The first time I walked home at night in Queenstown, I stopped dead at the sky. It was alien. As if I’d travelled to another planet with its own solar system, I searched for a glimmer of familiarity and found nothing. Where was my noble Orion’s Belt, or Big Ole Dipper? And who the hell rubbed out the North Star?
It was clear I needed to learn more about this window of space my new home looked up to. So I joined a Star Gazing tour at Skyline, all but a gondola ride from Queenstown and its glowing lights.
“This is the Southern Cross.” Jake, our guide, points out with his laser point pen, so powerful he can scribble on a nearby cloud. “These are the same stars James Cook and his men would have used to navigate their way around New Zealand.”
A group of 15 of us, all wrapped in the Canada Goose jackets provided, stand in the dark on a hill behind Skyline’s gondola and stare skywards. It’s patchy, but Jake is a great guide, hop-scotching the clouds with the telescope.
“Here’s my favourite… there she is. Saturn. Have a look at that.” He sets the telescope in position and beckons us to join him. The detail is remarkable, you can see the fine rings of rock and dust, a perfect circle around a glowing planet.
Just as I’m admiring the multi-coloured stars in The Jewel Box Cluster, a pin-thin line of light dashes across the lens. A shooting star. We were told at the start we’d see at least 6 or 7, and since then we’ve all been competing to see the most.
Whilst an American girl complains she still hasn’t seen any (“You have to actually look UP Janine!”) I smile in the dark, wondering if I’m the only one in the universe to witness that comet’s spectacular demise in such detail.
A week after the tour, and I’m walking into town at 6am. The stars are still out, and to my satisfaction, I spot the Southern Cross just before it fades into the milky daffodil of dusk. And there, just above Skyline, I see an upside-down (to me) Orion’s Belt, sharing the same sky as the cross. A winking reminder my old stars had been there all along.
Thanks to South of Home for their amazing photos, check out their Facebook page for more: www.facebook.com/SouthofHome
And a big thank you to Skyline for the fab tour! Find out more here: www.skyline.co.nz/queenstown/stargazing/