14 July 2017
People travelling from Fairlie to Aoraki/Mt Cook will soon see signs telling them they are on the Starlight Highway.
A proposal to re-name a section of State Highway 8 and State Highway 80 was given the green light by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) in 2016.
The new name recognises Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park as one of the best stargazing locations in the world.
The area is home to the southern hemisphere’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, which at 4300 square kilometres is also the world’s largest.
The reserve is ‘gold-rated’ due to the quality of its almost light-pollution-free skies, devoid of urban light.
Mackenzie District Council and NZTA are currently discussing where Starlight Highway signage will be located and how it will look.
The new name comes amid several new developments also adding to the region’s reputation for world-class astro-tourism:
- Tekapo Springs’ new audio-visual experience, Tekapo Star Gazing, launched in early 2017 and is proving popular. Visitors can now enjoy a guided tour telling the story about what many of the southern night sky’s prominent features mean for both European and Maori culture and navigation, followed by a soak in the hot pools.
- A multi-million-dollar International Astronomy Centre is being built on the shores of Lake Tekapo by astro-tourism operator Earth & Sky, which helped bring the leading-edge MOA telescope to the Mount John Observatory. The telescope is the largest in New Zealand and during a normal clear night studies over 80 million stars.
- Tickets will soon be available for the three-day Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival in October 2017. The festival will comprise a mix of scientific, educational and cultural events – from lectures and concerts to a photographic exhibition, and is targeted at school students, family groups, members of the public, astro-tourists and stargazers from overseas.