From Otago Daily Times, 24 February 2024

By Ruby Shaw

Sponsors of an astrotourism course coming to Alexandra hope it will provide the skills to share the taonga of Central Otago’s night skies with the rest of the world.

Aotearoa Astrotourism Academy (AAA) is the offering course, which will be held from April 12-14.

It is being sponsored by local group Winterstellar Charitable Trust.

Trust chief executive Andy Davey hopes the course will help local people acquire skills in astrotourism.

“We are sponsoring [AAA] bringing [the course] here … to educate more people to be able to educate more tourists and share our dark skies with them,” he said.

AAA is a non-profit organisation started in 2021 by Emeritus Prof John Hernshaw, formerly of the University of Canterbury’s astronomy department, and Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand president Nalayini Davies, to educate tourism providers in response to growing visitor numbers.

The course will include lectures and hands-on workshops.

Central Otago’s placement in the southern hemisphere provided good views of the centre of the Milky Way and the region was close to the magnetic south pole — ensuring excellent views of the aurora, Mr Davey said.

“We are lucky enough to live under the most unique, beautiful night skies in the world. That’s not just a personal point of view — that’s the science.

“There is a thirst among travellers who never get to experience that.”

Mr Davey encouraged those in the hospitality industry to take the course to better cater to people travelling to the area to enjoy night skies.

Having more people benefit from astrotourism would only increase the number of people who wanted to protect the night sky, Mr Davey said.

“I hope they learn an appreciation of what we’ve got and get an appreciation of why it’s worth protecting.

“It’s vulnerable and very easy to lose … not out of spite, just out of ignorance.”

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