Among the great joys of our location is its place at the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. The Dark Sky Reserve is world-renowned for its lack of light pollution, creating a spectacular and immense night sky brimming with stars.
To celebrate this beauty and share it with our guests, we constructed the purpose-built Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory. We welcome guests to this inviting, intimate and elegant space with a glass of wine or tot of whisky from our carefully curated cellar. Then we step into the adjoining observatory, equipped with a retractable roof and telescope for the perfect exploration of the Southern stars.
Photography enthusiasts should be sure to bring your DSLR camera for some amazing astrophotography opportunities.
We offer private stargazing as an add-on experience for guests staying in our luxury villas, or as a standalone experience for visitors who are not staying in our accommodation. It’s also a magical addition to any special event or celebration.
At the time it was certified in 2012, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve was the first dark sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere and the first anywhere to be declared with Gold Tier status. This is the highest dark sky certification that can be accorded, and is a recognition of the pristine skies of the Mackenzie Region, which are essentially completely free of light pollution.
The peaceful and beautiful experience of darkness and starlight is one that is being lost, as light pollution becomes the norm in urban and suburban areas around the world. When you stay at Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat, we hope you will take the time to step outside, look up, and gaze into one of the world’s purest, clearest night skies.
The Dark Sky Reserve is recognised and certified by the International Dark-Sky Association, based in Arizona, which is the international body giving accreditation for Dark Sky Reserves and Dark Sky Places worldwide.
The purpose-built wine cellar and observatory began from the concept of an underground space. Its thick concrete walls maintain the cool temperature needed to cellar our wines, and the sitting area allows us to share drinks and nibbles with guests while we introduce the Southern sky and the spectacular stargazing experience to come.
The observatory itself features a retractable roof and 6-inch refractor telescope. When the roof recedes, the observatory walls frame a breathtaking window to the stars. Our telescope is capable of sighting the rings of Saturn and bands of Jupiter, as well as sparkling star clusters, nebula and planets. The telescope can also be used for astrophotography, for guests with an interest in night sky photography.
Set up your camera under some of the clearest, darkest skies in the world, and be mesmerized by stars like many have never seen. On special nights you may also get a glimpse of the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis.
As part of our guided stargazing experience, we are able to help you learn basic techniques for how to take your own night sky images. Or, if you prefer, simply relax and enjoy stargazing, and we will take a photograph for you. This one-of-a-kind image of your party under the beautiful New Zealand night sky is the perfect keepsake to remember your journey.
We also offer deep space astrophotography using our observatory telescope. From the very first image we shot through the telescope of the Orion Nebula, we were in awe of the beauty of this colourful object sitting quietly in the Orion Constellation 1,344 light years away. Deep space astrophotography is a unique experience, a rare opportunity to venture into the past using a simple DSLR camera. Join us in the observatory and we will show you how to photograph nebula, star clusters and planets.
For guests interested to further hone their skills, we can arrange a private astrophotography session with a professional photographer. The photographer will meet you on site for a personalised workshop to develop your astrophotography knowledge and technique.
Of course, being in the heart of the Mackenzie Country, with its history of Scottish settlement, it would have been a tragedy if we did not also include fine whiskies in our collection – the beverage of the Scottish Highlands, which some say is the “nectar of the Gods.”
Every dark sky experience in the Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory begins in our wine cellar. Enjoy nibbles and a glass of wine or tot of whisky from our collection whilst being introduced to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and the features of the Southern sky.
Everything was superb. We stayed for 3 nights and also had our wedding there….The location is breathtaking. Whether your villa looks out over the lake or the Mackenzie Basin, you will not be disappointed with the spectacular views….Outdoor hot tubs also with outrageous views! The food was outrageously good – breakfast was tasty and filling, but the evening meals took my breath away. All freshly prepared and locally sourced….Luke and Kaye have made such a fantastic place, and are very hands on, Anna organised everything for us and made sure our wedding – and the rest of our stay – went smoothly. Nothing was too much trouble. The other staff were friendly and helpful without being intrusive, and Tom is a very gifted chef who is also very friendly and happy to chat about the food, but also to accommodate any special needs or requests. Our children have a cows milk protein allergy, but were still able to eat like royalty. Finally, try the stargazing in the wine cellar. Unbelievable.