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

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
WDSA at https://wairarapadarksky.nz/.

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 visitinghttp://www.darksky.org/conservation/idsp.

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 ,darksky.org.

Media Contacts
Ashley Wilson
Director of Conservation, International Dark-Sky Association
+1 520-347-5804; ashley@darksky.org
Dr. Tom Love, Wairarapa Dark Sky Association
+ 64 21 440 334; tlove@outlook.co.nz

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”

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.



Skyglow is the brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas, which reduces the contrast of stars or other celestial objects against the dark sky background. Some stars will blend into the background and become indistinguishable. 

A cold and crisp winters night as the Milky Way rises high above the glow of the capital city, Wellington in New Zealand.


Clutter is the bright, confusing and excessive groupings of light sources, such as many lit advertisements signs in one place. 

At night, too many lights may generate confusion, distract from obstacles (including those that they may be intended to illuminate), and potentially cause accidents.

Photo by Benjamin Suter from Pexels

Clutter is particularly noticeable on roads where the street lights are badly designed, or where brightly lit advertisements surrounds the roadways. Depending on the motives of the person or organization that installed the lights, their placement and design can even be intended to distract drivers, and can contribute to accidents.