Five years ago, the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association set out to preserve the region’s pristine dark skies with the hopes of being selected by the globally-recognised International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
Now, South Wairarapa has been declared an official Dark Sky Reserve by the IDA, making it the second accredited reserve in New Zealand, after Aoraki-MacKenzie.
The Dark Sky Reserve title is given to places with “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights” and a night environment that is protected from light pollution.
Wairarapa Dark Sky Association chair Viv Napier says the new international status is a major milestone for the small group of volunteers behind the project. “Their foresight and endeavours has produced something really special for the Wairarapa, ensuring the pristine night skies that perhaps many of us take for granted will be protected for future generations.”
It also opens up significant opportunities for tourism across the region. The new reserve covers an area of 3,665 square kilometres in South Wairarapa and Carterton districts, with plans to expand it to include Masterton, which would make it 5,895 square kilometres.
For visitors looking to get the most out of the stargazing opportunities in the region, there are a number of local astronomy operators. Under The Stars offers nomadic astronomy tours with telescopes and binoculars, and Star Safari runs guided tours overlooking the Ponatahi Valley, with state of the art telescopes.
With only 21 Dark Sky Reserves in the world and 16 Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world, New Zealanders are lucky enough to have five of these destinations right at their doorstep.