Nature by night: Dark sky tourism in Asia

THE recent spate of eclipses, meteor showers and super moons has stoked the fires of new developments in night time activities. Forget bars, nightclubs and movie theaters – get out, look up explore the darkness!

You may have never heard of dark sky tourism. You are not alone, neither had I until recently. But you’ve no doubt heard of stargazing, and I don’t mean taking a trip to Hollywood with the aim of catching a glimpse of Bradjolina. Dark sky enthusiasts embrace the night by taking advantage of those hours when the stars – and not the sun – illuminate the natural world. It is a kind of eco-tourism perhaps best suited for vampires and insomniacs, but it’s got some perks.

pic: Dark Sky Scotland (Flickr CC)

From Green Prophet:

We didn’t visit Antalya, Turkey because it was yet another city of lights. We visited Antalya because it was dark. We joined a group of Irish astronomers and witnessed the rare and beautiful spectacle of a total solar eclipse as it passed through the Middle East in the spring of 2006. Tens of thousands of tourists will travel to Cairns Australia or cruise to the South Pacific on November 14th, 2012 in order to witness the beautiful darkness of another total solar eclipse.

First of all, dark sky tourism is in many ways free, unless you’re hiring a guide or count purchasing special equipment like telescopes and binoculars, and of course let’s not forget travel costs, but none of these are necessary for a bit of nocturnal recreation. Second, DST means taking advantage of the great outdoors in ways you may not have thought of before. Just pick somewhere that’s free of light pollution – meaning away from towns and cities – and explore the heavens. It’s a type of tourism that encourages energy conservation simply by requiring places to remain dark. And less light pollution generally means less air pollution.

A fairly new – or at least newly defined – concept, dark sky tourism is also catching on in the Asia Pacific region. New Zealand’s Mackenzie Basin has recently been made an International Dark Sky Reserve, a boon for tourism in the Christchurch and Canterbury area.

From a press release by Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism:

The newly designated Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve joins a select group of just 17 International Dark Sky Places worldwide, and is only the fourth International Dark Sky Reserve, following on from Mont Megantic in Canada, Exmoor National Park in the United Kingdom, and the NamibRand Nature Reserve, in Namibia.

the Milky Way over New Zealand, pic: Dave Young (Flickr CC)

Like Scotland, South Africa and Canada are doing, New Zealand hopes to cash in on this eco-friendly brand of night time fun. Many conservationists see it as a way of further appreciating the natural world, thereby encouraging people to protect it.

One particularly amazing Asian destination for dark sky tourism doesn’t put all of the focus on the sky. Petra, the ancient stone city in Jordan, is the perfect setting to witness stunning ancient relics under the stars. Imagine being taken on a tour of this circa 2,300-year-old ruin through narrow passages lit only by candle light.

From the Independent:

Nothing you have read prepares you for this. The path makes one last twist. A gap in the rock shows a pillar far off, then a giant statue broken at the waist. You hurry the last few feet as the cliffs part to reveal a vast building carved from the mountain. It has winged goddesses and pediments and a doorway seven times human height. It is the fabled Treasury. And tonight it is lit by hundreds of candles on the square before it, a glittering field of light.

So you needn’t be a budding astronomer or even into “astro-tourism” to appreciate a bit of dark sky discovery. Combine it with your cultural or nature holiday for something different. And as DST develops there will be more and more dark sky parks and night-themed tourist activities. No sun block needed.

Read more…

BBC: Star-gazing and dark sky tourism

International Dark-Sky Association

the Treasury, Petra, pic: Marie and Alistair Knock (Flickr CC)