Milky Way lights up Wairarapa

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 13:07 01/04/2014
Wairarapa at night
MARK GEE

TRAMPER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY: Weta Digital effects supervisor and photographer Mark Gee was helicoptered to the top of the Tararua Range last Thursday to take this dramatic night shot of all five main Wairarapa towns lit up beneath the Milky Way.

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A striking image of towns dotting a dark valley beneath the very centre of our galaxy is causing a stir on social media.

Specialist night-sky photographer Mark Gee spent a night on the exposed spine of the Tararua Range on Thursday to capture the shot of all five main Wairarapa towns lit up beneath the Milky Way.

Gee shared the image on Facebook and it has "gone crazy" with thousands of likes and shares, he said.

"It's an image I don't think has been captured before and a lot of Wairarapa people have shared it all around the place."

Weta Digital effects supervisor Gee, who was crowned Astronomy Photographer of the Year by the Royal Observatory in London in September last year, said the shot posed special challenges.

He had to wait for the Galactic Bulge, the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, to rise at 11pm - five hours before the 4am rise of the new moon. The timing of the two events varies through the year and this combination creates maximum starlight.

Gee also needed decent weather to helicopter 80 kilograms worth of gear, plus himself and a friend, to a unique vantage point on the range from which both Wairarapa and Wellington are visible.

At the original destination of Mt Hector it was "blowing a gale" so the Kapiti Heliworx pilot opted for a slightly more sheltered spot on 1361-metre Alpha Peak.

"On the time-lapse [sequence] it looks pretty incredible, of Wairarapa especially - you see cars driving between the towns with the Milky Way rising over the top."

The shots are part of Gee's latest project, a promotional time-lapse shoot for International Dark Sky Week from April 20.

From the full blaze of downtown Wellington the sequence moves further into the darkness, finishing with the pair's moonlit campsite among the tussock, Gee said.

An Australian, Gee began specialising in "astrophotography" five years ago when he shifted across the Tasman and was struck by the "beauty of the New Zealand night skies". 

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- The Dominion Post

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