Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When can I see an Aurora?
A. We do not run tours specifically to see an Aurora. An Aurora is a very rare phenomenon often only predictable a day or two in advance. Auroras are dependent on the activity of the Sun and require big solar flares or winds to shoot out in our direction, arrive here on Earth and excite the gases at our North and South Poles. It is this interaction between the energy from the Sun and the gas particles in the atmosphere that emits the beautiful colours and for this to be visible we need very dark, clear conditions, and for the Aurora to reach us here at Mt John. The Sun lets off many flares every day that do not cause this phenomena! However we do hope you are lucky enough to see one during a tour, we recommend you to keep your eye on websites that give updates and alerts for upcoming Auroras and book when one is predicted! Remember, the further South you are the more likely it is you will witness the unforgettable Southern Lights!
Q. How big are the telescopes we get to look through?
A. You will get the opportunity to look through various telescopes on your tour. We have portable 9 ¼ inch telescopes which, depending on the eye piece chosen by your guide, can range from 60-120x magnification. The guide will decide on what magnification to use depending on the size, brightness and distance an object may be from our perspective. You will also get to go inside one of the domes which houses a 16" Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector on Mt John or a 14” telescope dome at Cowan’s Observatory (when available).
Q. Can I look through the MOA telescope?
A. Unfortunately not even the Astronomers who carry out the research on Mt John University Observatory get to view through the MOA telescope. The MOA telescope takes images of planets and other objects in deep space, these images are then viewed on computer screens in a different room. The MOA is so delicate and sensitive that when it is in operation no people can be in the same room as it because our body heat makes it too hot! If it is a cloudy night and no research is being undertaken, you will be allowed inside to have a look at the MOA telescope and learn a bit more about it.
Q. Can I see stars when it’s cloudy?
A. When we have a full cloud cover unfortunately stars are not visible. There are no telescopes which we can see through clouds. In case of partial cloud cover, you may be able to see some stars, planets, constellations or a number of other objects between the gaps. If there is anything visible in the sky during your tour the number one priority of our guides is to point you out any visible object in the sky. Our tour guides will try their best to show you as much as they can.
Q. Do you provide transport to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch or Queenstown?
A. Unfortunately not. Both Christchurch and Queenstown are approximately a 3 hour drive from Lake Tekapo. You could try Intercity for public transport to and from Lake Tekapo. The only transport we provide is from our booking office in Lake Tekapo village to the Mt John University Observatory and the Cowan’s Observatory for our night time tours.
Q. Can we join the Mt John Observatory Day Tour ?
A. Sorry we don’t have Day Tour available.
Q. Can I just drive up Mt John with my own car to see the stars at night?
A. Unfortunately not as Mt John is private property from the University of Canterbury and the Observatory is a fully functioning research facility at night. Public access is restricted after 5pm in winter and 6pm in summer, and you can only go up after these times by joining one of our tours.
Q. Will I see the Milky Way ?
A. The Milky Way is the collective starlight of the billions of stars that make up our galaxy and is visible clearly from the Southern hemisphere. That is, if the sky is not too light polluted by the moon and it is clear of clouds you will be able to see the bright band of the Milky Way stretched across the night sky. During a full moon a lot of starlight does get washed out, however a full or near-full moon in itself is an incredible sight to see and through a telescope is fascinating!
Q. How cold will it be on my tour?
A. The temperature can vary, but will also depend on the wind speed as well. Wind chill can drop temperatures sub zero. Even in summer we can get very low temperatures so warm clothing and steady warm shoes are essential any time of the year.
Q. Can I take photos on my tour?
A. We don’t recommend people to take their own photo during the tour as it will cut short of your stargazing experience. We have astrophotographer available on the Night Time Tours at Mt. John that can take photographs for you using your DSLR camera while you are on tour. If you do bring you own DSLR camera and would like to do your own photography during the tour please make sure you communicate with our guide before you start taking photo and follow their instruction.
Q. Where can I park my car?
A. If you join us on a tour you can park your car outside the booking office, in the Tekapo Western Carpark. If you are driving up to Mt John during the day time, there is a car park at the summit.
Q: I joined the Mt John Night Tour and took a group photo, how can I access the photo?
You can access any photos taken on your tour, by our astrophotographer, via our Flickr page.
Q. Do you have tours all year round?
A. Yes, we are open all year round, limited opening hours on Christmas Day (25th of December).