Editor’s note: This post was first published in 2014 and was updated in 2016 to reflect our stay at &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
Dark Sky Reserves are officially awarded areas where night visibility and light pollution are perfect for that star gazing experience.
There are only 3 Gold Rated Dark Sky Reserves in the world, two of which are in the Southern Hemisphere in Namibia and New Zealand and one in the Northern Hemisphere in Ireland.
We propose the best places to stay for that social night under a blanket of stars.
1. Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve
Located in the Mackenzie basin, in New Zealand’s South Island, this reserve is one of the most photographed. This is an absolutely breath-taking place. Lake Tekapo on one side, Mount Cook on the other and the vastness of nature everywhere.
Facilities for stargazing are top-notch Mt John Observatory was built by the lake after three years of site scouting. The University of Canterbury manages the Observatory which staffed with professional astronomers.
If Lake Tekapo was not beautiful enough the reserve also includes Mt. Cook.
Where to stay: The world’s most southern planetarium and dome are located by the Heritage Lodge. For a more exclusive and personal experience head to Lake Tekapo Lodge which was named the Best property in Oceania and Asia in 2013 by Booking.com guests and has a 98% rating on TripAdvisor.
2. NamibRand Nature Reserve
This is one of the largest private reserves in Southern Africa and one of the most stunning. Located on the Southern West part of Namibia the reserve encompasses 4 types of habitats found in the Namib area. The magical dark orange dunes and sandy plains so famous of this part of the world; mountains; gravel plains and sand and gravel interfaces.
The NamibRand is an outstanding part of the world with breath-taking landscapes.
There are only 7 concessionaries able to provide services in this exclusive part of Africa and only 3 provide accommodation. Given the limited level of development you are guaranteed very dark skies.
The best place to observe the sky is with the expert guides and the help of the state of the art observatory at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge which has a powerful telescope to see the farthest stars. Resident astronomers will share all their knowledge with guests.
Aside from glorious star gazing the reserve also offers the possibility to participate in several cultural experiences and wildlife safaris where you will be able to spot giraffes, zebras, Oryx and springbok. There are also predators such as leopards, foxes, hyenas and jackals. Do not miss a hot air balloon morning trip to understand the vastness and emptiness of this fine place.
Where to stay: Sossusvlei Desert Lodge is the ultimate in African luxury. Manages by &Beyond with properties across the continent, the lodge offers the right mix of modern comforts and the beauty of the African landscapes. Built to seamlessly blend into the surroundings the lodge uses the same colours that make the Namib Desert so popular. Sandy tones, earthy colours and local materials. Rattan, bone, stone, wool, wood and marvel decorate the rooms which have large windows looking onto the plains. At night, the starred sky will be your only companion.
3. Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve
This is the only Gold Dark Sky Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere in a small isthmus on the Western South most part of Ireland.
What makes this reserve unique is that it contains common life. That is, the reserve has inhabitants who go about their daily life. You can enjoy a drink at a local pub or a round of golf. Caherciveen is the capital of the Reserve and a good place to start.
Locals have achieved the highest tier in darkness thanks to their consciousness in using lighting for what is required: to light their path and not to light the sky.
Come in the summer to see not only thousands of stars but also the Milky Way.
Aside from great stargazing opportunities the reserve is rich in cultural heritage. You will be able to visit lighthouses, islands, forts, monasteries, standing pre-historical rocks, memorials, churches and even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From The Glen you can make the trip to Skellig Island or visit the Puffin Reserve. For surfers there are also great opportunities to get wet. The wealth of historical landmarks is unique.
Where to stay: Tourism is relatively under developed in this area and although there are a few campsites and B&B to stay there aren’t any high-end luxury options. Your best bet is cosy Darrynane Hotel
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