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Coming slowly to a Remutaka Summit near you

June 13, 2024 June 2024 No Comments

By Ray Lilley

Is it a bird, is it a plane? It’s a Billboard statement to travellers that they are entering a globally-acknowledged Dark Sky Reserve – one of only 21 such high-quality star-gazing environments operating worldwide. 

Another 200 lower-ranked dark sky “places” across the globe have also been recognised by DarkSky International _ the formal accreditation body based in the United States. 

Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve will shortly place a Wairarapa dark sky image-bearing billboard at the Remutaka Summit, along with one at Waingawa in the north _ marking the boundaries of the current dark sky reserve.

The reserve was formalised by DarkSky International (DSI) in January 2023. One of the conditions placed on the Martinborough-based group is that highway billboards must be used to advise travellers they’re crossing the boundaries of such a reserve.

The Waingawa boundary, however, is temporary. 

Masterton District Council has begun work to join the current Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve – significantly expanding its 3,665 square kilometre size and adding most of the rest of the Wairarapa region to the area covered by dark sky lighting rules.

Each of the world’s dark sky reserves is based on what is known as a “core” by DarkSky International.

That core is normally the darkest segment of the reserve’s area, and in the Wairarapa it’s Aorangi Forest Park, a 194 square kilometer native forest administered by the Dept of Conservation in southern Wairarapa. 

The park has six back-country huts, with all their lighting now compliant with dark sky rules.

The 21 Reserves are regulated by DarkSky International, which requires each governing committee to act as environmental guardians, or kaitiaki, within their areas. 

This ensures that outside lighting fits within the international rules, that those rules are supported by local bylaws and in turn ensure wonderful dark sky experiences for locals and visitors alike.

Each reserve has an annual reporting requirement to DSI to confirm, by scientific measurement, that outside light glare has not increased across their area of responsibility. 

In its first such report in January this year, Wairarapa’s dark sky group was able to confirm that lighting scatter from nearby neighbours Wellington/Hutt has not increased in intensity in the past five years _ when initial measurements were taken on clear nights at sites along the Palliser Road.

As part of its on-going night monitoring programme, the group has also located TESS light measurement meters at 10 properties across the current dark sky area _ meters which are attached to power and are WiFi-linked to automatically feed on-going measurements to a University of Madrid computer system. This allows constant monitoring and recording of the reserve’s sky darkness levels.  

Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve’s part-time co-ordinator Charlotte Harding said the two new billboard road signs have been a challenge from the start. 

“It’s been slightly challenging … having to start from the ground on how to have a sign put up.

“It’s a requirement from Dark Sky International that we have to meet, and we’ve had to work out how,” on NZTA-controlled State Highway 2 and involving both South Wairarapa and Carterton councils. And the land-owners, Ngati Kahungunu. 

After finding the right contact at NZTA, plans were mapped out, criteria were confirmed, a sign concept was developed, then a designer was found. 

Next came the planning unit at South Wairarapa to “tick off the bylaws,” sort out the planning information, and establish connections with a staffer _ who later took maternity leave, delaying progress.

“That meant weeks of “a stalling block, because emails went nowhere, then we had to start again … that then highlighted we needed resource consent. Oh my God, we’ve been dealing with this for months and now have new information.”   

The focus shifted to Kahu environmental planning group, which pro bono picked up the challenge. “They were awesome and came to the party, but in their time. So it became very slow, and glacial – an incredibly slow game of chess.”

There was a second site, in a different district. There, a landowner, Ballance, offered to host the proposal, no Carterton council consent was required, just a site on a SH2 location and a builder.

Harding said that the sign in Carterton district likely will come to fruition very shortly, but in South Wairarapa “we’ve been alerted to a whole new set of consenting bylaws that … related to the State Highway that nobody had alerted us to … and we’ve been working on this for a whole year.”

The new challenge: locating the sign in the Remutaka Hill carpark “and that’s not the state highway,” Harding added. 

At least it would “still tick a box that there is a sign at the entrance to the dark sky reserve.” she said, returning to the original task.

More background:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wairarapa_Dark_Sky_Reserve

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