One of the biggest airlines in the world will boost funding for tourism infrastructure in Tekapo under a new agreement, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, to partner with Mt John Observatory.
During a ceremony at the Tekapo observatory on Friday, China Southern Airlines was announced as an official partner of the University of Canterbury facility.
While the exact value of the three-year deal remains unclear, it is expected to boost research facilities and opportunities at the observatory.
The partnership will also support tourism in Tekapo, with 10 per cent of the agreement’s funding provided to the Mackenzie District Council for tourism infrastructure in the tourist hot spot.
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The agreement, labelled “incredibly unique” by Christchurch International Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns, was partly prompted by Tekapo’s reputation in China as a sought after tourism destination.
“One of the places that really captured their imagination was the Mackenzie Country,” Johns said.
“It’s one of the most unique landscapes in New Zealand.”
The partnership was “one of the biggest alliances in tourism at the moment”, he said.
University of Canterbury pro-vice chancellor Professor Wendy Lawson said the partnership was “very significant”, and would help to boost public access to astronomy.
The Mt John observatory is New Zealand’s pre-eminent optical research observatory and sits at the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.
Lawson could not say exactly how much the agreement was worth financially, but said it was in the range of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” over three years.
Just what that money would be spent on was yet to be decided, she said.
Mackenzie Mayor Graham Smith welcomed the partnership.
“China Southern Airlines is showing a real commitment in this partnership to enhance the visitor experience at Tekapo.”
He believed it was “quite significant”, and hoped it would be an ongoing relationship.
The council had not made a decision on how its share of the funding would be used, but one suggestion had been to spend it on tourism amenities such as seating in Tekapo, he said.
“We don’t want it spend where it can’t be seen.”
The council had also applied for funding for new tourism infrastructure elsewhere in the district, he said.
That included upgrading toilets at Lake Pukaki, improving infrastructure at The Pines reserve, which Smith described as “a mess”, and improving Godley Rd, which led up to Mt John.
“Unfortunately the Government has only released $5.5 million in this funding round, which doesn’t go very far,” he said.
China Southern Airlines Australasian managing director Louis Lu said the new agreement showed the airline’s commitment to New Zealand.
“We share the same dream,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity to support Canterbury University and Mt John Observatory. We all share an interest in discovering more about the amazing space that is the sky.
“China Southern explores it from an aviation perspective, the team at UC and the observatory research its secrets and showcase the amazing stargazing opportunities it offers. This is a meaningful partnership which benefits both the tourism and the scientific worlds.”
It is the latest boost to Mackenzie’s reputation as an astro-tourism mecca.
The 4300sq km area was declared as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in 2013.
It is the Southern Hemisphere’s sole dark sky reserve, and one of only eight in the world.
Lighting ordinances mean much of the district is mostly unaffected by light pollution.
Tekapo company Earth and Sky was granted $3 million in government funding late last year, which would be used to construct the company’s new multi-million dollar astronomy centre.
Tourism operator Tekapo Springs also ventured into the astro-tourism market, with Its new venture, Tekapo Star Gazing, launched at the start of this year.