Would you sail the South Pacific for two days and two nights to reach the very darkest night skies on the planet?
Light pollution is everywhere, and though together we could bring dark skies back to towns and cities, the latest certifications issued by the International Dark Sky Association only add to the list of reasons to travel to truly remote areas.
Welcome to the ‘Pitch-Black Bucket-List’. The newest members, the Pitcairn Islands and South Africa‘s !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park, are both remote International Dark Sky Sanctuaries (IDSS) with exceptional, pristine dark skies the likes of which few people have experienced.
Rhiannon Adam www.visitpitcairn.pn
Mata ki te Rangi, Tahitian for “Eyes to the Sky”, is the official name for all four islands (Pitcairn, Oeno, Henderson, and Ducie) of the remote Pitcairn Islands, which are located in the deep South Pacific between New Zealand and Peru. Pitcairn, Oeno, Henderson, and Ducie are all part of the new 520,000 square mile Mata ki te Rangi International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the South Pacific.
It’s the first British Overseas Territory, and only island group in the world, to have been granted IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary status. “It is fantastic to see Pitcairn recognized as one of just nine Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world,” said Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK Minister of State for the Overseas Territories. “This will help make Pitcairn an outstanding destination for stargazers, tourists, and scientists worldwide and provide a welcome boost to the local economy.”
Best known for being home to the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers, the majority of the 45 Pitcairn Islanders are descended from the nine mutineers and their Polynesian consorts who arrived on the Bounty in 1790.
What makes Mata ki te Rangi good for stargazing and astronomy?
Pitcairn’s power supply is shut off between 10.30pm and 06:00am every night, guaranteeing great stargazing if the skies are clear. Taro Ground, the former (now unused) radio station, has been identified as the best observing site.
As well as a sold-out trip to see a rare total solar eclipse this July 2 (when totality will come to Oeno Island for 2 minutes 51 seconds), Pitcairn Island Tourism is launching an 18-night Explorers Voyage for 10 people in October to visit the new IDSS. The island group’s brand new ship, the MV Bravo Supporter, will offer 21 round-trips annually between Mangareva, French Polynesia, and Pitcairn, up from 12 trips in 2018.
Also declared an International Dark Sky Sanctuary this month is !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park, which is part of the 38,000-sq km Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park straddling the border between South Africa and Botswana. This ancestral home of the ǂKhomani San and Mier communities, it’s also home to the proposer of the IDSS certification, !Xaus Lodge, the only place with permanent lighting in the entire !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park.
South Africa‘s Northern Cape Province is already the country’s premier astro-tourism destination. In the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park, !Xaus Lodge offers stargazing to its guests, through telescopes and the naked eye and, naturally, has retrofitted all outside lights so they are shielded and lighting is kept below the horizontal.
“Astro-tourism, has been identified as a particular growth area within the Northern Cape Province, South Africa where the geography, climate, and existence of limited infrastructure provide an ideal environment for astronomy,” said Terance Fife, Chairman of the Joint Management Board of the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park. Astro-tourism already exists south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, specifically around the South Africa Large Telescope (SALT) observatory in Sutherland, and is predicted to soon kick-start at closer Carnarvon, thanks to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Radio Telescope.
At the darkest places on Earth, the brightest section of the Milky Way should cast a shadow on a moon-less night. Measured using a Sky Quality Meter (SQM), the Pitcairn Islands are between 21.7 and 21.9, while !Xaus Lodge and environs measure an average of 21.6. That’s out of 22. These are very, very dark places.
That would be Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area International Dark Sky Sanctuary in Nevada. Only designated an IDSS in March 2019, this 100,000-acre area of northwest Nevada is a vast land for hikers, riders, campers, and stargazers, where elevations range from 5,520 to 6,780 ft. It’s between the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (BRNCA) and the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR).
Aotea / Great Barrier Island International Dark Sky Sanctuary, New Zealand
Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary, New Mexico, USA
Devils River State Natural Area International Dark Sky Sanctuary, Texas, USA
Gabriela Mistral International Dark Sky Sanctuary, Elqui Valley, Chile
Rainbow Bridge National Monument International Dark Sky Sanctuary, Utah, USA
Stewart Island / Rakiura International Dark Sky Sanctuary, New Zealand