Aurora over Lake Tekapo, New Zealand - Earth & Sky
New Zealand’s MacKenzie Basin gets that extra night-time sparkle
When the stars come out tonight above New Zealand, the skies will have an extra sparkle as the world’s newest and largest dark sky reserve has been named.
The news that New Zealand’s Mackenzie Basin has been designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) is expected to bring many more stargazers from around the world to the Canterbury region and significantly boost local tourism.
The announcement made at the opening of the Third International Starlight Conference confirms New Zealand’s place as one of the world’s top stargazing destinations.
The new reserve is the world’s third International Dark Sky Reserve category, following on from Canada’s Mont Megantic, and the UK’s Exmoor National Park.
Since the New Zealand reserve was officially recognised, a fourth dark sky park with gold rating has been announced in Namibia. Another 14 places worldwide have received lesser ‘dark sky’ ratings.
The creation of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve - which includes the lakeside town of Tekapo, Mt Cook Village, Twizel and the highest peaks of the Southern Alps - is also lofty recognition of a community-inspired initiative that has been working towards this goal since 2006.
Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve
Covering 4300sq km over Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park and the neighbouring Mackenzie Basin, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve forms the world’s largest such reserve.
It is also the first awarded the top gold level status - recognising the quality of the almost light-pollution-free skies - and the first such reserve in the southern hemisphere.
"To put it simply, it is one of the best stargazing sites on Earth," according to executive director Bob Parks of the International Dark-Sky Association - an international movement based in Arizona and dedicated to protecting dark skies.
The Mackenzie region has long been recognised as one of the best sites for viewing and researching the southern sky because of the high number of clear nights throughout the year, the stability and transparency of the atmosphere.
The location also experiences continuous year-round views of the Magellanic Clouds - satellite galaxies to the Milky Way that are only visible in the southern hemisphere.
The Mackenzie Mt Cook region - an iconic South Island alpine landscape - welcomes around one million visitors annually, attracted to the spectacular mountains, glacial lakes and a dry stable climate that encourages year-round outdoor pursuits such as walking, cycling, boating, and fishing. It’s also a hub for more seasonal alpine and snow sports.
Apart from a scientific facility, Tekapo’s Mt John has developed into New Zealand’s main astro-tourism destination, and each year thousands of visitors enjoy the night and day-time Earth & Sky experiences at the observatory.
The observatory at Mt John has five telescopes including New Zealand's biggest which measures 1.8m across and can observe 50 million stars. For visitors, it is one of the world’s more easily accessible observatory sites.
Nearby Aoraki Mount Cook village has a full-dome digital planetarium offering a variety of shows, expert astronomy guides and powerful telescopes zoomed in on the planets, star clusters and distant galaxies.
The Starlight Working Party is also involved in a long-running process with UNESCO that could eventually see the dark sky reserve designated as a World Heritage Starlight Reserve.
For more information about New Zealand go to Tourism New Zealand -
BENEFIT FROM THE VISION GREEN TOURISM SPECIAL OFFER HERE