Image by Guthrie Kuckes

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is comprised of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin of New Zealand’s South Island. It is the world’s largest such reserve (4,367 square km), the first in the Southern Hemisphere, and the first to be declared with gold tier status, the highest that can be accorded. Its formation is a recognition of the pristine skies of the Mackenzie Region which are essentially completely free of light pollution.

 

Lighting ordinances were introduced by the Mackenzie District Council in the 1980s to protect the night skies from light pollution. They have not only helped minimise light pollution for the nearby Mt. John Observatory, but also conserve energy, protect wildlife and make the area a popular stargazing destination for tourists.

The Mackenzie District gained an international reputation for the quality of its night skies, which has supported the growth of many astro-tourism businesses and formation of the AMIDSR.

 

The natural night has played a critical role in the history of the region as its first residents, the Māori, not only used the night sky to navigate to the island but also integrated astronomy and star lore into their culture and daily lives. The reserve seeks to honour that history by keeping the night sky a protected and integral part of the areaʼs natural and cultural landscape. It is a perfect place to protect and honour those traditions as the Mackenzie Basin has the clearest, darkest and the most spectacular night sky in New Zealand.

Location
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is 4,367 square km, comprised of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin of New Zealand’s South Island. The reserve includes Lake Tekapo and the Godley Valley; Lake Pukaki; and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park within Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Site.
The Night Sky
The lack of light pollution, the clarity of the night sky and the wide open vistas of the Mackenzie Basin are features that make this site special and distinguish it from other locations around the world with equally beautiful night-time vistas. The night skies correspond to the Bortle class of 2, representing a virtually pristine night sky
Landscape
The Mackenzie Region is located in the centre of the South Island and is the largest intermontane basin, or ‘plateau amongst mountains’, in New Zealand. The dramatic landscape was shaped by glaciers and features huge glacial lakes and golden tussock lands ringed by snow-capped mountains.