Image by Simon Williams – Authentic As
Submission to Central Otago District Council
Winterstellar Charitable Trust*
The Benefits of Dark Skies to Central Otago
Central Otago’s low population leads to some of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s darkest skies. From Central Otago’s location on the planet astride the 45 South parallel, the Southern Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds rise higher in our night sky and we enjoy better visibility of the Aurora Australis than 99.99% of the world’s population who live further north.
Given its global significance, this valuable dark sky resource may be deployed to enhance the economic, cultural, educational and recreational benefits for Central Otago.
Dark-sky tourism is a growing sector of the tourism market, with most of the world’s population robbed of the natural wonders of the night sky through light pollution.
Dark-sky tourism is well aligned with Central Otago’s Tourism Strategy 2018-2028 which includes respecting and leveraging environmental value. An appropriate focus on dark skies could either enhance existing visitor experiences (bike trails by moonlight, winery dinners under the Milky Way) or create new ones. Importantly, the combination of dark skies with other well-established tourist activities provides a differentiated proposition to other “dark sky” locations which struggle to provide a more rounded tourist experience outside of astronomy.
Central Otago’s Tourism Strategy 2018-2028 envisages a doubling of visitor expenditure to $378m over the decade, and improving its seasonal distribution. With its focus on the long winter evenings, dark-sky tourism is ideally suited to the latter goal. Dark sky tourism also encourages people to stay overnight in the region, an important part of maximising revenue to the region.
In respect of revenue, even if dark-sky tourism were only to result in a 1% increase in the number of tourists to the region, it would still be worth approx $4m/year to the region by 2027.
Dark skies can be used to promote understanding of Maori Culture through astronomy, including the celebration of Matariki as Aotearoa/New Zealand’s newest national holiday.
Central Otago’s dark skies also provide the ideal “citizen laboratory” for astronomy-related educational programs, fostering a science-aware society through a broad range of educational opportunities for all.
What can CODC do to maximise the opportunity and facilitate the benefits?
Protection and promotion of this resource Is essential to maximise these benefits. Protection starts with education. We value what we understand, and we protect what we value.
Central Otago’s dark skies need to become an important part of the value proposition to both visitors to the region and to residents.
While consistent with Central Otago’s Tourism Strategy, dark skies and astronomy are not explicitly mentioned as part of that strategy.
Working with the appropriate groups we recommend, CODC being a campaign to promote the importance of, and opportunities provided by, Central Otago’s dark skies.
We further recommend that CODC ensure that there is a focus on the implementation of the appropriate lighting standards on all new developments. This should not be seen as an “imposition” on development, but rather as a benefit and opportunity.
Reducing light spillage into the sky increases efficiency and effectiveness and thus reduces operating costs. The public demonstration of good lighting standards also reaffirms CODC’s commitment to sustainable development in the region.
Winterstellar Charitable Trust was established in 2022 to advance the appreciation, understanding and benefits of Otago’s dark skies and to promote Māori Mātauranga through astrophotography, astronomy and other arts.
Should CODC require further detailed work on either the implementation and/or benefits of a dark sky strategy, WCT would be happy to offer their expertise as part of any competitive process.