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New Zealand Certified for 9th International Dark Sky Place

New Zealand Certified for 9th International Dark Sky Place

By Drew Reagan, International DarkSky Association

QUEENSTOWN-LAKES DISTRICT OF OTAGO, New Zealand — DarkSky International certified Kawarau Gibbston as an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP). The Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park is the ninth International Dark Sky Place certified by DarkSky International in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It is the first IDSP to be designated in the Queenstown Lakes District. Situated near a significant international airport, Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park opens up new opportunities in dark sky tourism to rural communities, particularly in winter.

The Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park comprises 25 square kilometers, including the Gibbston Character Zone (GCZ) and the Gibbston Valley Resort Zone (GVRZ). It is located between Queenstown and Cromwell in the Queenstown-Lakes District of Otago, Aotearoa/New Zealand. The park has 280 residents, and it is a world-renowned wine-producing region with numerous cellar doors and accommodation businesses.

Protected by the geography of gorges and high mountains, the Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park enjoys a very dark sky where the awe-inspiring structure and richness of central regions of the Milky Way galaxy, Magellanic Clouds, and the Aurora Australis are readily seen and photographed.

“We are excited to add another New Zealand site to the International Dark Sky Places program, celebrating stewardship efforts of the Character and Resort Zones and the Queenstown-Lakes District Council. Such certifications help mitigate development impacts, ensuring residents and visitors can enjoy naturally dark skies for years to come. These zones have diligently protected rural ecology, viticulture, and the pristine night sky. We look forward to collaborating with GCA advocates to enhance dark sky protections in the region further,” commented Amber Harrison, Dark Sky Places Program Manager.

The new certification celebrates the quality of the region’s sky as a valuable complementary characteristic to the region’s already world-famous Terrior. Together with the home of bungy jumping and the growing ebike tourism industry, astro-tourism opportunities bring further economic diversification opportunities for the region with its focus on social, cultural, and environmental values.

The application for certification was developed by the Gibbston Community Association (GCA) following unanimous community approval at the June 2023 AGM.  A key factor in the application’s success was the existing framework to protect the night sky quality in the GCZ and the GVRZ.

Mayor Glyn Lewers welcomed the award of Dark Sky Park status saying “I am delighted that we can announce the creation of the Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park, the first dark sky Place in Queenstown-Lakes region. It is particularly pleasing that the success of this application is founded on Council’s lighting strategies and policies as a means to protect and promote this increasingly valuable natural resource.” 

Rose Cross, chair of the Gibbston Community Association, noted, “The Gibbston Community Association was founded in 1999 with the mission to protect, preserve, and promote the unique characteristics of Gibbston as an area of special character. Today, 25 years on, we have taken the next step in that endeavour” 

Jenny Lomasowner of Te Whenua Retreat said “This is fantastic news for visitors. Now you can come to Gibbston and stay in five-billion star accommodation.”   

The creation of the Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park is the beginning of an exciting new phase for the region. Regular public dark sky events will be held in the park, and the certification will help reinforce dark skies as an important cultural resource, including the region’s Matariki celebrations. Professor Brian Boyle (GCA Dark Sky lead) notes that next steps will include looking to expand the dark sky status into the Remarkables and Pisa conservation areas, as well as the neighboring communities including Cardrona, Bannockburn, and Lowburn.

Photo Credit: The Aurora Australis, Milky Way core, and zodiacal light as seen from Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park. Copyright Brian Boyle.

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