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10 Great Camping Spots for Star Gazing

Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand
There's little light pollution to interfere with your star gazing in Mt. Cook National Park.
There's little light pollution to interfere with your star gazing in Mt. Cook National Park.

Officials with the International Dark-Sky Association say New Zealand's South Island is one of the best star gazing spots on the entire Earth, period. The skies there are almost totally free from light pollution, which is why the group named a huge part of the island the world's largest International Dark Sky Reserve. So where, within this immense parcel of land, is the best of the best? Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin.

The area -- more than 1,600 square miles (4,144 square kilometers) -- is also collectively known as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, and sits on the island's central-eastern portion in the heart of the Southern Alps [source: Our Amazing Planet]. It's not a place for wimps; glaciers blanket 40 percent of the park, and with 19 peaks topping 9,843 feet (3,000 meters), it's considered a harsh land of ice and rock [source: Department of Conservation]. Camping options are limited. There's one campground in the popular Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village, White Horse Hill, which features toilets and running water. You can also "freedom camp" in designated areas for a night or two, or stay in one of 17 huts, largely used by mountaineers; you'll need climbing skills to reach them [sources: Department of Conservation, Mt Cook Mackenzie].

But if you make the trip, you'll be treated to crystal-clear night skies filled with stars and ringed by mountains. Telescopes are available nearby at The Hermitage hotel if you want to look for Saturn's rings, the moons surrounding Jupiter or the Magellanic Clouds. There's even a planetarium at The Hermitage, which offers Big Sky Stargazing tours [sources: Department of Conservation, The Hermitage].