This Herald Travel series focuses on Māori tourism businesses around the country, showcasing who they are, what they do, and what they have to offer Kiwi travellers.
Jared Simcox: Dark Sky ProjectMackenzie
Why should Kiwis experience the Dark Sky Project?
Based in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, it's a guided astro-tourism experience based around some of the purest night skies in the world.
All too often, we are surrounded by light, which means, sadly, many of us have forgotten the beauty and importance of the night sky. At Dark Sky Project we are committed to preserving the night sky and connecting our manuhiri (visitors) to it.
We do this in two ways – scientifically, using powerful telescopes atop Mount John observatory, and culturally, through the Dark Sky Experience which incorporates the traditional pūrākau (stories) of Ngāi Tahu navigators and astrology, particularly from Ngāi Tahu.
For many manuhiri, being able to see the magnificence of our observable universe and have our place in it contextualised by our guiding team can be a profound and life-changing experience. There is something very special about looking at objects in space that are older than the human species, providing connection to us through science and whakapapa (history and genealogy).
What can they expect when they visit?
Dark Sky Project offers a range of fully guided experiences for both the avid stargazer and everyday night-sky admirers in one of the most accessible dark sky reserves in the world.
The Summit Experience is a night-time experience that immerses visitors in the stunning surrounds and pristine night skies at Mt John Observatory. Nights begin with a briefing in our Rehua building on the shore of Lake Takapō [Tekapo] and from there we take the bus to the summit of Mt John. We use a combination of naked-eye observing and telescopes while our guides impart their knowledge on what is being looked at and why it matters.
This is an ultimate mountaintop stargazing experience with knowledgeable guides and purpose-built technology.
Dark Sky Experience is a treat for the senses and brings together science, Māori heritage and multimedia installations. It is thought-provoking and educational, as well as entertaining. This is an indoor experience that runs throughout the day. This tour finishes up by viewing and learning about our 130-year-old, eight-metre, eight-tonne Brashear Telescope.
How does the experience celebrate te ao Māori?
Māori and Pasifika ancestors had sophisticated knowledge of the night sky. They used this knowledge for practical purposes like gathering kai as well as navigation across vast oceans and landscapes. Not to mention the deep spiritual connection they hold through whakapapa and creation stories with the stars. We are extremely lucky to have that iwi expertise running through everything we do - mana whenua engagement with Ngāi Tahu iwi and hapū has been key to the ongoing understanding in this space.
Mātauraka Māori is a taoka (treasure); the DSP have been privileged to learn and work with Ngāi Tahu iwi members who have spent a lot of time sharing their history and knowledge of Ngāi Tahu whakapapa, pūrākau and other hapū views and understandings. We weave these into our whole experience where we can, continuing to develop ways to showcase Te Ao Māori.
The building we are in holds designs and structures that connect us to the iwi, so that we are reminded about those who came before us and why we are here now on this whenua.
Na te pō, ko te ao, ko te ao marama (From the darkest depth of the night we become enlightened).
What do you love most about your job?
I get to hang out with astronomers, storytellers and other folk with deep knowledge of our celestial backyard for a job. Suffice to say, every day is like going to school and learning a new thing. We have a childlike curiosity, which is shared with our guests and that's really special.
I love that we are growing despite the very different tourism environment, and I love being a part of something that will outlive all of us in the service of our whānau at Te Rūnanga O Ngāi Tahu.
One guiding philosophy is mō tātou, a, mō kā uri a muri ake nei (for our children and our children after us).
What are some of your other favourite things to see and do within your local region?
Coffee at the Astro Cafe is absolutely spectacular, so too is the walk up Mount John to get there (or you can drive).
In the summer months I like riding horses with my brother around the Mackenzie Basin, and there's dozens of beautiful walks, bike rides or drives nearby. In the winter we have three awesome ski fields (Roundhill, Mount Dobson and Ohau) and a variety of food and beverage offerings for taking the chill off and enjoying the views.
Most of all, Takapō is a picture book every day of the week. If nothing else, sitting and watching the scene change throughout the day and into the night is absolutely spectacular.