SHARE

by Greta Yeoman

Construction has begun on an $11million astronomy centre beside Lake Tekapo.

The Earth and Sky astronomy centre, which is expected to open in March next year, would provide a “state-of-the-art” stargazing experience during day and
night, Ngai Tahu Tourism chief executive Quinton Hall said.

He believed Lake Tekapo and the Mackenzie District were well-positioned to capitalise on the growing popularity of astro-tourism, being part of only 11 dark sky reserves in the world.

“We believe this experience will add significant value to the region.”

Astro-tourism company Earth and Sky has previously used nearby University of Canterbury-owned Mt John Observatory for the majority of its tours, along with Cowan’s Observatory on the eastern side of Lake Tekapo.

Its new facility, under construction on the Tekapo lakefront, will contain its own telescope.

The University of Canterbury had given the Brashear telescope, which was built in 1894, to the charity set up by Earth and Sky, the Tomorrow’s Skies Charitable Trust.

The Brashear telescope, which was sent to New Zealand by the University of Pennsylvania, in the United States, has been in the country since 1963.

Due to the cost of building a dome to house it, the telescope has never been properly installed anywhere.

Earth and Sky is part-owned by Ngai Tahu Tourism, which also owns Shotover Jet and Glacier Lakes helicopters in Queenstown, Huka Falls Jet in Waikato and several tourism ventures at Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast.

Mr Hall said Earth and Sky was a joint venture formed in 2016 between the Murray and Ozawa families and Ngai Tahu Tourism.

The partnership had committed $11million to the project, $3million of which had come from the Government’s historic Tourism Growth Partnership fund, he said.

One Tekapo business, which declined to be named, has received more than 70 comments on its social media account opposing the astronomy centre’s location.

Mr Hall said he was aware there were concerns about the new development, particularly its location on the waterfront of the lakeside township.

The tourism company had designed the building to “blend” into the natural environment.

“We are aware of some concerns regarding the new development but are working hard to create a building, and experience, the town will be proud of.”

The project had got its both the building and resource consents approved and the company had conducted “voluntary consultation” with some the parties it believed would be most directly impacted by the build, he said.

The astronomy centre is just one of several developments on the lakefront in recent years, following the opening of a new supermarket, extra car parking and public toilets on the western side of the village in June last year.

A new, larger Youth Hostel Association (YHA) accommodation block was also under construction, slightly closer to the town centre than its previous lakefront Simpson Lane site.

YHA New Zealand chief executive Mark Wells said the association was “still aiming” to have the new accommodation block open by Christmas.

The Mackenzie District Council was working to put in more car parks on the western side of the walkway bridge in the town, to draw buses and other vehicle traffic away from the popular Church of the Good Shepherd site.

The council was also proposing to undertake a “strategic planning exercise” for Tekapo and the wider district, because of the construction boom in the town, council group regulations manager Karina Morrow said.

“[This will] determine how the Tekapo town centre/foreshore should develop over time.”

It would include consideration of car parking, transport routes, open space and built development, she said.