Aoraki Mackenzie, New Zealand
Dark skies over New Zealand's Church of the Good Shepherd. (Fraser Gunn)
With only 4 million residents and the nearest land more than a thousand miles away, New Zealand is generally pretty low on light pollution. But one place stands out for its dark skies: the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, which became the southern hemisphere’s first dark sky reserve when the IDA recognized it in 2012. The area is home to the Mount John Observatory in Lake Tekapo, one of the three villages encompassed by the reserve, which also includes Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. The population of the area is estimated to hover under 5,000 people, all of whom operate under a lighting ordinance enacted in 1981. And while the area does have an airport, it operates only during daylight hours, thus adding no light pollution.
MORE: Light Trails from Space
NASA astronaut Don Pettit captured stunning star trails using a long-exposure technique while on the International Space Station in 2012. (NASA/Don Pettit)