Welcome to Niue, the First Country Recognized as a Dark Sky Place

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group of palm trees stretch toward clear dark sky filled with stars

Nikolay Pandev / EyeEm / Getty Images

You may not have heard of Niue.

From sea to shining sea, this island nation is about 100 square miles of raised coral in the South Pacific.

The name, pronounced "New-ay," translates from the native language as "Behold the coconut." Just make sure you're beholding it during daylight hours. At night, this place takes "lights-out" seriously — so seriously, in fact, the country has been officially recognized as a Dark Sky Place.

That designation — the first in the world for a country — is a reward for the country's commitment to keeping artificial light to a minimum. Of course, the absence of light pollution is its own reward, allowing people here to gaze up at a star-studded sky in all its spectacular glory.

The designation, given by the International Dark-Sky Association, also comes with more palpable benefits. It extends protection to not only Niue's sky, but also its land and sea.

"It's a huge undertaking for us because it shows clearly to the rest of the world that we take very seriously the sustainability of our environment and culture and how precious we hold the land, the sea and now the sky," Tourism Niue chief executive Felicity Bollen tells Newshub.

With a marine reserve and forest sanctuaries covering three-quarters of the country's land mass, Niue has a lot to offer. But it's the rich tapestry that unfolds overhead that Niueans hold most dear.

"The stars and night sky have a huge significance to the Niuean way of life, from a cultural, environmental and health perspective," Bollen adds. "Being a dark sky nation will help protect Niue's night skies for future generations of Niueans and visitors to the country."

And that may be a much-needed bright spot for a nation that has seen its population decline steadily in recent years, as residents find opportunities some 1,300 miles across the sea in Auckland, New Zealand. Currently the population stands at 1,600.

The new designation, however, may help flick on a much-needed beacon for international visitors. Officials are hoping the new designation will lure a fresh tide of tourism to its picturesque shores.

As long as they keep the lights down low.

"Viewing sites which are currently used for whale-watching and accessing the sea are already established on the island. In addition, the dark interior provides spectacular views of the sky and the roads that cross the island make ideal viewing locations," Bollen adds in the press release. "Visitors will be able to enjoy guided Astro-tours led by trained Niuean community members. They will witness the wonder of a night sky illuminated by thousands of stars. The Milky Way with the large and small Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda constellation are truly a sight to behold."