Lonely Planet Writer

An entire island in New Zealand has been designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary

Budding astrophotographers take note – an island in New Zealand has become the first island in the world to be designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Great Barrier Island (Aotea), located 90 kilometres from Auckland, is now poised to become an even greater attraction for travellers who love astronomy, astrophotography and ecotourism.

The night sky over Great Barrier Island.
Great Barrier Island’s stunning starry vistas have been designated an international Dark Sky Sanctuary. Image by Mark Russell (PRNewsfoto/Auckland Tourism)

What is an International Dark Sky Sanctuary?

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) launched the International Dark Sky Places programme in 2001 to recognize places that conserve and protect their night sky from light pollution. A sanctuary is different to a Dark Sky Park or Reserve, mainly due to the fact that sanctuaries are far more remote. This means that there are few threats to the darkness of the night skies – but the status is also designed to increase awareness of the sites to promote their conservation.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said in a statement that Great Barrier Island is home to a community that focuses on preserving its natural beauty, making it a perfect spot to become an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. “Great Barrier Island is a place of rugged beauty and untouched wilderness, and is one of the most tranquil and unspoiled places in the wider Auckland region,” he said. “This IDA status will help the island attract more visitors, including ecotourists, astrophotographers, scientists and students.”

The move to have the island’s incredible skies recognized came from local dark-sky enthusiasts, Gendie and Richard Somerville-Ryan, and Auckland astronomer, Nalayini Davies. They gathered the necessary evidence to support the island’s application.

Early morning overview of Kaitoke Beach with Mount Hirakimata (Mt Hobson) in background.
Great Barrier Island is now poised to attract travellers who love the night sky. Image by Paul Kennedy/Getty Images

Where can I find an International Dark Sky Sanctuary?

The island is actually only the third place in the world to be given sanctuary status from the IDA, as it’s reserved for the most isolated sites. The two others are the Cosmic Campground in the US, which is located in the Gila National Forest in western New Mexico, and the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary in Chile, which is managed by the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy Observatory in Chile and is dedicated solely to astronomical research. But, there are dark sky parks and reserves around the world that you can visit, which can be searched on the IDA’s official website.