Economic, Environmental and Health Benefits

Economic Benefits

The opportunities afforded by a Dark Sky Community (DSC) to stimulate low impact tourism activities are well documented in other regions of New Zealand that have established similar reserves:

  • For the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, 53% of accommodation providers in the wider region promote dark skies in their publicity material, while at least eleven astro-tourism ventures had been established by 2019, with the largest owned by Ngai Tahu employing 100 staff prior to Covid
  • Aotea-Great Barrier Island, accredited in 2017, has seen a tourism increase of about 30% a year, along with the establishment of five new Astro-tourism businesses and an iwi adopting dark sky offerings
  • In the Rakiura Stewart Island Sanctuary, two specialist stargazing businesses are operating.

The Coromandel is easily accessible from Auckland International Airport the main travel gateway for New Zealand.  It is also a hotspot for domestic tourists which form 80% of the current visitor market. The Kūaotunu Dark Sky Community will be ideally located to engage with this market.

The Coromandel’s historic astronomical associations with early Polynesian navigators and Captain Cook’s observation of the transit of the planet Mercury in 1769 are a unique attraction for astronomy-minded visitors. (see panel opposite).

Dark Sky accreditation will encourage other businesses in the region to incorporate the Dark Sky experience into their offerings, as well as the establishment of new astrotourism businesses.

Star Gazing is already highlighted as an activity on the key Coromandel tourism website, and IDA recognition will add significantly to the attraction of the specified area, which will spill over to other areas of the Coromandel – even more so if the initial recognised area is expanded as hoped for in the future.

    It is worth noting that star gazing is best carried out in the winter months, helping to extend the Coromandel beyond a summer destination.

    Historical and Cultural Linkages

    According to Māori tradition, Kupe was the first Polynesian explorer to sight the Coromandel, more than 1000 years ago. He made the 2960km journey from Raiatea, Hawaiki in the mighty double canoe, Matahourua, accompanied by his family and a tohunga (navigator).  Kupe’s successful voyage to New Zealand was based on an extensive knowledge of nature, observations of wind, waves and clouds, clouds, setting sun, rising stars and phosphorescence marking the way.

    Many of Kupe’s tribe settled in Whitianga to be joined later by Toi, and then Hei, some 400 years later. Hei was the tauira (sailing master), navigating as did Kupe and Toi before him, by ocean currents, wind, and stars. Hei and his people remained in Whitianga, as do today’s descendants; the tribe Ngāti Hei. The people of Hei commemorated their leader by naming Te Whanganui o Hei, (the Great Bay of Hei) and Hahei in his honour.

    Background Image shows a section of the Māori lunar calendar and corresponding star movements


    Some 800 years after Kupe, Lieutenant James Cook visited Te-Whanganui o Hei on his first Great Voyage (1768-1771) aboard Endeavour. Cook was under orders from the British Council of the Royal Society to observe the transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the sun, establishing the geographic coordinates of New Zealand – literally placing it on the world map for the first time.

    The very first meeting with Cook’s men and Ngāti Hei resulted in a disastrous altercation but later he and members of his party visited Wharetaewa Pa, Ngāti Hei’s fortified village at Wharekaho Beach (just north of Whitianga). It was the first known visit by Europeans to a Māori pa and it is here that the first formal Māori welcome (powhiri) was offered.

    The Coromandel is therefore a place where Aotearoa New Zealand’s Polynesian and European culture first intersected through master navigators on voyages of discovery. Centuries separated the explorers’ voyages, but a visit to the area to experience the dark night sky as they did, invites contemplation of the wonders of celestial navigation, the thirst for understanding and the people who came before us.

    Background Image shows Cook’s map of Mercury Bay

    Environmental Benefits

    The detrimental effects of light pollution on all life forms are becoming increasingly well-recognised and researched in scientific communities.

    Much like humans, exposure to artificial sources of light at night – particularly blue light – is implicated in negative outcomes for plants, animals and insects.  Studies show that light pollution impacts migration patterns, wake-sleep habits, and habitat formation. Large numbers of insects, a primary food source for birds and other animals, are drawn to artificial lights and are instantly killed upon contact with light sources.

    The Kūaotunu region, where the Dark Sky Community will be located, includes all of the Project Kiwi Trust protection area.  The Trust celebrated 25 years as a kiwi conservation group in 2021, the longest serving in Aotearoa, with over 600 kiwi under its protection. The Trust is one of more than 60 volunteer-led groups in The Coromandel dedicated to the reinvigoration of the kiwi population.  Protection of the dark sky is critical to the health and future of our national nocturnal bird, and indeed, all the 107 nationally threatened species (51 flora and 56 fauna species) found in the Coromandel.

    The region’s Destination Management Plan, which was developed with much community input, prioritises regenerative actions for the benefit of the environment and biodiversity, measured by the annual increase in Coromandel kiwi population. Dark Sky accreditation is an important step towards restoring our natural world and realising our collective vision.

    For further information click on the links below.

    International Dark Sky Association

    Project Kiwi Trust

    Predator Free Hauraki Coromandel 

    Health Benefits

    National Geographic reports that “sky glow” caused by anthropogenic activities is one of the most pervasive forms of light pollution. 

    Physically, we are evolved to need darkness.  Our bodies need the 24 hour cycle of light and dark to regulate our circadian systems.  We are particularly sensitive to light in blue wavelengths, which is most intense naturally in the early afternoon. 

    Exposure to artificial sources of blue light at night, such as produced by white LED lighting or light-emitting screens, delays that circadian rhythm.  It is harder to sleep and harder to wake.  Preliminary research suggests disruption of production of the sleep-related hormone melatonin is implicated in increased risk of certain cancers.  Similarly, disruption of the circadian rhythm may favour mood disorders, cognitive dysfunction and increased risk of obesity, as well as impacting alertness and emotional processing.

    Research about the health effects of artificial light have convinced the American Medical Association to support efforts to control light pollution and conduct research on the potential risks of exposure to light at night.

    Blue Light Key Facts

    An excellent sumary of a paper on Blue Light, produced by the Royal  Society of NZ, is available below.