The dome of the Mt John Observatory at Lake Tekapo is
framed by a stunning panorama including Comet McNaught.
Photo by Fraser Gunn.
A Tekapo tourism operator's lofty dream could become a
reality, with the Mackenzie basin likely to become the world's
first heritage starlight reserve next year.
That could create a major tourist attraction for the region -
a recent Air NZ survey in Japan had potential tourists
identifying stargazing as the top attraction to get them to
New Zealand, well ahead of any other activity.
The unique proposal, outlined in a Unesco draft document, is
already attracting major international attention, with
Scotland and Hawaii two countries jumping on the bandwagon.
But the Mackenzie World Heritage starlight reserve is still
top of the list and is likely to be approved at a Unesco
conference in January, coinciding with the International Year
Graeme Murray, of Tekapo, is part of the driving force behind
the starlight reserve, but yesterday paid tribute to a vision
which arose about seven years ago at a community workshop in
Concerns were raised about the effects of development,
particularly at Tekapo, on the long-term future of the
neighbouring Mt John Observatory and how the region's "dark
sky" could be protected.
Tekapo stargazing tour operator Hide Ozawa pointed out that
people did not know how valuable that dark sky was, and
suggested a "park in the sky".
"The whole idea started from that dream," Mr Murray said.
An informal "starlight committee" has been formed, involving
some influential people, including former member of
Parliament Margaret Wilson, who is now New Zealand's Unesco
She is leading the initiative and will attend the Unesco
January conference to push the concept.
But Mr Murray said getting to the stage of preparing a draft
proposal document and calling for submissions on the proposal
was a difficult task.
"We and Unesco are still struggling with the concept because
it is so unique and has never been done before. There is no
process to follow so we are finding our own way," he said.
Mr Murray helped initiate the proposal during his term as
chairman of the Mackenzie Tourism and Development Board.
"We wanted to better protect one of the Mackenzie's most
valuable assets," he said.
Mr Murray said that the recent Air NZ survey, to identify
activities that attracted older Japanese tourists to New
Zealand, caused a real surprise when 72% identified
stargazing as the top attraction.
Glaciers and penguins ranked second equal on 48% -
coincidentally both are in close proximity at Mt Cook and
Mt John is considered the most beautiful, easily accessible
observatory in the world.