The North Hokianga could join a select group of places around the world with official 'dark sky' status if a Far North District Council proposal wins local backing.
Only 13 dark sky reserves — areas with outstanding night skies and protection from future sources of light pollution — are recognised around the world by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The only one in New Zealand is Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, comprising Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin.
Great Barrier Island and Stewart Island are official dark sky sanctuaries, which are more remote than dark sky reserves, with few, if any, threats to the night sky. Only six dark sky sanctuaries exist worldwide.
Far North District Council community development adviser Ken Ross said dark sky status could boost boutique tourism in the North Hokianga, especially home stays and marae-based activities.
Unlike Cape Reinga, which many tourists visited as a day trip from the Bay of Islands, anyone who wanted to see the stars had to stay overnight.
Dark sky status could, however, also mean restrictions on some types of development through changes in the district plan to limit future light pollution.
Mr Ross said he was trying to get a working group together to pursue the idea. Broadwood and Kohukohu residents were keen, but the group needed broad representation of North Hokianga people if it was to gain trust and credibility.
He had completed a mapping exercise, identifying all sources of potential pollution, such as lighting at road intersections and security lights on large buildings.
A member of the US-based IDA was "very excited" by the idea when he visited New Zealand recently.
"Just looking at the maps he could see North Hokianga was a sitter for it," he said.
Preserving night skies would also have environmental benefits, he added, because many plants and animals determined the time of year from the length of the night.
When nights were no longer dark due to man-made light, plants flowered and animals produced hormones at the wrong time of year, a phenomenon that was thought to be just a factor in the current global wave of extinctions.
The next steps would include taking a series of measurements around the North Hokianga to ensure that night sky met IDA criteria.
Meanwhile, Mr Ross was also seeking funding for the project, a bid for a Lotteries grant having been unsuccessful.