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SWDC voices support for observatory

Carkeek Observatory today. PHOTO/FILE

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After an article in the Times-Age last month, about Heritage New Zealand’s bid to secure listed status for the 19th century observatory of the famed amateur astronomer Stephen Carkeek, South Wairarapa District Council has voiced its support.

Councillors agreed to support the initiative, which will hopefully award the site Category 1 listing, during a virtual council meeting held last Wednesday.

The council will make a submission to HNZ before its consultation process closes on May 21.

The observatory, a modest timber structure dating back to about 1867, is New Zealand’s earliest surviving astronomical observatory.

Built on farmland by amateur astronomer, Stephen Carkeek, a few kilometres outside of Featherston, it has been recognised by HNZ for its crucial role in the history of astronomy and the development of science.

At the council meeting, councillor Garrick Emms expressed the historic importance of the site for locals as well as visitors.

“I am really excited about this proposal,” Emms said. “This is an opportunity to celebrate past innovation and enrich our sense of identity and culture with this wonderful 150-year-old artefact.

“HNZ’s proposal is also a great driver for tourism and will dovetail nicely with the Wairarapa International Dark Sky Reserve project and a proposal for a walking and cycling trail to be developed close by.”

The council noted that the observatory is in a state of disrepair and agreed to a recommendation by HNZ to undertake further investigation, including costings, to conserve the relic.

This work would be to stabilise the ruin and the archaeological site, rather than restore it.

HNZ has publicly notified the proposal under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 and is seeking submissions from the public and interested parties to ensure its survival.

The council is now encouraging residents to find out more about the observatory and make their own submissions to ensure this important piece of history is preserved.

  • Full details about the proposal and how to make a submission are available online at the Heritage New Zealand website.


  1. Combined with Richard Hall’s Phoenix Astronomical Society’s Stonehenge and the International Dark Sky proposal, this site would help Wairarapa to become a unique astronomy zone. As the previous commentator said, a replica or mock telescope would add to the atmosphere of the site.

  2. Is there any of the original equipment on site? Why not open the site to amateur astronomers? Maybe tie up with local astronomy clubs…they would at least be able to appreciate it.

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