International Dark Sky Reserve – Tekapo, New Zealand

News the Mackenzie Basin has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve is expected to bring stargazers from around the world to the region and significantly boost tourism in the area.

The Church of the Good Shepherd – Tekapo

“This is fantastic news for Canterbury and the outcome we’ve all been hoping for,” says Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter.

“It’s wonderful finally to have recognition in both national and global terms for this premium asset. It puts the Mackenzie Basin on the map as a destination of international significance and sends a clear message to people that if they want the ultimate dark sky experience then this is the place to come.

“We’re anticipating seeing a significant increase in visitors to the Mackenzie as a result of this designation because there is enormous interest in the stars and this is one of the few places left in the world where you can really appreciate the natural beauty of the sky,” Mr Hunter says.

The newly designated Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve joins a select group of just 17 International Dark Sky Places worldwide, and is only the fourth International Dark Sky Reserve, following on from Mont Megantic in Canada, Exmoor National Park in the United Kingdom, and the NamibRand Nature Reserve, in Namibia.

Lake Tekapo

Steve Owens, chair of the IDA’s Dark Sky Places Development Committee says for many of the other 16 places, tourism was one of the main drivers in their bid for dark sky status and they were already seeing the dividends.

“Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park in Scotland has recently begun to assess the impact of dark sky astronomy tourism in the local economy, and a sample evaluation in the region recently showed that 77% of local guest houses and bed-and-breakfasts had reported an increase in bed-nights due to the dark sky park. The report also stated that the money spent on lighting refits was already paying for itself: for every £1 spent on achieving the dark sky status £1.93 has been generated for the local economy within the first two-and-a-half years.

“Anecdotally too astronomy business is booming, with hotels in Galloway and Exmoor running regular stargazing weekend breaks, meteor watches and astronomy talks. Dark Sky Tourism has become such a big part of the area around Galloway that work is almost complete on a £600,000 public observatory to the north of the park, which will attract school groups, families, and stargazers from far and wide to come and marvel at the beauty of a really dark sky,” Mr Owens says.

The Honourable Margaret Austin, who chairs the Starlight Working Party which has been working since 2006 to get the Mackenzie Basin internationally recognised as a Dark Sky Reserve, says the night sky in the Mackenzie basin is a truly magnificent sight and is particularly fascinating for overseas visitors who come from areas where light pollution masks the stars from view.

“This is a truly exceptional environment, landscape and night sky that we want to protect and promote,” Mrs Austin says.

Mackenzie Tourism general manager Phil Brownie says the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve will ensure New Zealand is foremost on the astronomy and astro-tourism map.

“Mt John, above the Tekapo township, is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world. The observatory is home to six telescopes including the country’s biggest telescope which measures 1.8m across and can observe 50 million stars each clear night.

This decision will have enormous ramifications and beneficial flow-on effects for the Mackenzie region as well as for New Zealand as a whole,” Mr Brownie says.

Denis Callesen, previously general manager of tourism at Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, is also excited about the potential opportunities the reserve status brings for marketing the region and beyond.

“We are very good at promoting New Zealand tourism in the daylight; we can double our income if we promote night sky tourism,’’ Mr Callesen says.

Canadian David Welch, who is chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) dark sky advisory group, says in Canada places that have been formally recognised for the quality of their night sky have experienced an upswing in visitor numbers.

In the case of the Mont-Megantic Dark Sky Reserve in Quebec the area was popular with day-hikers before it won reserve status, but now it also attracts people for night-sky viewing.

“Beyond increasing visitation dark sky activities also add a great new dimension to a person’s appreciation and understanding of the natural world, bringing biology and astronomy together and linking them to a deeper wilderness and natural landscape enjoyment. So there is a great benefit in the sense of providing a rounder, richer, fuller experience to appreciate our natural world,” says Dr Welch.

The above is a news itemI recieved a few days ago

McNaughts Comet: Mt John ( photo from Earth & Sky)

… see a blog I wrote earlier here

Wellington greets the New Year Matariki stars and you can too

It’s New Year again in New Zealand and, to celebrate the month of Matariki – the Maori New Year – last night I went to one of the very popular destinations for cruise ship passengers (and other travellers of course) visiting Wellington, New Zealand, the Carter Observatory.

If you’re a traveller in my new city, you too will love seeing the Southern sky and stars usually not seen from the Northern Hemisphere – and the Carter, as New Zealand’s longest-serving national observatory, provides a great local perspective on our place in the solar system. It also tells stories of New Zealand pioneers in the field of astronomy – and it’s not as dry as that may sound!

Make sure you take a virtual tour of the universe in the full-dome, digital planetarium and explore the beginning of time and see the Black Hole in their interactive multimedia astronomy centre.

Set in the beautiful Wellington Botanic Gardens and only 2-mins walk from the top of the historic cable car, this inner city, ‘place for space’, is a perfect setting to be taken to the Milky Way and the Southern Cross, which we celebrate on our flag.

NZ flag

The Maori name gifted to Carters is Te Ara Whanui ki te Rangi – the expansive pathway to the heavens – and telescopic viewing to those very heavens is available, weather permitting.

Māori and Polynesian navigation stories are told along with the scientific one. Each year, Maori and other Kiwi celebrate Matariki. Matariki is the Maori name for the small cluster of stars that can be seen low on New Zealand’s north-eastern horizon just before dawn during the last days of May or in early June. These stars are also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters.

Traditionally, Matariki was an opportunity to honour the past and plan for the future. Today it has become a time to celebrate the remarkable country we live in, share kai (food), stories and songs as well as enjoying cultural activities so check out all the other activities happening around NZ – Te Papa has a great programme.

The Carter Observatory also applauds the roles of some leading Kiwi astronomers such as our rocket man, Sir William Pickering, who was born and grew up here in Wellington and became a pivotal figure in the American space race. He was a highly respected international scientist. It also tells of Beatrice Tinsley whose research was fundamental to the astronomical understanding of how galaxies evolve with time – what a great woman!

Another place to see the night sky in New Zealand is at Mt. John Observatory, Tekapo. (See more on Mt John in this blog)

Some facts and history

  •  Carter’s name commemorates Charles Rooking Carter, who gifted £2,240 from his estate to the Royal Society of New Zealand to set up an astronomical observatory in Wellington for the benefit of the people of New Zealand.
  • Parliament established the Carter Observatory in 1937 and it opened in 1941.
  • A base for astronomical research in New Zealand Carter began with solar investigations.
  • In the 1970s it expanded to include variable stars, galaxies and asteroids.
  • Carter Observatory became New Zealand’s National Observatory in 1977.

The Carter Observatory curates and maintains three main telescopes.

  1. The Thomas Cooke Telescope, a historic 9 3/4-inch Cooke Refractor will be used for public observing sessions.
  1. The Ruth Crisp Telescope arrived as a donation in the 1960s and is still used for astronomy research.
  1. Carter also operates the nearby Thomas King Observatory. Local astronomers maintain its 12.5 cm (5-inch) telescope, made in 1882 by Grubb in Dublin. This observatory is available for public stargazing sessions.

See more about the Carter and stargazing in the capital here

Tekapo via Christchurch International Airport

Despite the inner-city  part of NZ’s 2nd-largest city being off-limits now, the Christchurch international Airport is of course still open and many hotels are continuing to give their usual high level of service. So, the message to all is Christchurch – and the rest of New Zealand – is open for service. In this ‘blog4NZ’ let me remind you of a couple of Canterbury places that are well worth visiting.

Wrap around views from the Mt John Cafe

With a population of about 300, Tekapo, in the Mackenzie Country, is one of the world’s special places where you can still see the night sky clearly. From the top of Mt. John, you will have a 360º view of the big skies and the carved-by-ancient-glaciers landscape.

The glacial waters flowing from the Southern Alps fill the 30-kilometre long Lake Tekapo with its remarkable turquoise colour which is caused by the refraction of light through the finely ground rock particles of the melt waters. Read more about the night sky and tours available here.

Of course the area is also famous for stories of sheep rustling, and the beautiful church of the Good Shepherd: it’s well worth a few nights stay – don’t just drive through on your way to Aoraki Mt. Cook, New Zealand tallest mountain.

This church is on everyone's 'must-see' list when in Tekapo
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