With interest in astronomy arguably at an all-time high in Oamaru, the North Otago Astronomical Society says the time is right to take advantage of Cape Wanbrow’s ideal dark sky conditions.
In a submission to the Waitaki District Council on its 2018-28 draft long term plan, society president and dark sky representative Damien McNamara, with the support of the society, proposed that a starlight stellar park be founded, accompanied by a starlight stellarium.
A stellar park is an area that protects its night sky to allow observational and educational activities linked to astronomical events, such as eclipses of the sun and moon, planet alignments and meteor showers; and a stellarium is the permanent infrastructure installed in the area to observe events.
Mr McNamara proposed that a 4.43sq km area be established, and called Ma Kotukutuku Starlight Stellar Park, after the Maori pa that once sat on the cape.
That area would start at Oamaru Creek and extend to the southern end of the North Otago Golf Club, and cover from Beach Rd to the easternmost point of Cape Wanbrow, including Oamaru Harbour.
Any stellarium infrastructure would be within that area and cover an area of 0.295sq km.
Part of the proposal was that an Oamaru stone “henge” be constructed at the site of the former Oamaru landfill, which would act as an educational tool.
He also recommended the 152 street lights in the area be converted to lower-intensity LED lights.
Mr McNamara had taken a sky quality reading in the area and said it had “exceptional dark skies on clear nights” with few lighting issues.
“I think it was only Tyne St where light might be an issue, but the fact that we live in an urban environment and we’re getting these sorts of dark sky readings .. it’s worth protecting.
“I am hoping that the council recognises that the cape is already a dark sky. You’ve got multiple facets within the area – geological, wildlife and heritage, be it European or Maori.
“There are stories there that can be told.”
The proposal also had the potential to boost tourism in the district, he said.
“Astro-tourism is a must. When you look at what we’ve got in the town, tourism-wise, astro-tourism is that next progressive step to utilising what we’ve got down at the harbour and that sort of thing.
“It’s growing – it’s massive. You look at what’s happening in the Mackenzie district at the moment with Earth & Sky and Mt John [observatory] .. it makes sense for the dark sky movement to be shared around.”
For the project to go ahead, the council would need to approve lower-level LED street lights for the area, Mr McNamara said.
The society would fund the construction of the henge and needed to enter a memorandum of understanding with the council for maintenance and safety purposes.