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7° & CLEAR SKY ON FRIDAY 19 JULY IN SYDNEY
TRAVEL & LEISURE

The Best Places for Stargazing Around Australia

From city observatories to outback hideaways, you'll want to look up here.
By Marissa Ciampi
July 12, 2019
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The Best Places for Stargazing Around Australia

From city observatories to outback hideaways, you'll want to look up here.
By Marissa Ciampi
July 12, 2019
  shares

Humans have made a pastime of staring up at the night sky for as long as history can tell us. Unfortunately, the amount of excess light that our big cities leak into the sky makes for pretty poor stargazing conditions on an average night in the inner city. With that in mind, we've scoped out the spots all around Australia where it's still possible to use one's telescope for its intended purpose. Stargazing, that is — not trying to peek at what your neighbours keep behind their curtains.

And it's never been a better time to look up, considering the last lunar eclipse of the year is happening this Wednesday, July 17. The 50th anniversary of the moon landing is coming up on Saturday, July 20, too — with major exhibitions happening in Sydney and Melbourne, and a film festival in Brisbane.

So, find the closest stargazing spot (or book a flight ASAP) and take part in this time-honoured tradition.

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SYDNEY OBSERVATORY, SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES

In terms of physical proximity to the night sky, Sydney Observatory is a pretty good starting point. One of the highest points overlooking Sydney Harbour, its building houses three telescopes — including the oldest working telescope in Australia, which was built for the 1874 transit of Venus. The other two are a 40-centimetre computer-controlled lens and, for those of you who prefer gazing at the star closest to us, a telescope that lets you look at the sun.

The Observatory runs night and day tours, workshops exploring early Indigenous astronomy and a range of short courses. This is definitely the first step for every would-be Galileo.

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Marc Aragnou via ASNSW

WIRUNA, BLUE MOUNTAINS, NEW SOUTH WALES

Wiruna is the Astronomical Society of NSW's best kept secret — if you go to their website, you'll see what we mean. Located on the outskirts of Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains, Wiruna is basically 107 acres of astronomy Christmas. Starry season's greetings, sky-lovers.

The ASNSW holds a number of stargazing sessions on weekends throughout the year, and encourages amateurs and old hands alike to come and use the incredible array of equipment they've got stashed up there — from 'The Ashtray', a telescope that survived a fire, to the Mike Kerr Observatory, housing the aptly named Obsession Telescope. The ASNSW prefers newbies to be accompanied by accredited members, so be sure to get in touch with them beforehand.

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Destination NSW

WARRUMBUNGLE NATIONAL PARK, COONABARABRAN, NEW SOUTH WALES

Warrumbungle National Park is a proper hike (read: a five- or six-hour drive from Sydney), but it's also a proper dark sky site. In the last few years, the State Government has dedicated funds to limiting light pollution in and around the park. With these measures in place, Warrumbungle joins the likes of Death Valley National Park in the US and Galloway Forest Park in Scotland as an official dark sky park — that is, one of the top places on the planet to revel in galactic goings-on.

Warrumbungle does have its own observatory, but scientists and astronomers have the run of the place after sundown. Amateur astronomy in Warrumbungle is best performed the old-fashioned way, with the humble eyeball (and optional pince-nez).

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Graham Hosking via the City of Greater Bendigo

LEON MOW DARK SKY SITE, HEATHCOTE, VICTORIA

Located just 1.5 hours drive north of Melbourne, the town of Heathcote boasts some incredibly beautiful skies — and heaps of bush walks, reserves and national parks from which to see it at night. If you take your astronomy very seriously, you can even become a member of the Heathcote's Leon Mow Dark Sky Site. The country estate is available for use by Astronomical Society of Victoria members at any time, and they're even welcomed to camp out overnight.

Apart from members, the site is open to the public for free during annual events — including the the Galactic Centre Star Party in September, the nighttime Christmas barbecue in December and the Messier Star Party in March. You can BYO telescope or binoculars, or just gaze up — there's plenty of beauty to be seen by the naked eye.

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Visit Victoria

TWELVE APOSTLES, GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VICTORIA

The breathtaking views to be had on any trip along the Great Ocean Road are hard to beat. But we bet you haven't considered taking this trip after dark. Turns out the routes along these many rock formations offer a stunning view at night, too. This is especially true at the road's all-star site, the Twelve Apostles.

On a clear night, the stargazing is truly awe inspiring. It won't be the view of these golden cliffs and crumbling pillars that you're used to seeing in photos, but it offers something else all together — that a lot of people haven't seen. Look up, listen to the lapping waves and enjoy the rare peace and quiet here.

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Visit Victoria

PHILLIP ISLAND OBSERVATORY, PHILIP ISLAND, VICTORIA

An easy day-trip from Melbourne, Philip Island is home to more than just white sand beaches and ocean views. On your next visit, stick around into the night and head to the island's observatory. Here, you can take a guided tour of the night sky or explore the stars on your own, using the facilities high-tech telescopes. There's also a 360-degree planetarium dome, where you can watch some immersive cosmos-themed films. As it's a private observatory, bookings are here essential, and it only allows one small group in per night. For more information and to book, head over here.

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Sir Thomas Brisbane planetarium at Mt Coot-tha

SIR THOMAS BRISBANE PLANETARIUM, MT COOT-THA, QUEENSLAND

Named after the soldier and astronomer who gave our fair city its name, the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium has been a favourite school tour spot since 1978. You've been — we all have — and it's definitely worth another visit, even if you're well out of class. But unlike school, here, staring into space is not only acceptable, it's mandatory.

The 12.5-metre-diameter Cosmic Skydome is the main attraction, of course, under which you'll lean back and send your eyes skywards as informative films tell of black holes, the dark universe, moons and cosmic collisions. Once you've toured the stars, return to earth with a walk through the surrounding Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens.

At the nearby Mt Coot-tha Lookout, the Brisbane Astronomical Society also hosting free monthly viewing nights, through one of its telescopes, if you want to get together with some other starry-eyed fanatics.

 

Tourism and Events Queensland

THE JUMP-UP DARK SKY SANCTUARY, WINTON, QUEENSLAND

The sleepy riverside town of Winton in northwest Queensland is perhaps the number one stargazing destination in all of Australia — as of April 2019, the town received Australia's first international certification for a Dark Sky Sanctuary. There are only ten certified sites worldwide, so it's a particularly impressive win for Aussie shores.

The sanctuary is set within the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum at its Jump-Up facility, which is free and open all year round. Here, you can view the spirals of the Milky Way and Orion Arm, as well as the collapse of nebulas and the birth of new stars. Bring along a telescope, binoculars and a picnic — you'll want to stick around for a while.

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Tourism and Events Queensland

CHARLEVILLE COSMOS CENTRE, CHARLEVILLE, QUEENSLAND

The tiny town of Charleville — situated a two-hour flight from Brisbane — is home to one of the few observatory's where you can stargaze both day and night. When the sun is up, you can attend a range of astronomy tours at the Cosmos Centre, including the $15 sun viewing, which uses a special telescope to let you gaze directly at the surface of our galaxy's closest star.

At night, a tour will cost you $28, during which you can join an Aboriginal night sky story session. Check out clusters, planets, nebulae and, on a good night, the Milky Way. Inside the centre, there are heaps of tours and events going on each day, plus some seriously impressive equipment to boot.

Published on July 12, 2019 by Marissa Ciampi

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