History of the Reserve

Following a detailed application made by the Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Working Party in January 2012, the Reserve was created and then recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association, based in Tucson, Arizona. The recognition of the new reserve was announced at the opening of the Starlight Conference held in Tekapo in June 2012.

The Dark Sky reserve is recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association, which is the international body giving accreditation for Dark Sky Reserves and Dark Sky Places world-wide. http://darksky.org/idsp/reserves/aorakimackenzie/

Location and Landscape

The surrounding rural areas and communities of Twizel, Mt Cook Village and Tekapo

There are three small communities inside the Reserve. They are Lake Tekapo Village (population about 300), Twizel population 1200) and Mt Cook Village (population 250). These are the permanent resident populations, but the figures in all three communities more than double with the tourist population in the summer months. See General information on Lake Tekapo (Tekapo Tourism website)Twizel, and Aoraki/Mt Cook website for more information.

The landscape in the Reserve outside these communities comprises a vast high country tussock plateau called the Mackenzie Basin, right in the centre of New Zealand’s South Island, carved out by glaciers in past ice ages, the last one being some 18,000 years ago. Apart from tourism, the main economic activity in the Mackenzie Basin is sheep farming.

The Basin is ringed by mountains in all directions, the Southern Alps and Ben Ohau Range to the west, the Two Thumb Range to the east, the Sibbald Range to the north. And a hundred kilometers to the south, the Hawkdun Range in Central Otago is nearly always clearly visible. In the centre of this magnificent panorama is Mt John, known as a roche moutonnée for its glacial formation – a mere pimple in a vast landscape, resembling the central peak of a lunar crater.

But this is not all: Lake Tekapo, stretching 25 km north to south, radiates with a magnificent turquoise-blue hue. The colour, which looks impossibly vibrant for any creation of nature, is explained by scattering of the violet rays of sunlight by fine glacial silt particles suspended in the water. Lake Pukaki, some 30 km in length, is also inside the reserve, and its waters are a milkier pale blue, being more heavily laden with glacial silt.


The purple boundary shows the area within which the Mackenzie District Lighting Ordinance operates. The Ordinance controls exterior lighting in use (type of lights allowed, times at which they may be on, the need for full-cut off luminaires and the requirement to filter light sources that emit blue light.)

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve includes also the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (shown hatched) and the narrow area between the National Park and the region covered by the Mackenzie District Lighting Ordinance. Department of Conservation lighting controls apply in the National Park.

Map produced by Mackenzie District Council, 2013

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the world’s largest such reserve (4367 square km), the first in the southern hemisphere and the first to be declared with gold tier status, the highest that can be accorded, and its formation is a recognition of the pristine skies of the Mackenzie which are essentially completely free of light pollution. 

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is managed by a board of dedicated people with wide ranging skills and interests. Our purpose is to preserve the dark sky reserve, provide outreach and education, promote star-gazing and astro-tourism and protect astronomical research at Mt John University Observatory.

Royal Astronomical Society of NZ (President); University of Canterbury; Christchurch.

Representing the local community, AMIDSR treasurer, Twizel.

AMIDSR Board Secretary, amateur astronomer, Geraldine.                   

Past Superintendent of Mt John Observatory, Manager of the Reserve, Lake Tekapo.

Chair of the AMIDSR Board, Invercargill


Director of Mt John Observatory University of Canterbury, Christchurch.            

Tourism Sector, Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat & Pukaki Observatory, Lake Pukaki

Tekapo farmer and environmentalist, Tekapo

CR ANNE MUNRO                Representing Mackenzie District Council, Fairlie.

HON MARGARET AUSTIN          Advisor on world heritage issues; honorary board member

Department of Conservation, Twizel.

VICTORIA CAMPBELL  Representing Maori perspectives on Astronomy. Kāi/Ngāi Tahu.