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Lit up...Stars twinkle above the Church of the Good Shepherd. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Chris Tobin

Night tours at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo will resume on Saturday.

The church’s vicar, the Rev Andrew McDonald, said a year ago the church closed the church site to visitors in the evenings.

The church opened at 8am each day and the gates were closed just after dark.

“There had been degradation to the site but we didn’t want it to be a long-term to bar people.

“We just needed some way to manage the number of visitors.”

Mr McDonald said the church committee approached local tourism operator Earth and Sky to find a solution.

“In the last few years we’ve run family events with them.”

Earth and Sky, which is partnered with Ngai Tahu Tourism and operates stargazing and observatory tours in Tekapo, agreed to run evening tours at the church.

“We’ll receive a financial benefit from the tours but at this stage it will be a six-month trial,” Mr McDonald said.

Co-owner of Earth and Sky Graeme Murray said visitors would have an incredible tour while the aim was to protect the natural landscape.

“This is a fantastic example of local businesses from within a community coming together and forming a partnership for the greater good.”

Quinton Hall, chief executive of Earth and Sky’s other co-owner, Ngai Tahu Tourism, said the church was one of New Zealand’s most celebrated icons and the company was honoured to be approached by the church as a partner.

“As the New Zealand tourism industry grows, it’s important we explore new and innovative ways to protect our nation’s icons and treasures so that future generations can continue to enjoy them. This community and commercial partnership aims to do exactly that.”

The Church Night Tour will be accompanied by a professional astrophotographer to help tourists take photos around the church.

“The church is famous for its astrophotography and stargazing,” Mr McDonald said.

Visitor numbers during the day had been increasing although marriage ceremonies in the church had decreased, he said.

“When I came here five years ago we capped them at 100 a year. They’ve dropped to 50.

“We require couples have pre-marriage education which eliminates the Las Vegas weddings.”