Campers enjoying the Milky Way in Martinborough. PHOTO/LEE MAUGER

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Applications to Shane Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund from Wairarapa are gaining momentum, with the Martinborough Dark Sky Society the latest to make public an application.

The “express application” submitted last week is for funding to have an economic growth plan developed by an independent professional organisation.

The plan is a vital pre-requisite for submitting the application to become a certified International Dark Sky Reserve, which must be completed by May 2019.

The application has a letter of support from the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy Governance Group.
Last week the Times-Age reported Wairarapa Water Ltd had applied to PGF to complete pre-feasibility work on its dam project in Wairarapa. That application was also supported by the governance group, according to a report to Masterton District Council.

A spokesman for PGF said at the time it was assessing seven applications from Wairarapa after one was unsuccessful, two were withdrawn, and one was successful.

Last month the appointment of Marie-Claire Andrews as programme manager was announced, with funding for the role the only successful application to the PGF so far.

The Martinborough Dark Sky Society aims to create the world’s newest and potentially largest International Dark Sky Reserve.

The letter of support, addressed to Jones, identifies the Dark Sky Project as a regional visitor and tourism priority for WEDS.

The volunteer-run Martinborough Dark Sky Society has spent the last year working hard to demonstrate the outstanding quality of sky in Wairarapa and strength of community support to the international regulator of reserves.

Last year the society announced the International Dark Sky Association had officially recognised Martinborough as the first 3K City in NZ, a first step in helping the society prepare an application to be recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve.

A key part of the criteria to become a reserve is the development of an economic growth plan for the region. This is to ensure businesses are ready for the exceptional tourism growth experienced by other dark sky reserves, such as Tekapo in the South Island, and that the three Wairarapa councils can help prepare for the growth across the region.

“We’re grateful to the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy team, members of Parliament, universities, businesses, community members and international organisations for writing letters of support for this initiative,” chairman of the Martinborough Dark Sky Society Lee Mauger said.

“The Martinborough Dark Sky Society is pleased that several new businesses and jobs have already been created in the region and we look forward to seeing this success accelerate once our international certification is secured.”

Star Field, a spectacular new observatory complex in Ruakokoputuna, near Martinborough, has already been created by John Whitby, and is set to attract international visitors with its astronomy, astrophotography and video astronomy.

“The same unique topography and climate which make Martinborough perfect for growing grapes are also the perfect conditions for astronomy,” Whitby said.

Wellington’s Becky Bateman moved her family to Greytown to set up a new ‘astrotourism’ business Under the Stars, whose guided tours will make experiencing the night sky easy for everyone.

“Most people in the world can’t see the Milky Way anymore, but we have amazing dark skies in Wairarapa which can provide breath-taking experiences for visitors,” Bateman said.

Lee said it was exciting that new businesses were collaborating to deliver really exceptional experiences for visitors and locals.

“For example, John and Becky are working together on a new initiative called “Under the Stars at Star Field” where visitors can have a guided tour of the night sky under a pristine dark sky with world class telescopes and Ranui Essentials recently combined an evening of lavender picking and star gazing.”