Sky's the limit for Matatā Dark Sky Sanctuary potential

3:00 pm on 3 January 2020

The tiny Bay of Plenty town Matatā could become a Dark Sky Sanctuary if one councillor's vision comes to fruition.

Whakatane councillor Lesley Immink is looking skyward for the next big tourism opportunity

Whakatāne District Councillor Lesley Immink is looking skyward for the next big tourism opportunity. Photo: Supplied.

It's the perfect place to host stargazing tourists - once the haze from the Australian bush fires has cleared, said Whakatāne District councillor Lesley Immink. And she hopes it could attract more tourist dollars to the district.

Immink said stargazing destinations were becoming more and more popular with tourists as they sought out more authentic and spiritual experiences.

"New Zealand is poised to become a dark sky destination; Matatā is a great location for this, as it is unique with its lagoon and ocean. It offers something different to all the rest.

"It also already offers great stargazing, and it wouldn't take much to reduce its light pollution further."

As a tourism industry consultant, Immink said many tourists were looking for a unique cultural experience while on holiday, and she believed local iwi Ngāti Rangitihi could provide this.

"They could offer a Matariki showcase or tell their legends of the stars," she said.

"There are many different options in Matatā; you could have private viewings from the deck of a home, private dining under the stars, viewings on the beach, or create a track to a viewing spot on the hills behind Matatā in the bush. It wouldn't take much to set it up."

New Zealand already has four stargazing tour businesses located at Tekapo, Stewart Island, Wairarapa and Great Barrier Island, all of which attract overseas tourists.

To become an accredited Dark Sky Sanctuary or reserve, a community must organise to seek formal protection of their nightscape. There is a rigorous application process and a community must prove it has limited its light pollution and can provide "exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights".

Milky Way with sea and beach in the foreground

Great Barrier residents say the sky is so clear they can read a newspaper under the light from the night sky. Photo: Mark Russell

Immink said residents need not worry about losing street lighting because there were ways to adapt lighting to limit its effect on the sky view.

"It isn't a 'this' or 'that' situation," she said. "It's more of an 'and this, and this, and this' situation."

She said the council had also been looking at ways to extend tourist stays in the district.

"They have been considering creating more day activities, but those don't actually encourage people to stay longer. You need something overnight."

"Matatā is only 25 minutes from Whakatāne, so people can stay there overnight and drive out to see the stars. They are then more likely to do more activities the next day.

"This could be an opportunity for Matatā to create a really beautiful and authentic tourism experience."

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Newspaper Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

  • NZ's bid to become first dark sky nation: 'It's about controlling light'
  • A dark sky reserve for Wairarapa?
  • $4.6m grant to make Sir Hek's waka dream a reality
  • Centre to showcase Māori astronomy opens on Tekapō lakefront