Feature on Tekapo - Starlight Reserve 2009

Since the existence of the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory on the summit of Mount John, the local area has been subject to light restrictions as part of the Mackenzie District Council's district plan for Lake Tekapo. These restrictions have existed to protect the sky around the observatory from unnecessary light pollution.
Even more cherished than the regulations, was the understanding between the residents of Lake Tekapo and the observatory that any exterior lighting was to simply be shielded to prevent light shining vertically. Even local developers complied through the installation of specialised street lighting on new sub-divisions.
After several decades of the status-quo, a more official level of protection to the night sky is being sort, through the implementation of the world's first UNESCO recognised "starlight reserve".
Major campaigner for the reserve and local tourism operator Graeme Murray of Earth and Sky writes,

Church of the Good Shepherd at night

Seven years ago the Mackenzie District Council initiated an extensive series of Public
meetings to establish the Tekapo District’s blueprint for the Town’s future. There were extensive discussions and Town planners, Government advisors and other experts were called in from many fields.

The results of the public meetings and debate was a major policy document called the ‘Tekapo Vision’. One of the very important cornerstones of this document was the statement – “That we protect the dark sky”.

It was shortly after the release of the Tekapo Vision that the first thoughts arose locally about the concept for a type of “Park in the Sky”. To help ensure Tekapo’s precious asset was not lost through light pollution, not only for the sake of Mt John but for future generations. It was a simple concept but one that quickly caught on, particularly Internationally where a good many parts of the World have already lost their Starry night Sky.

Night Ski photography at Lake Tekapo

Out of this idea a remarkable journey began which took Mt John Observatory and Lake Tekapo to the far corners of the World, and not least of all through the corridors of power of UNESCO itself. It helped convince UNESCO to look upwards as well as around them. The Mackenzie District Council meanwhile had in place the required ordinances to control light pollution and to help better promote the reasonable use of electricity and as a result are regarded both nationally and internationally as leaders in this regard.

The location being advocated for the World’s first Starlight Reserve is envisaged to encompass Lake Tekapo and include its strategic Mount John Observatory, the Lake and it’s tributary – the Godley Valley and the Mt Cook National Park plus nestled alongside the existing South Westland World Heritage Park. This whole concept was initiated by the Mount Cook Mackenzie Tourism and Development Board and is now in the hands of the Council’s Tourism and Development Trust which is initiating a public consultation process as the UNESCO plans and ideas gradually come to fruition.

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and it is UNESCO World Heritage’s desire that Mt John and the Tekapo/Mt Cook area might become the first Starlight Reserve in the World if all parties can work towards an acceptable formula. This would bring incredible International recognition and accolades not only to the Mackenzie Country but to New Zealand as a whole and the “Pure NZ” image that it projects overseas.

Graeme Murray - Earth and Sky

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