By night, the uninhibited darkness that rises above New Zealand’s highest mountain - Aoraki Mount Cook - allows visitors to the South Island’s Mackenzie region the opportunity to experience some of the best star-gazing on the planet.
The clear night skies, devoid of urban light-pollution are so spectacular the area was officially declared a gold-rated ‘International Dark Sky Reserve’ in 2012.
Covering over 4300sq km of the Mackenzie Basin and the Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park, Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the world's largest dark sky reserve.
Astounding night sky
Every year thousands of tourists flock to the region to experience this astounding night sky phenomenon with the help of expert guides Earth & Sky.
The Tekapo-based company takes star-spotters up to the Mt John Observatory - the most southern observatory in the world - to help visitors make sense of the colourful myriad of aurorae (natural light display) meteor showers, zodiacal light, stars and planets that fill the skies above.
Not content with basking in their own ethereal light, Earth & Sky is now sharing their joy with a new international dark sky reserve.
County Kerry in South West Ireland - named in January 2014 - is the latest region to achieve gold tier international dark sky reserve status.
The declaration sparked the idea of ‘twinning’ County Kerry with New Zealand’s dark sky reserve in celebration of the achievements on opposite sides of the world. Now the thousands of tourists who visit New Zealand’s dark sky reserve can have a complementary experience in the Northern Hemisphere.
The connection between the two destinations runs deeper than their dark sky status as the night sky has played a critical and historic role in both the County Kerry and Mackenzie regions.
The early Māori of New Zealand used the night sky to navigate their paths, integrating astronomy and starlore in their culture and daily lives - something that is still celebrated to this day during Matariki or Māori New Year.
Much like the early Māori, the Neolithic inhabitants of the Iveragu Peninsula in Kerry used the night sky to their own advantage, building standing stones to map and measure the alignments of the solar and lunar cycles.
The strong affinity between the two areas prompted Earth & Sky to create a special gift - an original crafted glass trophy - in recognition of Kerry’s International Dark Sky Reserve and gold tier status.
Gaelic wording on the trophy means 'Two Dark Sky Reserves Protecting Our Dark Skies Together'.
"It is significant to have that tie back to the native tongue as it would be in New Zealand with the Māori, in respect of our forefathers," says Earth & Sky general manager Margaret Munro, who commissioned the gift on behalf of the New Zealand-based business.
"The stars represent the Southern Cross, something unique to the southern sky and the edging depicts the Southern Alps."
"Having the connection between two gold tier reserves in the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres is invaluable," says Margaret.
"The amount of traffic that’s now travelling globally between the two hemispheres is huge. We wish Kerry I.D.S.R. all the best for its success and hope that it certainly gets the global recognition the Aoraki Mackenzie I.D.S.R. got when it was given gold tier status," she added.
Background: Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve
Aoraki Mackenzie is a gold-rated dark sky reserve, in recognition of the quality of the almost light-pollution-free skies of the Mackenzie Basin. The dark sky reserve is located in the Mackenzie Basin, in the South Island of New Zealand, and includes Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, and the villages of Lake Tekapo, Twizel and Mt Cook.
Extensive testing has shown the Mackenzie Basin has the clearest, darkest and most spectacular night sky in New Zealand. A high number of clear nights throughout the year, along with the stability and transparency of the local atmosphere and its unique dark skies, contribute to the Mackenzie’s international recognition as one of the best sites for viewing and researching the southern sky.
Outdoor lighting controls - put in place in the Mackenzie region in the early 1980s - not only helps to minimise light pollution but also conserves energy, protects wildlife and helps make the area a popular stargazing destination for tourists.
Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, NZ
Heaven's above - star-gazing in New Zealand
Matariki - Māori new year celebration