A sense of awe and wonderment informs any conversation Richard Hall has about stars, ancient knowledge, and well, just about anything to do with space.
Originally from Middlesex in England, his home today is a hill top east of Carterton with 360 degree views of the night sky where Richard lives with wife Kay.
Next door is Stonehenge Aotearoa, opened to the public in 2005 and attracting visitors from all around the world. A full-scale working adaptation of the original Stonehenge, it allows visitors to learn about and experience the wonders of stone circles of the past.
But Richard is now looking to the future - with exciting plans for a sophisticated astronomy centre that will feature a telescope with a 40 inch diameter lens making it the largest and most powerful telescope available for public use in New Zealand.
“It will be built to look at deep space objects such as nebulae and galaxies,” says Richard. “But if you trained it on the moon you would see terraces on the walls and cracks on the floor of craters, and if you pointed it towards Saturn you would see spectacular views of its magnificent rings and moons.”
There are also plans for a solar observatory so visitors will be able to see the Sun safely in real time on a large flat screen, and hear it via a radio telescope.
There will be a planetarium so visitors can see the wonders of the universe rain or shine. Not to mention club rooms, a classroom and display area.
Richard is the very definition of the enthusiastic amateur with a capital E. Now retired, he was originally an electrical engineer whose last big job was upgrading the high voltage link between North and South islands.
But Richard was also pursuing his life-long interest in astronomy, giving lectures and making planetarium shows at the Carter Observatory, and bringing students over to the Wairarapa to observe its clear night skies.
In the mid-1980s Richard bought 25 acres of land and put four acres aside for use by the Phoenix Astronomical Society, leading to the construction of Stonehenge Aotearoa by volunteers.
Richard got his first tastes of space when he was a child. “Mum would take me and my and sister on the tram to the big museums in London. That stimulated my interest in a bigger universe out there.”
There was also another more traumatic experience. “Mum took me to see the film Invaders From Mars when I was eight. I’ve seen it since and it is quite corny but it terrified me and my sister and we hid behind our seats. “On the train home I thought ‘there must be other places like Mars and our world in space’ and that’s what started things. “I can see what drove explorers to ask questions about the great unknown. And of course, the great unknown now is amongst the stars.”
Richard shares both his knowledge and his enthusiasm with visitors to Stonehenge, with public and private guided tours. A font of knowledge on both astronomy and ancient astrology, the thing that most surprises visitors, Richard says, is that their star sign is not actually the star sign they think it is, thanks to some Middle Age meddling by the Catholic Church. It’s a long story - and definitely one best heard from Richard himself on one of his guided tours.
Stonehenge Aotearoa is open Wednesday to Sunday with guided tours on weekends and public holidays or by appointment and self-directed tours during the week. From Christmas guided tours are held every day.