The spectacular night sky above Cape Palliser lighthouse. PHOTO/MARK GEE

 

HAYLEY GASTMEIER

[email protected]

 

South Wairarapa is on the cards to become one of the world’s top destinations for star gazing.

A group of astronomy enthusiasts in Martinborough are hoping to put the town on the map as a Dark Sky Reserve.

Internationally there are only 11 places in the world with Dark Sky Reserve status, including the Aoraki Mackenzie area, near Mt Cook in the South Island.

There are three Dark Sky Sanctuaries world-wide, with New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island one of them.

Spearheading the drive for reserve status for Martinborough to the coast is Ray Lilley and David Kershaw, who put out an advertisement to gauge interest.

Lee Mauger replied to that and now the trio are rallying  community support before they put in an application to the International Dark Sky Association.

“There’s not many of these dark sky reserves globally,” said Mr Mauger, an amateur astronomer and Space & Science Festival chairman.

“One of the key things driving this is that most people in Europe, Eastern USA, Japan, China and increasingly in India are unable to see the night sky properly because of the light pollution, so that’s a huge market place of people who would be keen to come and take up the experience.”

Mr Mauger, who bought a property on Western Lake Rd last year specifically for star gazing, said the proposal to date had generated only positive feedback from businesses and residents.

The area that the reserve would cover was still being decided.

So far, the idea was to have it range from Martinborough township to coastal South Wairarapa.

He said the reserve space had not been “fixed” as it was likely that other parts of the region would want to come onboard.

A society was in the process of being formed, and an application for the reserve would be put to the association early next year.

Light pollution also impacted negatively on animals, so that would add to the benefits of the reserve.

It was about “preserving what we’re lucky to have”, Mr Mauger said.

The national standard for street lighting brightness was 4000 Kelvin, which was not approved by the International Dark Sky Association.

Wairarapa’s three district councils have recently agreed to change the region’s street lighting to 3000 Kelvin to fit within the association’s regulations.

Now, the group were just waiting to hear whether the New Zealand Transport Agency would give the green light on having the highway lights switched to meet the guidelines.

If NZTA declined the request, Wairarapa would be ineligible from becoming a reserve.

South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier said NZTA’s decision was due to be announced in the coming weeks.

Having a dark sky reserve status would be particularly good for winter tourism, Mrs Napier said.

Last week she spoke with Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith.

“Tekapo and around Mt Cook, they get 2.5million visitors a year, of which they predict 40 per cent go only to see the stars.”

Mrs Napier said Wairarapa’s night skies would be just as good as down south.

“Ours skies are some the most pristine in the world, and we are really lucky to have it.”

A Dark Sky Reserve in our backyard would be “absolutely amazing”, she said.