South Wairarapa and Carterton granted International Dark Sky Reserve status

Photo: Ian Cooper

SOUTH WAIRARAPA and CARTERTON DISTRICTS, New Zealand – The Districts of South
Wairarapa and Carterton of New Zealand’s North Island named Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve, has become the newest International Dark Sky Reserve certified by the International Dark-
Sky Association (IDA).

After five years of hard work by a small group of volunteers, the South Wairarapa and Carterton
Districts have been formally certified as an International Dark Sky Reserve to preserve the
region’s pristine night skies for future generations.

With broad community support, the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association (WDSA) set out to ensure the region’s dark skies would not degrade, a problem that besets some 80 percent of people worldwide.

“We are thrilled to be granted kaitiaki (guardianship) status for our sparkling dark skies by the
International body, the International Dark-Sky Association,” Wairarapa Dark Sky Association
chair Viv Napier said.

“We know there are massive environmental and social benefits from reducing the scatter of light at night, and we want to thank the communities of Martinborough, Featherston, Greytown, and Carterton for their support,” she added.

“The efforts taken by the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve are already influencing and inspiring
advocates across New Zealand,” noted Ashley Wilson, IDA’s Director of Conservation.

“This robust and successful nomination will pave the way for new certifications to arise in the near
future, providing additional protections for the natural and cultural resource that is the dark sky.”

IDA has granted the Dark Sky Reserve status to just 20 other places worldwide by the IDA.
Aoraki-McKenzie in the South Island was the first International Dark Sky Reserve in New
Zealand, certified in 2012.

Support from community groups, including local iwi and astronomical societies in Wairarapa and Wellington, as well as the region’s four local councils – South Wairarapa, Carterton, Masterton, and Greater Wellington Regional Council – was integral to the success of this certification.

The combined South Wairarapa and Carterton districts of the new Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve
cover an area of 3,665 square kilometers.

The site is surrounded by enduring protection from significant light encroachment, with the Pacific Ocean to the east and south and the Remutaka and Tararua forest ranges to the west.

WDSA already has plans to expand the reserve area to include northern Wairarapa’s Masterton district, which will encompass some 5,895 square kilometers.

WDSA wants to thank all its supporters for staying the distance on its five-year
journey, particularly sponsors who host night light-recording TESS meters, which provide
ongoing records of darkness levels across the region.

These meters help to confirm the consistently high quality of the dark skies and ensure no new light is spilling into the Reserve.
Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve now joins more than 200 Places in the International Dark Sky
Places Program worldwide that have demonstrated robust community support for dark sky
advocacy and strive to protect the night from light pollution. You can find more information about

About the International Dark Sky Places Program:
The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 as a non-regulatory and
voluntary program to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to
preserve and protect dark sites through effective lighting policies, environmentally responsible
outdoor lighting, and public education.

When used indiscriminately, artificial light can disrupt ecosystems, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change, and block our view and connection to the universe. Learn more by visiting

About the International Dark-Sky Association:
The mission of IDA is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of
dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Learn more at ,

Media Contacts
Ashley Wilson
Director of Conservation, International Dark-Sky Association
+1 520-347-5804;
Dr. Tom Love, Wairarapa Dark Sky Association
+ 64 21 440 334;

Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve given approval by World Body

Photo: Hari Mogoșanu

Southern Wairarapa has been confirmed as the world’s newest Dark Sky Reserve by a decision of the International Dark Sky Association (IDA).

Five years after deciding the pristine dark skies of the region should be preserved, protected and enhanced, Wairarapa Dark Sky Association has this week been granted formal Dark Sky Reserve recognition by the world body.

The decision underlines New Zealand as a world leader in dark sky development.

The first dark sky reserve established in Aotearoa/New Zealand was Aoraki-McKenzie in the McKenzie Basin which means Wairarapa is only the second in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Other areas, including Rakiura/Stewart Island and Aotea/Great Barrier, are designated dark sky sanctuaries by the IDA. Several other regional groups are also working for dark sky accreditation.

Recognition for the Wairarapa region comes five years after a small volunteer group set out to develop a dark sky reserve in South Wairarapa based in Martinborough. Carterton and Masterton immediately sought to be included in the project.

The sky preservation has been boosted by widespread support from community groups, local iwi, and astronomical societies in Wairarapa and Wellington, as well as buy-in from the region’s four local councils _ South Wairarapa, Carterton, Masterton and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Government agencies Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency), MaritimeNZ and the Department of Conservation have also provided significant support:

Waka Kotahi amended Wairarapa-wide street lighting plans to ensure all street lighting complies with IDA requirements;

MaritimeNZ is committed to adding land-side shielding to its three local coastal lighthouses to help protect the night sky;

DOC enabled the project by changing exterior lights on its houses and huts in Aorangi Forest Park to comply with IDA rules _ and approved the southern Wairarapa forest as the “dark core” of the reserve.

The new reserve is surrounded by enduring protection from significant light encroachment, with the Pacific Ocean to the east and south and the Remutaka and Tararua forest ranges to the west.

The newly-approved application included a strong letter of support from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Wairarapa Dark Sky Association chair Viv Napier praised the five-year effort by a small group of dedicated volunteers for the result.

“Their foresight and endeavours has produced something really special for the Wairarapa, ensuring

the pristine night skies that perhaps many of us take for granted will be protected for future

generations,” she said.

Napier was mayor of South Wairarapa District Council, based in Martinborough when the idea of protecting the night skies first gained traction.

“There are also significant potential environmental and economic benefits, with our international status opening up huge opportunities for tourism,” she added.

Initial work on expanding the newly-minted Dark Sky Reserve to cover the Masterton region will begin in 2023.

 The combined South Wairarapa and Carterton districts of the reserve cover an area of 3,665 square kilometres. With Masterton district added, the expanded reserve will encompass some 5,895 sq km.

And, hopefully, with no light spill or night-sky glare being generated from the whole region.

The whole project has strong historic links, Napier noted.

_Polynesian explorer Kupe _ using the same night skies for navigation _ twice visited the southern Wairarapa Coast some 800 years ago. “Kupe’s Sail” rock today recognises his voyages using celestial navigation. Maori named the nearby Cape Palliser “Matakitaki-a-Kupe” _ the gazing of Kupe.

_English explorer James Cook _ using the same celestial bodies _ visited the same coastal area in 1770, naming Palliser Bay (also known as Kawakawa Bay) after English Royal Navy Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser.

_New Zealand’s first Comptroller of Customs, Stephen Carkeek, retired to a farm near Featherston and built New Zealand’s first private astronomical observatory in 1868. The Carkeek Observatory was listed as a Heritage 1 historic building and site in 2021 by HeritageNZ, following strong advocacy by Wairarapa Dark Sky Association.

_Carter Observatory, New Zealand’s first National Observatory based in Wellington, was founded/funded by former Wairarapa – and Carterton – politician Charles Rooking Carter. The town is named after him.

The Wairarapa Dark Sky Association thanks all of those who have provided support for this community initiative: local and regional councils, the Prime Minister and local MP, regional Iwi, Department of Conservation, community groups, local businesses and sponsors.


                  Chair Viv Napier  021499764

                  Secretary Ray Lilley 0212222100

Wairarapa Dark Sky Association _ Project Update, September 2021

Sponsors, members and supporters:

After nearly four years of hard mahi, the WDSA committee expects to file its formal application for international Dark Sky Reserve status by month’s end! We are pleased to report our group was able to move forward quite quickly to preparing the formal application once the South Wairarapa and Carterton District Councils signed off the region’s lighting plan changes at the end of June.

As you may know, formal lighting plans which meet International Dark Sky Association requirements are critical for any application to be accepted and proceed. WDSA had kept up its liaison with IDA through the plan process to ensure the changes (which will be significant as the region goes forward) met all requirements.

IDA clearly signalled its approval of the proposed plan changes, testament to the work which went into them from the councils and their consultant.  

We submitted an initial draft for the IDA

The application document, including maps, plans and photos, is in final form, with an initial draft filed to IDA for their comment, as required. It has involved many hours of effort by our volunteer team,  with data collection/processing and drafting the two major work streams over the past several weeks.

Once the IDA has reviewed the draft and provided feedback, WDSA expects to submit the final version of the application in the next few weeks _ regardless of Covid-19 status.

While we have met our internal completion deadline, the IDA has advised that at its end it is currently inundated with applications _ meaning WDSA will be joining a queue seeking approvals.

Our hope is that we will emerge from the IDA process by no later than early next year, or sooner.

Support by all four regional bodies (South Wairarapa, Carterton, Masterton, Wellington Regional Council) has been outstanding and deserves public recognition.

The group is currently assessing a proposal to enter Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with these bodies as WDSA’s status changes and it becomes the body responsible for maintaining the dark sky reserve’s status into the future.

The IDA requires mandatory annual reporting on developments _ particularly improvements _ to the reserve, based on the benchmarks established at its approval point.

Our sponsors

WDSA also wants to acknowledge its sponsors, including the Provincial Growth Fund; Westpac Bank; U.S. Embassy; South Wairarapa, Carterton and Wellington Regional Councils; plus the businesses which have funded and host night sky-monitoring TESS meters across the region _ providing a permanent data record of the dark skies:

The Claremont Hotel

Pain & Kershaw Martinborough

The Martinborough Hotel

Ata Rangi Martinborough

Mitre 10 Martinborough

Susan Stephen & Co Realty

Web site design and support:


Formal letters of support for the Dark Sky Reserve, which help indicate public support for the dark sky project by official groups and individuals, have been received from:

Prof Yvonne Cagle _ M.D. Astronaut, Aerospace Professor

Waka Kotahi _ NZ Transport Agency

Maritime NZ

Department of Conservation

South Wairarapa District Council

Masterton District Council

South Wairarapa Maori Standing Committee

Martinborough Community Board

Greytown Community Board

Carterton District Council

Kieran McAnulty, MP

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister

Destination Wairarapa

Heritage NZ

Wellington Astronomical Society

New Zealand Astrobiology Network

Phoenix Astronomical Society

NZ Forest & Bird

South Wairarapa District Council has supported proposals by WDSA to ensure the preservation of the Category 1 listed Heritage building Carkeek Observatory, built near Featherston  in 1868 and likely the oldest remaining observatory of its type in New Zealand.

An archeological architect is working on plans to protect and preserve the remains of this wooden structure, built by retired government Controller of Customs Stephen Carkeek for atronomy and celestial observations.

The iconic “ruins” – so-called by Heritage NZ in their heritage listing report – can be preserved, and work is under way to plan the process involved.

Like a moth to a flame

Light pollution is bad for insects too.

The story of the dark sky is more than one of stargazing and astronomy. It has become one of human and animal /insect /plant well-being as light pollution intensifies and spreads itself through its terrestrial impacts. This BBC science item is the latest to underline the impact of light on the natural world.

Ray Lilley, Wairarapa Dark Sky Association
Continue reading “Like a moth to a flame”

Statement: Wairarapa Dark Sky Association _ 30 June 2021

                 Wairarapa Councils take key step toward international dark sky status

“This is a critical step for the Wairarapa community as it heads towards establishing a dark sky reserve across the region,” chair of Wairarapa Dark Sky Association, Viv Napier, said Wednesday.

The comments follow approvals by South Wairarapa and Carterton District Councils of lighting plan ordinances that will ensure outside lighting in the two areas meets international dark sky reserve requirements.

At meetings Wednesday the councils formally adopted new lighting controls which are needed to comply with the rules of the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) for formal dark sky reserve status.

The changes will allow the two councils to better manage and control light pollution across the region.

“South Wairarapa and Carterton are ahead of most other councils in incorporating dark sky lighting controls in their district plans,”  Viv Napier said.

The councils, together with Masterton District Council, have worked to develop the new lighting rules over nearly two years. The IDA has already indicated strong support for the rule changes, expected to come into force almost immediately.

New lighting rules need to be in place before the dark sky group can submit a dark sky reserve application to the IDA.

“The international body had given its endorsement to the plans ahead of their adoption,” Mrs Napier said.

Key changes to the current lighting ordinances include:

– new outdoor lighting must be tilted down or shielded so the light goes out and down _ preventing glare and sky glow;

– ensure the “colour temperature” of lights is 3,000 Kelvin or under; higher Kelvin ratings mean the light is whiter and contains more undesirable “blue” light;

– outdoor lights on a 5-minute or less lighting sensor/timer are exempt from the above rules;

– sport and recreation lighting to address/control light pollution, requiring fewer resource consent approvals for sports recreation facilities to install compliant outdoor lighting.

– the new rules only apply to new lighting. The aim within 10 years: 80% of our outdoor lighting will comply with International Dark Sky requirements. When lighting is replaced or renewed it should comply with the new rules.

“Our volunteer group wants to put on record its sincere thanks to Councillors and planning staff for the interest and support they have given the dark sky conservation project which we began nearly four years ago,” she said. “Good things always take a little time.”



Formal international dark sky reserve status will be sought later this year.

South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton District Councils, together with Greater Wellington Regional Council, have supported the international dark sky accreditation process for the range of environmental, conservation, economic, social and cultural benefits it will offer to the region.

Viv Napier, chair WDSA (021499764)

Blue Light Aotearoa

In 2018, The Royal Society of New Zealand, Te Apārangi published a study called: “Evidence Summary on how our increasing exposure to artificial blue light is putting us at risk in New Zealand“.

This paper summaries the latest evidence on this topic and explores what we can do to protect ourselves and the environment from the effects of exposure to artificial blue light outside daylight hours.