when the moon is below the horizon, however the moon itself is among the many most impressive objects you can view with the naked eye and also through a telescope.

The moon rises and sets at a slightly different time every day/night. Click here for a lunar calendar.

In general, autumn and winter nights are longer and darker with more of the bright central regions of the Milky Way visible above the horizon.

However there are plenty of interesting features in the night sky at any time of the year. 

A) The Southern Lights are a very illusive phenomenon. 
They occur only a few times a year, so if you get to see them you can count yourself very lucky. 
Aurora activity can be predicted a few days in advance using Aurora Forecast from this link.
If their intensity is at KP5 or above then it may be possible to see the Southern Lights from the Mackenzie region.
Clear and moonless skies are also needed for Aurora to be visible. 
I will be sure to let you know if the Southern Lights are visible during your tour.

A) Astrophotography uses long exposure to register accumulated light signals from objects in space such as stars, nebulae or galaxies.

The human eye is far less sensitive than a camera’s imaging sensor, so the deep sky objects you see through telescopes will not appear as bright or colourful as in a photo, but they are still clearly visible and definitely worth seeing.

On a clear night it may be possible to see the surface details of some planets since they reflect the bright light from our sun.

A) As the earth spins on its axis and orbits around the sun, different stars, constellations, planets and deep sky objects will be visible above the horizon at different times of the year.

I will show you the more prominent celestial objects visible in the sky on the night of your tour.

Chances are if you book another tour a few months later, you will be able to see some completely new objects in the sky.

You can always request to see a particular object that interests you, which I will, if it is visible at the time.

You can see a preview of which objects may be in the night sky during your tour by clicking this link to Stellarium

A) If you have booked an Astrophotography lesson then absolutely, yes. I will guide you though the best equipment and settings to use.

If you have booked a stargazing tour, I will offer to take a photo of you and your group with the stars in the background for you to keep at no extra cost.

It may be also possible for you to take photos of the moon or larger planets with a Smartphone camera though the telescope eyepiece.

A) You will be sent an Email link to access and download your photo once it has been uploaded.

It may be a day or two after your tour before it becomes available.

Otherwise you can search for the Flickr album named by the date of your tour, by clicking here.

A) If you are unsure whether or not your accommodation site is suitable for running a tour, please contact me directly to discuss your options.

If you are staying with one of my recommended accommodation providers, these sites will have already been deemed adequate for stargazing or astrophotography.

To be suitable for stargazing, the site should be relatively clear of obstructions such as other tall buildings or overhanging trees.

It will also be beneficial to have minimal light pollution from other building or street lamps.

I will usually recommend turning off indoor & outdoor house lights for the duration of the tour.

A relatively flat piece of lawn or patio will be required in order to set up the telescope.

A) It is essential to wear warm clothing during both my Stargazing and Astrophotography experiences, regardless of the time of year.

Mackenzie basin has an alpine climate so the temperatures will quickly swing from one extreme to the other.

Even after a hot sunny day, night time temperatures can easily still drop below zero.

I recommend wearing the following as a general guide.

• Thermal base layers
• Warm mid layers
• Warm trousers
• A thick jumper
• Woollen socks 
• Windproof jacket
• Hiking or snow boots
• Winter gloves 
• Scarf or Buff
• Warm hat

Please wear sturdy footwear in case you come across uneven terrain while walking in the dark.

I will have head torches to lend for the duration of the tour.

A) My Stargazing tours are definitely family-friendly since the tour is held at your home or accommodation.

Children 6 years old or under can join free of charge.

Astrophotography tours are not suitable for families with young children.

This experience involves up to 3 hours of intensive and highly technical tuition, outdoors on a potentially very cold night.

It is recommended that clients booked on Astrophotography Lessons are able to devote their undivided attention for the duration of the experience for best results.

A) The Mackenzie region has a statistical record or having clear skies roughly 70% of the time.
Weather conditions in the Mackenzie high country can be very changeable though.

Weather forecasting is never completely reliable, but I will make decisions based on the best information available as to whether an experience should go ahead or not.

To make sure you get value for money, my general policy is to run a tour only if the sky is more than 50% clear.

There are many good weather forecast resources you can check online such as Yr.noMetServiceMeteoblue.

A decision will be made 1 hour to 30 minutes before the scheduled start time, as to whether the tour will go ahead, based on information from the resources listed above and how the sky looking from Lake Tekapo on the night.

In the event of heavy cloud, rain, snow, or strong wind the tour will be cancelled and you will be given the option of a booking transfer or a refund.

Due to the weather dependent nature of this activity, I recommend having a backup date in mind when booking. You can discuss this with me directly over the phone or by Email if you complete the contact form.

A) Please contact me directly to discuss this.

Accessibility will be dependent on your accommodation provider.

I will endeavour accommodate bookings with special mobility requirements however necessary.

A) No prior knowledge is required for either Stargazing or Astrophotography experiences.

The experience content can easily be tailored to suit your preferences and existing level of knowledge.

Experiences will allow plenty of time for questions to be answered.

A) My largest telescope is an 8 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector telescope.

It’s aperture is 8 inches in diameter and it has a focal length of over 2000mm.

It can magnify objects in the night sky up to 150 times depending on which eyepiece is being used at the time.

A) Since this experience is designed to help you learn to use your own camera gear, it will be necessary to bring your own DSLR or Mirrorless camera, and at least one lens.

Other recommended items are a sturdy tripod a remote shutter release and a red head torch.

Please let me know in advance if there are any of these items you do not have.

I can lend some of these items for the duration of the experience if needed.