Gibbston Valley's starry nights protected for the future

May 11, 2024

The exceptionally starry nights in the Gibbston Valley are now officially protected, in what is a first for the Queenstown Lakes District.

A 25-square-kilometre area on Queenstown's outskirts has this week been designated an International Dark Sky Park by an organisation seeking to protect dark corners of the globe by limiting light pollution.

While DarkSky International has now certified nine spots around the country, the Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park is its first in the Queenstown Lakes District.

In a statement by DarkSky International, district mayor Glyn Lewers says he finds it "particularly pleasing" the success of the application stems from his council's lighting strategies and polices that work to "protect and promote this increasingly valuable natural resource".

Amber Harrison, of DarkSky International, says she will now seek ongoing collaboration with dark sky advocates in the Queenstown location to further enhance dark sky protections.

"Such certifications help mitigate development impacts, ensuring residents and visitors can enjoy naturally dark skies for years to come," she says.

"These zones have diligently protected rural ecology, viticulture, and the pristine night sky."

Supporters anticipate the accreditation will open up new opportunities in dark sky tourism, particularly due to the closeness of an international airport down the road in Frankton.

The 'Kawarau Gibbston Dark Sky Park' is 25 square kilometres, including the Gibbston Character Zone and the Gibbston Valley Resort Zone, between Queenstown and Cromwell.

Flanked by mountains, the park boasts clear dark night views of central regions of the Milky Way galaxy, Magellanic Clouds, and the Aurora Australis.

It is home to 280 residents, numerous vineyards and cellar doors, and accommodation businesses. 

The application for certification was developed by the Gibbston Community Association following unanimous community approval at the group's last Annual General Meeting.  

Chair Rose Cross says, "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 Lomas, the owner of Te Whenua Retreat, says visitors to the Gibbston Valley can now claim to stay in "five-billion star accommodation".   

Work is underway to look to expanding the dark sky status into the Remarkables and Pisa Conservation Areas, and to include the neighbouring communities of Cardrona, Bannockburn, and Lowburn. 

Main image (Wikimedia Commons): Large and small Magellanic Clouds viewed from New Zealand.

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