On 21 March 1967, the doors to the new Auckland Observatory opened. Fifty years on, people are still looking up at the night sky from the same location, in what is now known as Stardome Observatory and Planetarium.
The drive to have an observatory for the people of Auckland began many years before it opened. In fact, there are news articles and mentions in the city’s newspapers in the 1930’s. The war put a temporary hold on pushing this initiative forward but resumed with vigour in the 1950’s. At the time, there was a shed with a roll-top roof on Symonds Street. It opened one night a week for public viewing and was operated by volunteers from the Auckland Astronomical Society.
In 1948, the society received a legacy donation from Clement Bostock; this was followed by a large donation from the Auckland Savings Bank in 1952. In 1956, Edith Winstone Blackwell MBE offered to donate funds for a large telescope, provided that sufficient funds could be raised for the observatory needed to house it. The Auckland Observatory and Planetarium Trust Board was founded that year and began the daunting task of establishing the new observatory. After receiving tenders for a new telescope from some of the world’s leading manufacturers, the Zeiss telescope from Carl Zeiss of Jena, East Germany was selected. This telescope is still in working order and is one of the largest telescopes available for public viewing.
Selecting the site for the new observatory was discussed thoroughly with public weighing in on the location. Mt Hobson was seriously considered along with Mt Roskill and Outhwaite Park as possible positions. After a long search, the One Tree Hill Borough Council made a site available in One Tree Hill Domain. Construction began in 1966, and the Auckland Observatory was officially opened on 21 March 1967.
It wasn’t until 1997 that the vision of a planetarium was realised. This major project was led by the late John Williams, a sitting Auckland City Councillor. Construction began in 1996, increasing the building size and adding a Zeiss planetarium. The planetarium has received upgrades over the years and is world-class with surround-sound audio and HD digital projections.
The Auckland Observatory, and later Stardome could not have been established without the support from generous individuals and organisations. The Auckland Council and the former seven district councils have long supported Stardome’s mission by providing funding for expansion, education programmes, open days and various upgrades. The Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board and Regional Facilities Auckland have been significant supporters of Stardome. A number of private funders have also been influential in supporting Stardome’s progress, including Sir Po-Sing Woo, the Sir John Logan Campbell Residuary Estate, the Lion Foundation, the Chisholm Whitney Family Charitable Trust, Foundation North and Edith Winstone Blackwell to name a few.