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Dark Sky Project launches in Takapō

A new home of astronomy has opened in Takapo offering the world’s first indoor, multimedia experience that combines Maori astronomy and science.

Dark Sky Project, formerly Earth & Sky, today opened the doors to its new 1140sqm building on the Takapō lakefront. The centre includes the Dark Sky Diner, offering a range of delicious options both day and night, and will be the departure point for the astro-tourism business’s outdoor, evening stargazing experiences.

Mana whenua from Arowhenua, Waihao and Moeraki rūnanga blessed the building, named Rehua, and the Governor-General of New Zealand, Her Excellency The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, opened the new experience. Dark Sky Project is a joint venture between Ngāi Tahu Tourism and co-founders Graeme Murray and Hide Ozawa.

Mr Murray says it has been incredible to watch the building 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 nine metres tall and was in storage for five decades before being restored in Fairlie 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 Ōtehīwai (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.”

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 Ngāi Tahu Tourism in 2016.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai says the $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 Ngāi Tahutanga. It will further enhance the Ngāi Tahu contribution to regional development and job creation – mō tātou, ā, mō ka uri ā muri ake nei. 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.”

Ngāi 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 Takapō can enjoy the 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 Takapō where they can look up at the clearest, darkest skies,” Mr Hall says.

With Takapō 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 – there is no better place for a new home of astronomy.