Rotorua setting its sights on the sky

Skyline will open an observatory in Rotorua this December, as it aims to attract star-starved international city-dwellers.

Tourism operator Skyline Rotorua is hoping to boost its number of visitors by opening a new observatory.

The tourist destination, which includes a luge and gondola, currently has half a million visitors each year.

The new observatory, which opens in December, will have five telescopes; including two for stargazing, and a solar-scope to view the sun during the day. Skyline, which also operates in Queenstown, opened an observatory there two years ago.

Ngongotaha, near Lake Rotorua, is considered the best stargazing spot in the North Island, says Skyline general manager Bruce Thomasen. He says people have been coming to New Zealand for a century for our clear skies. James Cook originally sailed to New Zealand to witness the transit of Venus, and the early Maori used the stars as navigational tools.

“Astro-tourism is a growth area and Tourism New Zealand have identified stargazing as a growth industry for international tourists, as many city folk have never been privy to the spectacular sight of our starry southern skies,” Thomasen says.

New Zealand’s tourism industry has seen a boost in revenue in recent years with Rotorua growing significantly at 14% - faster than the National average of 7%. The Tourism Industry Association hopes to achieve $41 billion in total annual tourism revenue by 2025.

Over the past three years Skyline, has focused on reinventing its business structure in Rotorua, Thomasen says. It has recently opened a retail store, a winery and tasting room, and a new café. It has also redeveloped its restaurant, which has won four Rotorua Hospitality Awards.

“We continue to look for ways to innovate,” Thomasen says.

A tour of the new observatory will cost around $89 per person. The tour will last around two hours, with a maximum of 18 people per tour. Depending on the weather, the observatory will be opened 365 days a year.