Destinations: Stonehenge Aotearoa in Wairarapa

By: Liz Light, Photography by: Liz Light


Stonehenge Aotearoa in Wairarapa Stonehenge Aotearoa is located at Ahiaruhe Road, Ponatahi, Wairarapa. Stonehenge Aotearoa in Wairarapa
Wairarapa's Stonehenge Aotearoa Its role is to accurately track the seasons and help New Zealanders understand the beauty, complexity and scientific truths of our southern skies. Wairarapa's Stonehenge Aotearoa

New Zealand’s very own Stonehenge, in the heart of rural Wairarapa, stands on a knoll above river flats with the grey-blue of the Tararua Ranges on the western horizon.

Destinations: Stonehenge Aotearoa in Wairarapa
Our Stonehenge is designed for its specific location's latitude and longitude. Its role is to accurately track the seasons and help New Zealanders understand the beauty, complexity and scientific truths of our southern skies.

Stonehenge Aotearoa is a giant astronomical clock constructed from circles of stone, as is its 4000-year-old ancestor in England. Both are 30 metres in diameter, and they have the same task, but that is where their similarities end.

Our Stonehenge is designed for its specific location's latitude and longitude. Its role is to accurately track the seasons and help New Zealanders understand the beauty, complexity and scientific truths of our southern skies. Though there are other astronomical clocks, this one is unique as it links with Maori astronomy and the navigational points of the Maori star-compass that Kupe and his fellow sailors used to navigate their way to and from New Zealand and around the Pacific.

Richard Hall is one of New Zealand's foremost astronomers. It was his idea to build a Stonehenge here. But this vast structure is not a one-man creation. The Phoenix Astronomical Society, which has 250 members, provided voluntary labour over a period of two years to construct it. Robert Adam spent over a thousand hours completing the required surveying and astronomical calculations and the Royal Society of New Zealand helped in the funding.

Before I tour the site I watch a video presentation that briefly covers the history of stone circles and astronomical clocks. I learn that astronomy is the oldest of all sciences and is the cornerstone to the rise of civilisation. It gave mankind an understanding of seasons and time and from astronomy measuring and navigational devices, such as calendars, clocks and compasses, have evolved.

Between four- and six-thousand years ago there were thousands of stone circles in Europe, Africa and Asia. They were often built by farmers who used them to predict the seasons: when to plant, when animals migrated and when it was necessary for communities to move themselves and their animals ahead of seasonal weather changes. Thousands of years ago henges provided mankind with an intimate link between what was happening on the earth and what was happening in the sky.

The rock star of henges is the one on the Salisbury Plains. Today's version is 4000 years old but there have been astronomical stone workings on that site for 10,000 years. In ancient times, when the portents between people, earth and sky were complexly intertwined, it was the site of a huge temple and hosted some of the world's biggest gatherings. People went there from all over Europe at auspicious times to be healed and have their wishes granted through the power of the universe.

Stonehenge -Aotearoa -in -Wairarapa -4Richard Hall takes us on a tour of Stonehenge Aotearoa. The main circle, 30 metres in diameter, contains 24 pillars and is four metres high. The pillars are capped with lintels, completing the circle, and a pointed five-metre obelisk marks the centre of the henge. Outside the circle, heel stones mark the places the sun rises and sets on the longest and shortest days and the spring and autumn equinoxes between.

The precise placing of these elements and (the heel stones, obelisk and the circle) their relationship with the sun, moon and stars unlocks the mysteries of the solstices, equinoxes, signs of the zodiac and the concept of time.

This is heady science and at times I'm lost in the interrelationships between sun, shadow and stone but, besides being a big, complicated astronomical clock, Stonehenge Aotearoa is a thing of great beauty and grand proportions. It's a giant sculptural piece at ease in its southern landscape.

What, where, how

  • Storytelling guided tours are held at 11am on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
  • Prices: $18 for adults and $13 for seniors and students. Self-guided tours are $6 per adult.
  • Stonehenge Aotearoa is located at Ahiaruhe Road, Ponatahi, Wairarapa
  • Visit stonehenge-aotearoa.com.
  • Accomodation at Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park with 16 powered sites. Alternatively Mawley Holiday Park, Masterton, next to the Waipoua River, has 54 powered sites. Both have all the amenities motorhomers or campers require.

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