While they won’t be the world’s first dark sky nation, New Zealand is quickly becoming among the top dark sky destinations on earth. The island country is home to two International Dark Sky Association (IDA) certified Dark Sky Sanctuaries – Aotea / Great Barrier Island and Stewart Island / Rakiura – and a Dark Sky Reserve, Aoraki Mackenzie. Now, they also have their first Dark Sky Park.
The IDA announced today that Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest at the northern end of the South Island has been certified as a Dark Sky Park, ensuring light pollution management and protection of the high-quality dark skies above the natural area. Organized by the Top of the South Dark Skies Committee, affiliated with the Nelson Science Society Astronomy Section, the destination will also be called “Wai-iti Dark Sky Park” for visitors hoping to enjoy the astronomical wonders of the region. The city of Nelson, New Zealand is the largest urban area to the Wai-iti Dark Sky Park.
“Wai-iti Dark Sky Park covers 135 hectares of Tasman District Council (TDC) land. It includes the Wai-iti Recreational Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest, just south of Wakefield,” explained Jeremy Taylor in an announcement about the IDA certification. Wai-iti Dark Sky Park is just a 30-minute drive south from Nelson, showing how hard the region is working to manage light pollution and create accessible dark sky experiences for New Zealanders and international visitors, someday. (As of writing, New Zealand is offering extremely limited immigration and visa options for international travelers.)
“The Wai-iti Dark Sky Park has been established to preserve the area’s pristine night skies, as a place for pure enjoyment of the night sky, as well as for study of the night sky for scientific, artistic and amateur astronomy purposes,” said Ralph Bradley, chairman of the Top of the South Dark Sky Committee.
“This is a small step to preserve the night sky for future generations. It is a place to teach and educate the community about the importance of the natural dark night sky for our own health and well-being and that of plants and animals in our environment,” Bradley continued.
As part of the celebration surrounding this certification achievement, there will be two star parties on the nights of July 11 and 12 at the Wai-iti Recreation Reserve. Attendees are require to preregister to help with contact tracing after the event as the New Zealand government continues to closely monitor the Covid-19 pandemic domestically. This is especially good timing as the Pleiades will be well placed for viewing. The Pleiades are known to the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand as Matariki, and herald the new year when the star cluster first rises into the sky in late May or early June.
The Māori people have a long heritage of astronomy, tracing back to their roots in Polynesia and using celestial navigation to cross the Pacific Ocean; Wai-iti Dark Sky Park signals New Zealanders’ ongoing commitment to preserving their astronomical heritage for the future too. “It is a testament to the persistence of those involved in this years-long nomination that Wai-iti is now protected for this and future generations of New Zealanders,” IDA Executive Director Ruskin Hartley said as part of the official announcement.