Night sky to attract visitors

Starry, starry night: On a clear night, the sky over the lake in Te Anau, Fiordland, is littered with stars. Photo: Laura Smith

THE stars above Fiordland could soon be part of the second-largest protected area of dark sky in the world a move welcomed by the area’s tourism industry.

Great South tourism and events general manager Bobbi Brown said last week the development agency had been working with the Fiordland community and stakeholders on the possibility of it becoming an accredited dark sky park with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

If Fiordland National Park gained accreditation, it would become the second-largest such park in the world, after Death Valley National Park in the United States.

Stewart Island was accredited in January 2019.

The new move was part of a plan to diversify the economy and attract more people to the region, which had struggled due to the impact of Covid-19, Ms Brown said.

She acknowledged it could take some time to get accredited, but said it looked promising, as Fiordland’s sky was exceptional.

In the meantime, she believed the tourism sector could explore the possibilities immediately.

“The really good thing is the best time to see the sky is in the off-peak time, in winter and autumn, so that is really cool for us because we are obviously trying to spread out the tourism throughout the year.”

Astro-tourism firms could operate without official designation, but IDA park accreditation would complement and enhance promotion of the wider Southland region as a top night sky observation destination, she said.

Ms Brown said the focus was on helping operators understand what dark sky was and the story behind it.

“We are trying to get them to incorporate this in some of their products if you have an accommodation property, a lot of them are buying telescopes as an additional thing for people to enjoy.”

Radfords On The Lake owner and Hospitality New Zealand Fiordland branch secretary Kerri James said she was excited at the news.

“I’m going to down our lights and do whatever I can to make the property more adaptable. I think the idea is great because it’s another thing families can do [here].”

Pure Salt charter operator Maria Kuster said her businesses already explored the remote areas of Fiordland which had no light pollution.

She believed accreditation was a great idea for the region.

“We do do astronomy tours and people do spend a lot of time appreciating how beautiful it is because of the lack of light pollution.