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Premium dark sky experience set to open


Martinborough’s status as a dark sky destination will be given a major boost when the highly anticipated Star Field observatory complex and astronomy centre opens later this month.

Located just ten minutes-drive from the Martinborough Town Square, Star Field Martinborough is a premium dark sky experience, says founder John Whitby.

A keen astronomer and astrophotographer, John spent five years searching for the perfect site to build his observatories. The site at Ruakokoputuna, in the hills behind Martinborough, has pristine skies due to the exceptionally low light pollution aided by excellent topography and a dry climate, he says.

At Star Field, visitors will be treated to an evening of star gazing with guides taking them on a journey through space and time. They will learn about the importance of constellations, the science of stars, looking closely at our Solar System, planets, and how to read the sky using celestial navigation.

“We will delve further back in time with telescope viewing of deep sky treasures; exploding stars, galaxies and globular star clusters, the light from which has taken millions of years to travel to us,” John says.

John says his fascination with the cosmos started about 20 years ago.

“Once you get the bug, you don’t lose it.”

The premium dark skies around Martinborough have taken his passion to a new level.

“For me it’s just as important to share Martinborough’s wonderful dark skies with fellow experienced astronomers as it is with people who have never seen stars close up before.”

Star Field is working closely with the Martinborough Dark Sky Society (now Wairarapa Dark Sky Society) to help make it a 'Gold Standard' International Dark Sky Reserve. If successful, Martinborough will become one of three internationally recognised dark sky locations in New Zealand and one of a handful in the world.

The Wairarapa Dark Sky Society secured $100,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund earlier this year to support their application for Dark Sky Reserve Accreditation.

Destination Wairarapa general manager David Hancock says Star Field is a significant addition to the tourism landscape in Wairarapa.

“Astro-tourism has huge potential, there is already strong evidence of this elsewhere in the country,” David says.

While premium dark skies are the main drawcard for astro-tourists, a further feather in the cap for Star Field and future dark sky businesses in the region is the close proximity to Wellington, he says.

“The places that stargazers look for are usually remote, but for Martinborough it is literally just over the hill from the capital city."

“Visitors can spend an afternoon in vineyards, villages or at the beach before dinner, and then head off for a night exploring the universe beyond what you can see with the human eye.”

Star Field Martinborough’s first tour is on Friday 18 October. Tours operate Friday to Sunday, plus weekdays by arrangement. Bookings are essential at www.starfield.nz

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