Council celebrates South Wairarapa’s Dark Sky status

South Wairarapa District Council congratulates the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association (Association) on achieving international dark sky reserve status over South Wairarapa and Carterton.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has accredited the Association’s application, giving our region world recognition as one of the biggest dark sky reserves in the world.

South Wairarapa Mayor Martin Connelly said it was a tremendous achievement by the Association and involved many years of work, support and cooperation of many other groups throughout the region.

“We always knew we had a wonderful night sky, now the world knows,” he said.

Viv Napier, chair of the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association and a former South Wairarapa Mayor, said the news followed five years of effort and was the result of outstanding work by a number of dedicated people.

“We know there are massive environmental and social benefits from reducing the scatter of light at night, and we want to thank the communities of Martinborough, Featherston, Greytown, and Carterton for their support.”

The Wairarapa now joins 20 other International Dark Sky Reserves around the world, and one other New Zealand dark sky reserve in the Aoraki-Mackenzie region.

Covering an area of 3665 square kilometres, it is hoped the Wairarapa reserve will in time be extended to include Masterton.

To support the application, South Wairarapa District Council approved a change to the Wairarapa Combined District Plan in 2021 to minimise light pollution in the night sky.

This included changes to lighting rules around sports grounds and the rollout of downward tilting, warm-coloured street lights that contain the light’s spread.

The reserve is expected to bring significant economic benefits from astro-tourism, particularly because of the Wairarapa’s accessibility.

As an activity which improves in winter, stargazing is also expected to tie in nicely with local winter events such as Featherston Booktown and Greytown’s Mid-Winter Christmas festival.

While the economic benefits are promising, the Dark Sky Association says its first aim has been conservation. Light pollution has reached a point where 80 per cent of the world’s population can no longer see the kind of skies the Wairarapa is used to.

Dark Sky Reserves require a core area of quality sky and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports the core’s preservation.

For Wairarapa, the core zone will be the Aorangi Forest Park, a 194sq km protected area managed by the Department of Conservation.

Aside from supporting the reserve application, switching the district’s street lighting to dark sky compliance is expected to have several other benefits.

It should reduce electricity costs, maintain the natural environment for plants and animals, and should enable residents to sleep better with lower light levels.

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