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McKenzie Country recognised for gold status skies

Published: 7:33PM Sunday June 10, 2012 Source: ONE News

The South Island's remote McKenzie Country has been named one of the best star-gazing sites on earth.

Scientists from around the world have gathered in Tekapo, home of the Mt John Observatory, for the International Starlight Conference.

The three-day event kicked off this evening with a big announcement for the small tourist town, the worldwide Dark-Sky Association is making the area a gold-status reserve.

Margaret Austin of the Starlight Reserve Working Party said the recognition will "put McKenzie onto the international stage".

"It says to the world the McKenzie has got a night sky that is of great quality."

It is now the world's largest Dark Sky reserve, spanning 4300 kilometres, including the Aoraki/Mt cook National Park and the McKenzie Basin.

Gold status indicates the skies have almost no light pollution. Over 50% of the world's population can not see the stars because of light pollution.

However, Tekapo introduced controls 30 years ago, such as directing outdoor lighting downwards.

Friedlel Pas of International Dark-Sky Europe says achieving gold status is quite exceptional.

"There are only currently only two reserves, and just one park around the world [with gold status]."

The achievement could also boost astro-tourism for the area, other reserves have seen immediate increases of around 30%.

Campaigners in the region are still aiming for the skies to be name a world heritage site.