The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has now signed off accreditation for an area covering the Carterton and South Wairarapa Districts.

This ensures Wairarapa night skies are kept pristine and remain among the best in the world.

With official international recognition of Wairarapa’s Dark Sky Reserve status now confirmed, the potential for tourism and downstream economic benefits for the region are astronomical, says Destination Wairarapa.

“The Dark Sky Reserve status is a great win for our region,” says Anna Nielson, General Manager of Destination Wairarapa, the Regional Tourism Organisation.

“The potential for future tourism development around dark sky themes greatly enhance the range of experiences we already offer visitors and locals.”

Already a number of Wairarapa businesses and enthusiasts offer people the chance to be guided through the night sky with telescopes, and such experiences have been gaining in popularity over the last few years.

With the solid backing of the Reserve status as a platform, space-themed experiences are to be further developed in the Wairarapa as the demand increases for interpretive and educational experiences, Nielson said.

Dark skies experiences offer year-round appeal to visitors. This is a boon for the region which traditionally had seen less tourism activity in winter months.

“Our vision is also to grow strong cultural aspects to the dark skies sanctuary,” adds Nielson. “In time, we would like to draw upon the unique Wairarapa perspective of Matariki and share local stories about the region, its history and incorporate Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) into the mahi.”

Nielson said Wairarapa’s proximity to Wellington is an exceptional point of difference for star lovers – the new Reserve is one that’s not off the beaten track and arguably, the most accessible of the 21 protected Dark Sky Reserves in the world. It’s hoped it will draw Wellington locals and visitors from further afield and tempt them to stay for longer.

Wairarapa already enjoys a solid reputation for world-class vineyards, wine production, stunning accommodation, and an array of food and lifestyle attractions. Staying on a few extra days for a ‘visit to the stars’ will be another gem for visitors who travel the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. Wairarapa sits right at the heart of this wine and food route which runs along State Highway 2. Martinborough Wine Village, packed with charm, is home to 20, mainly family-owned wineries all within easy walking or cycling distance of each other.

The reserve accreditation process for Wairarapa has been at least five years in the making.

Hopeful of a successful dark sky application, astro-tourism was identified in the region’s Destination Management Plan, finalised last year. Nielson said the plan is a critical document which spells out policies and actions to ensure tourism grows sustainably, and continues to provide social, environmental, cultural and economic benefits for every Wairarapa community.