New Zealand's own Stonehenge

New Zealand’s own Stonehenge Aotearoa, located in the Wairarapa opened in February 2005.

New Zealand''s own Stonehenge Aotearoa, located in the Wairarapa opened in February 2005. Stonehenge Aotearoa stands on a rural site a few kilometres from Carterton and Martinborough, one of New Zealand''s top wine growing regions. It is the brainchild of astronomer Richard Hall and members of the Phoenix Astronomical Society.

Stonehenge Aotearoa, an adaptation of the 4,000-year-old monument on England''s Salisbury Plains, has been especially designed for the Southern Hemisphere. The project took well over 1,000 hours of surveying and astronomical calculation, plus a year of construction. It combines modern scientific knowledge with Celtic and Babylonian astronomy, Polynesian navigation and Maori star lore.

The Phoenix Astronomical Society''s aim is to make astronomy accessible and understandable for everyone. Stonehenge Aotearoa will provide an introduction for newcomers to star-gazing, as well as intriguing new scientific information for astronomers. It will enable visitors to learn about how their ancestors - and people of all ancient cultures - used the sun, moon and stars to devise calendars, work out the seasons for planting, hunting and other activities, and navigate across oceans.

The henge (or stone circle) includes a tall obelisk; ''heel stones'', like those at the original Stonehenge, to mark solstices and equinoxes; and an astronomical sun dial, or analemma, which traces the movement of the sun through the year.

There are two observatories on the site, one of which contains the telescope of New Zealand astronomer Peter Read. A third, the Matariki Observatory dedicated to Maori astronomy, is under construction using a dome donated by the United States Navy from its former installation at Black Birch near Blenheim.

The project has been supported by a grant from the Government''s Science and Technology Development fund, but Stonehenge Aotearoa was built almost entirely by volunteer labour.