Minimal light pollution, meteors streaking across the sky and the glow of the Milky Way. The dark skies as nature intended are becoming rarer, but as soon as you step out of the luminous cities and into the wilderness, you won’t believe your eyes as you take in over 15,000 shimmering fireballs lighting up the sky. So here’s our pick of the best places in the world to stargaze, all of which feature the added bonus of uninterrupted views of our astounding world.
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
A shimmering turquoise lake flanked by New Zealand’s Southern Alps by day and by night undoubtedly one of the best places in the world to star gaze. With some of the lowest light pollution in the world, gazers can expect perfect conditions to wonder at the Southern Cross and the Southern Star. You may even be lucky enough to see the Aurora Australis, the southern hemisphere’s answer to the Northern Lights. Hike up to the Mount John Observatory, which overlooks the lake at 1000m, to be rewarded with a magnificent spot to read the skies.
Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia
As if exploring this natural wonder of the world wasn’t enough, plan to stay after dark to experience both the infamous changing of the colours of Uluru at sunset and the sparkling night sky that follows. Tuck into your dinner as an Aboriginal guide points out the constellations, planets and stars, relaying Aboriginal stories of zodiac signs and far away galaxies.
Mt Bromo, Indonesia
Whilst many head to Mount Bromo to witness the out-of-this-world sunrise, it’s well worth getting there in the early hours to see Mars and Jupiter rise over the peaks just before the sun follows. With amazing views below as mountain tops peek through the clouds underneath, above, the Milky Way is framed by stellar clouds. Throughout the night, the sky transforms from a dark sky speckled with purple cosmic dust, to a glowing orange as the sun rises to frame the surrounding volcanoes.
Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
Step into the place where perspective does not exist to see one of the most breath-taking views on earth. In the rainy season from December to April, the world’s biggest salt lake becomes the world’s biggest mirror, with the sky and ground becoming one as the horizon disappears. Take the time to stay overnight to see the stars take centre stage on the mirror – you’ll feel like you’re floating through space on this astonishing natural illusion.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah, USA
The curious natural phenomenon of the Owachomo Bridge, where thousands of years ago a river changed course to carve out a hole through solid rock, acts as a picture frame for more than 15,000 stars. That’s approximately 14,500 more than can be seen in the whole of an urban night sky. The pinky purple hues of the Milky Way overhead contrast the dark canyon wallspainting a magnificent Mars-like scene. Star parties and other stargazing events take place here on a regular basis for all like-minded enthusiasts.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Why not combine spying the Big 5 with spotting the Big Dipper? For a celestial safari, head to South Africa. After all, you’re more likely to see the animals in their natural habitat by night, and what better way to do so than by starlight. Kruger’s flat savannah and bushveld are excellent terrains for training binoculars on the rings of Saturn and the Scorpio zodiac constellation, and what’s more, many lodges offer the chance to sleep outside in treehouses, enabling you to drift off to the sounds of the bush whilst you watch the shooting stars through your sleepy eyes.
Atacama Desert, Chile
The world’s highest and driest desert provides perfect star-gazing conditions with high altitude, few clouds and virtually no radio interference or light pollution. Chile’s laws against excessive light pollution stems from the belief that darkness is part of their national heritage. Stargazing in Chile offers a contrasting perspective from the rest of the world because instead of studying the stars themselves, the Incas believed that the dark spaces between held more meaning. Local guides will help you to see the head of a snake under the Southern Cross as well as the piercing eyes of a mother llama with her child. You won’t be able to think of wishes quick enough to keep up with the spectacular shooting stars.
Namib Desert, Namibia
Watching the star-studded sky from the Namib Desert is bound to make you feel small. With flat terrain in what is thought to be the world’s oldest desert, this unforgiving landscape has 360 degree panoramic views and unobstructed vistas of the universe stretching far above. The location of the NamibRand Nature Reserve on the eastern edge of the Namib Desert is in the perfect location to spot the red supergiant star, Antares, which is 550 times bigger than our own sun. What a way to get to grips with the scale of our existence.
Nestled in the unspoiled Lapland territory, the old mining town of Kiruna is 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle making it one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis. With the perpetual darkness of December and January, these are the best months to make the most of the nocturnal beauty of the clear skies. Home to the Esrange Space Centre, the area also offers all-encompassing adventures on dog-sleds and sleighs.
Yangtze River Valley, China
Surprisingly, there is a place in China tucked away from the big cities with skies clear enough to stargaze, the Yangtze River Valley. The dramatic home to the Three Gorges Dam has stunning daytime backdrops and first-class spots to gaze into space. China has a rich history of stargazing with one of the world’s earliest recorded observatories built in Beijing during the Ming dynasty in the 15th century. Their calendar is based on movements of the moon, so we trust they know what they’re talking about.
Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato.