GY’s walk on the dark side



A bid to have Glenorchy recognised as a Dark Sky Sanctuary is in the works thanks to an eclectic group of locals at the head of the lake.

The 12-member GY Dark Skies Sanctuary group will submit an application to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) to have the region accredited and protected as a sanctuary.

Sanctuary status is awarded to remote locations possessing exceptional starry nights as part of an IDA programme promoting stewardship of the sky and ensuring light pollution levels are controlled.







The GY Dark Skies Sanctuary is an offshoot of the Glenorchy Heritage and Museum Group.

Its chair Leslie Van Gelder says the group is a cross-section of the community who see themselves as ‘‘an intergenerational heritage project’’.

‘‘We see the dark skies as probably the most unifying thing possible … everybody can access the sky.

‘‘If we can get this designation for this region, it would be such a wonderful asset in terms of dark skies tourism and regenerative tourism, and we treasure the sky here.’’

The group, which recently began measuring the darkness of the sky during the new moon, is part of a consortium of six other Otago dark skies groups coordinated by Winterstellar Charitable Trust.

Its chair and local astrophysicist professor Brian Boyle says the role of Winterstellar is to enable the sharing of knowledge and resources between the existing dark skies groups in the region.

‘GY could be a leader’: Astrophysicist professor Brian Boyle

‘‘I think Glenorchy could play a really important microcosm, particularly because of the smarts of the individuals and the experiences of individuals that are already there, to
really act as a leader in this fashion,’’ he says.

Advancing the case for an Otago-wide approach to sky protection, Boyle says GY’s low
light pollution and proximity to the geomagnetic circle, which allows a greater visibility of
aurorae, presents cultural and economic opportunities for the district.

‘‘I really come from the side of the benefits that dark skies can bring to Otago,  particularly Glenorchy, in terms of reinforcing the message about regenerative tourism that we need as a region, reinforcing the importance of sustainability and intergenerational equity.’’

With development doubling neighbouring Queenstown’s night sky brightness in the past
10 years, Boyle says it’s time to view the dark sky as part of the general ecosystem.

‘‘When you think about it we’ve got DoC [Department of Conservation] looking after the
land, ORC [Otago Regional Council] looking after the water, but we’ve got nobody looking after the sky.’’

Though obtaining Dark Sky Sanctuary status is a rigorous and long process, similar to that of World Heritage site status, Van Gelder says with continued support from the community and local government, the group plans to submit an application to the IDA in the coming years.