NASA/courtesy of
NASA/courtesy of

About us

The History of Carter Observatory

Carter Observatory is New Zealand's longest-serving national observatory. Carter's name commemorates Charles Rooking Carter, who gifted £2,240 from his estate to the Royal Society of New Zealand to establish an astronomical observatory in Wellington for the benefit of the people of New Zealand. Parliament established the Carter Observatory in 1937 and it opened its doors in 1941.

Carter became a base for astronomical research in New Zealand. Work began with solar investigations and when new staff joined during the 1970s it expanded to include variable stars, galaxies and asteroids. Carter Observatory became New Zealand's National Observatory in 1977.

Carter Observatory celebrated its 70th birthday on 20 December 2011.  Learn more about Carter's history here.


The Planetarium

In 1992 the Golden Bay Planetarium was relocated from its Harris Street location to the Carter Observatory site.  The Golden Bay Planetarium was opened in 1978 by Sir Keith Holyoake, then Patron of the Wellington Planetarium Society.  The original planetarium was sold to the Northland Astronomical Society in Whangarei, to make way for an expanded planetarium.

In 2005, the New Zealand government commissioned Professor Mike Bessell to review Carter and to explore New Zealand’s requirements and the opportunities in astronomy and space science research and education.


The Telescopes 

Carter Observatory curates and maintains three main telescopes:

The Thomas Cooke telescope is a beautiful, historic 9 3/4-inch refracting telescope that is routinely used as the main telescope for visitor viewing at Carter.

Please note: telescope viewing is weather-dependent.

The Ruth Crisp telescope is a reflecting telescope reserved for research purposes by staff and the local astronomical community. It arrived as a donation in the 1960s.

Carter also manages the nearby Thomas King Observatory with its 12.5 cm (5-inch) telescope, made in 1882 by Grubb in Dublin. This observatory is currently closed to the public


Our Most Recent Transformation

Professor Bessell's report kickstarted Carter's transformation into a world class visitor attraction and education facility. 

Thanks to funding from the New Zealand Government, Wellington City Council, New Zealand Lotteries Grant, and the Pelorus Trust among others,  a revitalised Carter opened its doors on 27 March 2010. 

The Carter Observatory Act of 1938, which established an astronomical observatory in Wellington, was repealed in May 2010 and at that time Carter Observatory became an asset of the Wellington City Council.

In September 2011, further exhibits were installed completing the refurbishment.  Carter Observatory now stands proudly as a key visitor attraction for Wellington, an important educational facility and impressive event venue.

Carter Observatory is owned by the Wellington City Council and is managed as part of the Wellington Museums Trust.


Industry Awards 

2012 - Wellington Gold Awards finalist in the Vibrant Award category

2012 - Winner eTourism Awards 2012 award for best attraction / activity / tour Online Presence

Contact details

phone: +64 4 910 3140

Carter Observatory, PO Box 893, Wellington 6140

See a map of how to find us