New 'dark sky' reserve planned for Hokianga

By Jessica Tyson

A new dark sky reserve being considered for North Hokianga could be a new opportunity to teach people about traditional Māori astronomy, say experts.

A dark sky reserve is a place which restricts the amount of artificial light, resulting in less light pollution.  So far there are only 13 in the world, including the largest at Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

Māori astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua says the new sky reserve would help people connect to Ranginui, the atua of the sky according to Māori mythology.

“There is beauty in the night sky and beauty in darkness and our ancestors understood that.  What we’re doing by allowing too many lights is that we’re severing a bond that we have with Ranginui," he says.

“We’ll never know the beauty of Ranginui and his korowai unless we ensure that there are places that maintain absolute darkness at night.”

Far North District Council community development adviser Ken Ross, who is working on the project, says the reserve could help expand tourism and marae-based activities in the area.

Since visitors would need to stay overnight, and since there aren't many options of accommodation in North Hokianga, tourists would have the option to stay at local marae.

“The natural development will come from either small Air BnB type arrangements or people starting to work from marae,” says Ross.

Multiple indigenous communities around the world have set up similar reserves according to International Dark Sky Association places program manager Adam Dalton.

“Something to be mindful about is the incredible history and the unique perspective of the indigenous cultures, and to be very respectful of that, and to not come in trying to force an idea, but to come and listen,” says Dalton.

He says the reserve would also have environmental benefits because many plants and animals determine the time of year from the length of the night.

When nights are no longer dark due to man-made light, plants flower and animals produce hormones at the wrong time of year.

Ross says the council needs the support of the local community to make it happen.

“Then we can start focusing on getting everybody on board and getting representatives of the areas and key marae to take this further,” says Ross.

The reserve would also need to meet criteria set by the International Dark Sky Association to give it the official dark sky status.