Dark Sky Project Launches New Astro Tourism
New home of astronomy and astro tourism has opened in Takapo (on Lake Tekapo), offering the world's first indoor, multimedia experience combining Maori astronomy and science. Dark Sky Project, formerly Earth & Sky, today opened the doors to its new 1140sqm building on the Takapo lakefront.
The centre includes the Dark Sky Diner offering spectacular lake and mountain views, and a range of day and night dining options. It will be the departure point for the astro–tourism business's outdoor, evening stargazing experiences. Mana whenua / local Maori leaders from Arowhenua, Waihao and Moeraki runanga (tribal groups) blessed the building, named Rehua, and the Governor–General of New Zealand, Her Excellency Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, opened the new experience.
Dark Sky Project is a joint venture between Ngai Tahu Tourism and co-founders, Tekapo locals Graeme Murray and Hide Ozawa, who first dreamed of turning the skies above this little South Island country town into a sanctuary for the stars. Their dream evolved into a sustainability project on a major scale as the region turned itself into a dark sky sanctuary and built a reputation as one of the best night sky destinations in the world.
Murray says it has been incredible watching the development take shape, especially the moment the large observatory dome was craned on in April. The dome houses the 125–year–old Brashear Telescope, which stands up to 9m tall and was in storage for five decades before being restored over the past two years. The Victorian masterpiece is part of the new 45-minute Dark Sky Experience.
"Ever since Hide and I stood on the summit of Otehlwai (Mt John) looking up at the night sky 15 years ago, it has been our dream to develop a home for astronomy in the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, so that we could inspire a lifelong understanding and passion for our night skies," Graeme Murray said.
Rebranding Earth & Sky to Dark Sky Project and the opening of Rehua marks a huge milestone in the business's journey since it began in 2004 and entered into a partnership with iwi–owned tourism operator Ngai Tahu Tourism in 2016. Lisa Tumahai, Kaiwhakahaere (chief executive) of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, says the NZ$3 million in government funding provided by the Tourism Growth Partnership fund in 2016 was the kick–start the $11 million development needed.
"The Dark Sky Project is a world–class tourism experience that exhibits the values that unite us and our Ngai Tahutanga. I truly commend mana whenua, and all involved in the creation of an authentic experience that will see our ancestors' stories told to the world." Ngai Tahu Tourism Chief Executive Quinton Hall says Rehua will be a key facility in the Mackenzie region, ensuring the hundreds of thousands of people who transit through Takapo can enjoy lakefront dining both day and night, and an astronomy experience in any weather conditions. "Dark Sky Project will add significant value to the region as more places around the world lose sight of their stars and visitors seek out places like Takapo where they can look up at the clearest, darkest skies," Hall says. With Takapo in the middle of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest dark sky reserve in the world and the first to receive gold status.
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