New signs set to attract the eye of stargazers in the Mackenzie
Mackenzie's main tourist routes are set to be re-labelled next week ahead of the district's festival that celebrates the world renowned Dark Sky Reserve.
Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith confirmed on Monday that signage would be erected in three key locations across the district within a week, to alert motorists that the section of State Highway 8 between Fairlie and Twizel, and State Highway 80 between Lake Pukaki and Aoraki Mt Cook, has been designated as the Starlight Highway.
Smith said signs would be erected in the Fairlie township, in the Twizel township and at the turnoff to Aoraki/Mt Cook on State Highway 80.
He said the good news was timely in terms of the upcoming Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival, scheduled to begin on October 13.
The festival will host world renowned astronomers including NASA scientist Dr Natalie Batalha, who was this year named among Time magazine's 100 most influential people for her contribution to the discovery of habitable exoplanets which could sustain life.
"We are extremely pleased to get the go ahead, as this had been in planning for a long time," Smith said.
At the council's asset and services committee meeting on Tuesday, Smith said he wanted to see the signs installed by the start of the festival.
"I really want to see them in, when all these people are coming from offshore, I really want to get them in, so I can make mention of our Starlight Highway."
The Mackenzie Basin was declared the Southern Hemisphere's only International Dark Sky Reserve in 2013 and attracts tourists from around the world.
The proposal to re-name the stretch of highway was given the green light by the New Zealand Transport Agency in December 2016 and was expected to add to the district as an astro-tourism mecca.
Since 2016, the Mackenzie District has seen many changes in its astro-tourism industry, including the most recent tourism venture to enter the market in May - accommodation provider Skyscape.
Skyscape offers visitors the opportunity to stay in a small house made almost entirely of glass which offers a clear view of the Mackenzie's world-renowned night sky.
Tekapo company Earth and Sky was granted $3 million in Government funding late last year, which would be used to construct a new multi-million dollar astronomy centre for the company.
Construction was expected to start in December.
The proposal was initially put forward by astronomer Rebecca Greatrex, who pitched the idea to the Mackenzie District Council and then mayor Claire Barlow.
It was backed by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean who described it as "visionary".