Niue may just be the best place in the world for stargazing and astro-tours.
A tiny island between Fiji and the Cook Islands, the Polynesian nation of Niue recently became the first whole country to receive formal accreditation as an ‘International Dark Sky Place’ by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
An organisation that works to end light pollution around the world, giving people more opportunities to look up and into the cosmos is one of the main goals of the IDA.
Multiple destinations around the world – several in Australia and New Zealand, including the River Murray and Great Barrier Island – have been heralded by the organisation, but never has a whole nation been recognised.
To achieve this status, Niue’s government undertook significant measures to arrest light pollution, including full streetlight replacement nationwide and upgrading of domestic private lighting.
“The stars and night sky have a huge significance to the Niuean way of life, from a cultural, environmental and health perspective,” Niue Tourism chief executive Felicity Bollen said in a statement.
“Being a dark sky nation will help protect Niue’s night skies for future generations of Niueans and visitors to the country.”
Niue has a long history of star navigation, with citizens’ lives regulated by lunar cycles and star positions. Held by the elders in the community, the knowledge of the night skies has been passed down through generations.
Elders now hope the passion to learn about the cultural history of the stars is reignited in younger generations.
“Niue’s skies have been observed and appreciated for centuries,” Niuean elder and cultural guardian Misa Kalutea said in a statement.
“The dark sky nation status adds new emphasis to the importance of our traditional knowledge, providing a reason for the retelling and sharing of this knowledge before it is lost.”
Niue now has formal protection for its sky, land, and sea, adding to existing protections, which include a marine reserve encompassing 40 per cent of Niue’s exclusive economic zone and the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area, which contains some of the most threatened wildlife in the world.
With a population of around 1,600 people, Niue is among the least visited countries in the world, and is best visited by transiting New Zealand, with two flights a week available through Auckland with Air New Zealand. For Australians, these flights begin in Sydney.