Stewart Island recognised for its exceptional night skies

Photography by: Rebecca Wilson-Jennings

Stewart Island/Rakiura is displaying true star quality – it has just been officially recognised for its exceptional night skies

To ‘conservation sanctuary’, New Zealand’s third largest island can now add the accolade ‘international dark sky sanctuary’ after the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) confirmed in January that it has been successful in its application for accreditation. 


"Stewart Island/Rakiura’s pristine night skies are a rare treasure, and through the sanctuary’s enacted policies the area will remain a resource in a world where access to the night sky is becoming increasingly scarce," said IDA Dark Sky Places Program Manager Adam Dalton.

The island becomes only the fifth Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world, and only the second island sanctuary; the first is also in New Zealand. At 46 degrees south and 168 degrees east, there are few other landmasses that share the same outlook as the island. 

"Our clean atmosphere also allows for clear views, unlike many large and populated countries," explains Amie Reid from Venture Southland, which was involved in the application process. 

In addition to the chance of running into a kiwi while gazing at the stars, Stewart Island has another fabulous drawcard. Its southern location gives it some of the best views of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) anywhere in the world.

Stewart Island’s Maori name ‘Rakiura’ (usually translated as ‘glowing skies’) tells of its special relationship with the night sky. A fuller translation is ‘the great and deep blushing of Te Rakitamau’ an early Maori chief, seen today as the glowing sunrises, sunsets and the Aurora Australis.

The island was already inhabited by Maori when British explorer James Cook, on HMS Endeavour, first sighted the island in 1770. The process to becoming accredited involved a collaborative effort between the government and regional bodies, the local community and Maori tribe. 

Source: New Zealand Tourism

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