Reserve status major boost for tourism
10 June 2012
News the Mackenzie Basin has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve is expected to bring stargazers from around the world to the region and significantly boost tourism in the area.
"This is fantastic news for Canterbury and the outcome we've all been hoping for," says Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter.
"It's wonderful finally to have recognition in both national and global terms for this premium asset. It puts the Mackenzie Basin on the map as a destination of international significance and sends a clear message to people that if they want the ultimate dark sky experience then this is the place to come.
"We're anticipating seeing a significant increase in visitors to the Mackenzie as a result of this designation because there is enormous interest in the stars and this is one of the few places left in the world where you can really appreciate the natural beauty of the sky," Mr Hunter says.
The newly designated Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve joins a select group of just 17 International Dark Sky Places worldwide, and is only the fourth International Dark Sky Reserve, following on from Mont Megantic in Canada, Exmoor National Park in the United Kingdom, and the NamibRand Nature Reserve, in Namibia.
Steve Owens, chair of the IDA's Dark Sky Places Development Committee says for many of the other 16 places, tourism was one of the main drivers in their bid for dark sky status and they were already seeing the dividends.
"Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park in Scotland has recently begun to assess the impact of dark sky astronomy tourism in the local economy, and a sample evaluation in the region recently showed that 77% of local guest houses and bed-and-breakfasts had reported an increase in bed-nights due to the dark sky park. The report also stated that the money spent on lighting refits was already paying for itself: for every £1 spent on achieving the dark sky status £1.93 has been generated for the local economy within the first two-and-a-half years.
"Anecdotally too astronomy business is booming, with hotels in Galloway and Exmoor running regular stargazing weekend breaks, meteor watches and astronomy talks. Dark Sky Tourism has become such a big part of the area around Galloway that work is almost complete on a £600,000 public observatory to the north of the park, which will attract school groups, families, and stargazers from far and wide to come and marvel at the beauty of a really dark sky," Mr Owens says.
The Honourable Margaret Austin, who chairs the Starlight Working Party which has been working since 2006 to get the Mackenzie Basin internationally recognised as a Dark Sky Reserve, says the night sky in the Mackenzie basin is a truly magnificent sight and is particularly fascinating for overseas visitors who come from areas where light pollution masks the stars from view.
"This is a truly exceptional environment, landscape and night sky that we want to protect and promote," Mrs Austin says.
Former Mackenzie Tourism general manager Phil Brownie says the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve will ensure New Zealand is foremost on the astronomy and astro-tourism map.
"Mt John, above the Tekapo township, is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world. The observatory is home to six telescopes including the country's biggest telescope which measures 1.8m across and can observe 50 million stars each clear night.
This decision will have enormous ramifications and beneficial flow-on effects for the Mackenzie region as well as for New Zealand as a whole," Mr Brownie says.
Denis Callesen, previously general manager of tourism at Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, is also excited about the potential opportunities the reserve status brings for marketing the region and beyond.
"We are very good at promoting New Zealand tourism in the daylight; we can double our income if we promote night sky tourism," Mr Callesen says.
Canadian David Welch, who is chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) dark sky advisory group, says in Canada places that have been formally recognised for the quality of their night sky have experienced an upswing in visitor numbers.
In the case of the Mont Mégantic Dark Sky Reserve in Quebec the area was popular with day-hikers before it won reserve status, but now it also attracts people for night-sky viewing.
"Beyond increasing visitation dark sky activities also add a great new dimension to a person's appreciation and understanding of the natural world, bringing biology and astronomy together and linking them to a deeper wilderness and natural landscape enjoyment. So there is a great benefit in the sense of providing a rounder, richer, fuller experience to appreciate our natural world," says Dr Welch.