During the nationwide observance of Matariki, on a mild winter morning in Takapō (Tekapo), the Dark Sky Project was launched.
The Dark Sky Project, formally Earth and Sky, took the next big step forward in astro-tourism by opening a new lake-front center with a new diner, a new indoor astronomy experience, the Dark Sky Experience and the restored Brashear telescope (you can read more about that here).
This new look and center is exciting for Takapō (Tekapo) and everyone who wants to look up.
The new lakefront center is named Rehua and was opened under a dawn sky with a blessing from Ngai Tahu members. Other speeches followed and then breakfast was served. For me and my colleagues, all night-guiding stargazing tour operators, this was a very early start. We only had three hours of sleep before the blessing. Luckily, we could go back to sleep for a couple of hours after that, before properly starting the day again. Later in the afternoon, more speeches followed, the Governor General cut the ribbon, and Seven Sharp interviewed key people for a piece and then the dome was opened for the Brashear Telescope.
After a busy day, Rehua was opened to the public on the 2nd of July.
The astronomy center is called Rehua after the Māori name for the star Antares, a red supergiant star. To Māori, Rehua was the lord of the sky and is seen to have gifted birds, insects and knowledge to Tane to take back down to Earth for humans. As the Dark Sky Project wants to give knowledge about the stars to everyone who visits, the name is very fitting.
Rehua includes a new day time experience: the Dark Sky Experience. There you can go to learn more about Māori astronomy, listen to the music of the stars and get up close with the Brashear Telescope. This experience allows you to take in the local astronomy knowledge and history in an audio-visual manner. It has been a lot of fun as a guide to learn all this new content as well.
There is also the new lakefront Dark Sky Diner where you can get something to eat or drink with amazing lake views and all the table numbers feature star names in English and Maori.
All this has been a long time coming for the people who have worked hard to get this amazing astronomy experience off the ground.