As the world's fifth International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and only the second island sanctuary in the world, dark sky status is seeming to provide even further motivation to travel to Stewart Island/Rakiura and experience the Southern night sky.
From April to September 2019, there has been a 17% increase in visitor numbers on Stewart Island/Rakiura when compared to the same period in 2018. This is the highest increase in visitor numbers during the winter months experienced since 2013 when monitoring began.
Great South Tourism Product Development Advisor Amie Young, who worked alongside the Stewart Island Promotion Association to develop the dark sky status application and who is continuing to support the Island with its implementation, said dark sky accreditation is likely to have played a key part in this growth.
“While it is early days, initial numbers suggest that the Dark Sky Sanctuary is helping to attract visitors to the island at a time when numbers are generally low,”
Stewart Island/ Rakiura has a highly seasonal visitor economy whereby the island is at capacity during the summer months, but considerably quieter during the winter to the point where many businesses need to consider closing.
Young said that one of the many benefits of dark sky status was the ability to extend the Island’s shoulder season and prolong the benefits and value of tourism on the island in the winter months.
“Night sky viewing is at its best during winter where the nights are longer, the Milky Way is directly overhead, and there is a good chance of viewing the spectacular Aurora Australis. More people being enticed to travel south for night sky viewing, brings many economic benefits to the community and its tourism operators, all for an activity that is complementary to the islands focus on the environment and its protection,”
Stewart Island Promotion Association representative Anita Geeson said that while it would take time to determine trends, it is likely visitors are more aware of the Rakiura/Stewart Island offering as a result of the publicity associated with the island being awarded Dark Sky accreditation.
“We are still developing awareness of Stewart Island/Rakiura’s potential Dark Sky Sanctuary profile, but it will be interesting to see what effects this has upon visitor numbers during the winter months in years to come,” Geeson said.
Great South is continuing to support the Stewart Island/Rakiura community to protect its dark skies and promote its sanctuary status to visitors. This has involved developing branding and signage, attending the recent Starlight Conference to look at further opportunities and providing support to emerging operators on the island.
Great South looks forward to working alongside the Stewart Island/Rakiura community to continue to grow these positive trends and to help ensure the benefits of dark sky tourism are extended across the wider Southland region.