New international dark sky sanctuary revealed on New Zealand's Stewart Island

The stars are shining brightly on Stewart Island/Rakiura which has just been officially recognised for its exceptional night sky quality.

The stars are shining brightly on Stewart Island/Rakiura which has just been officially recognised for its exceptional night sky quality.

It’s already a conservation sanctuary but now Stewart Island/Rakiura - New Zealand’s third largest island - has also been recognised as an international dark sky sanctuary. 

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) confirmed last Friday (4.01.19) that the island has been successful in its application for the establishment of an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. 

IDA Dark Sky Places Program Manager Adam Dalton said the successful accreditation, which makes Stewart Island/Rakiura the fifth Dark Sky Sanctuary, and only the second island sanctuary (the first is also in New Zealand) in the world, was unanimously endorsed by the IDA Board.

“Stewart Island/Rakiura’s pristine night skies are a rare treasure and through the sanctuary’s enacted policies the area will remain a resource in a world where access to the night sky is becoming increasingly scarce,” Dalton said. 

Alongside highlighting Stewart Island/Rakiura’s exceptional night sky quality, Dalton said the application demonstrated strong community and institutional support.

Stewart Island /Rakiura is located off the bottom of the South Island. At 46 degrees south and 168 degrees east there are few other landmasses that share the same outlook. 

“Our clean atmosphere also allows for clear views, unlike many large and populated countries,” explains Amie Reid from Venture Southland, which was involved in the application process. 

In addition to the chance of running into a kiwi while gazing at the stars, Stewart Island has another fabulous draw card. Its southern location gives it some of the best views of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) possible anywhere in the world.

The community is in strong support of the proposed Dark Sky Sanctuary and all street lights on the island have recently been upgraded to comply with the requirements of the International Dark Sky Association.
Stewart Island’s Māori name ‘Rakiura’ (usually translated as ‘glowing skies’) tells of its special relationship with the night sky.  A fuller translation is ‘the great and deep blushing of Te Rakitamau’ an early Māori chief, seen today as the glowing sunrises, sunsets and the Aurora Australis.

The island was already inhabited by Māori when British explorer James Cook, on HMS Endeavour, first sighted the island in 1770. Sealers and whalers were among the first Europeans to live on the island. Rakiura National Park covers some 85% of the island, and the multi-day Rakiura Track is popular with hikers and birdwatchers.

The application was prepared by an independent consultant and Venture Southland in conjunction with the Stewart Island Promotion Association. The process to becoming accredited involved a collaborative effort between New Zealand Government and regional bodies, the local community and Māori tribe.  

Stewart Island Promotion Association representative Anita Geeson said that the future was looking bright for Stewart Island/Rakiura.

“The international recognition of Dark Sky Sanctuary status adds to the attraction for potential visitors, offers opportunities to island tourism operators, and acknowledges the value that the Stewart Island/Rakiura community places on environmental protection,” Geeson said.

To oversee the administration and advancement of Dark Sky principles on the Island, a Memorandum of Understanding between key parties has been established. 

New Zealand is already home to gold-rated International Dark Sky Reserve in the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island's Southern Alps, and the Dark Sky Sanctuary on Great Barrier Island off the North Island, north of Auckland. Near Wellington, the popular Wairarapa wine region also has plans to join their ranks.