Stargazers stranded by gale-force winds

The view at night inside the Astro cafe on Mt John (Supplied)
The view at night inside the Astro cafe on Mt John (Supplied)

As far as being stranded for seven-and-a-half hours goes, Earth and Sky's Mt John Observatory wouldn't be the worst of places.

A group of 20 tourists and nine staff were stuck overnight at the observatory near Tekapo when the weather took a swift turn for the worse on Saturday night.

Winds reached average speeds of between 120 km/h and 150km/h. One gust of 180km/h managed to sweep a concrete table off the deck and smash it.

"Within the 15 minutes that it takes for a bus to leave Tekapo and drive to the top of the mountain the wind got that strong that it wasn't safe to actually even go out and walk," Earth and Sky general manager Margaret Munro says.

Ms Munro says there have been evacuations from the mountain in the past but a group has never been stranded before.

"This really happened very quickly so we were all sort of caught out by surprise," she says.

The concrete table that was damaged in the wind 

Luckily, the group found shelter in the Astro Café where snacks and sleeping mats ensured a comfortable night.

"It was still a starry night so it was quite beautiful and our café on Mt John has a glass ceiling so there were still able to do stargazing."

Astronomy guide Andrew Davies was among the group who spent the night.

"Several of our guides, when they popped out to check on the conditions, they ended up being blown over by the wind," he says.

Mr Davies says he was surprised at how calmly the group took it.

"There was a spontaneous round of applause from all the customers and a thank you from one of them just before we left...they really took it extremely well," he says.

Customers were offered a full refund but Mr Davies says some refused, saying it was the most memorable part of their holiday.

Aurora lights captured by Joel Gillespie (Earth & Sky Ltd)

See more photos from Mt John Observatory here.

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