Tekapo’s ‘dark sky’ status makes it a star attraction for astro-tourists

There’s nothing more magical and mysterious than a clear star-studded night sky. But over the past decades, as city lights and air pollution increasingly reduce and diffuse the skies darkness, those twinkling stars are becoming harder and harder to see.

But, as those in the know will tell you, there are some places in the world that, due to their ‘dark sky’ status, still offer amazing star-gazing opportunities.

In New Zealand, halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown is the little lakeside town of Tekapo, population 380. Day after day, thousands of tourists drive by.

Some stop for coffee or to have their photograph taken in front of the Church of the Good Shepherd or with the bronze Collie sheepdog statue over looking the lake. Others just barrel on through in rush to get to Queenstown.

Most don’t even realize that they are in one of the few ‘dark sky’ places left in the world.

If they did, more would probably stop for the night and take in a tour of the Mt John Observatory on the hilltop overlooking the town.

According to locals, this highly accessible observatory is one of the best place in the world to view of the Milky Way and explore the center of the universe.

Currently only about 14,000 tourists a year actually stop for the night and make the trek up the hill to the observatory.

But that’s expected to increase now that Tekapo and the surrounding Mackenzie Basin area has just been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve.

One of only four dark sky reserves in the world, it is, at 4300 square-kilometers, not only the biggest one to date but also the only one in the Southern hemisphere.

 (photo credit:  Aurora over The Church of the Good Shepherd, Tekapo by  Fraser Gunn / Bronze Collie sheepdog by Liz Lewis)


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