Dark Sky Parks are recognised internationally for their outstanding nocturnal environment and clear, dark skies, says Dr James Gilbert, astronomer and engineer, Australian National University. “These are unspoilt places where anyone can marvel at the universe just by looking up, even without a telescope,” says Dr Gilbert. The Warrumbungle National Park is currently the only Dark Sky Park in the Southern Hemisphere.
According to Gilbert, the skies above Australia boast some of the most spectacular sights visible from Earth, including the bright and bulging centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. “Many of these objects can only be seen in southern skies,” says Dr Gilbert.
It's no coincidence that Australia's largest optical observatory is located on the outskirts of the park. “Professional and amateur stargazers come from all over the world to take advantage of the area's night-time conditions. There are objects visible above the Warrumbungles that would be overwhelmed by light pollution in most populated areas,” says Dr Gilbert.
For breathtaking views of the galaxy, you can camp under the stars in Warrumbungle National Park at various camping grounds and heritage huts.
You can pitch a tent in Balor Hut campground or stay in a historic walkers' hut. For a more rustic experience, Burbie Camp is a remote bush camping area neighbouring a natural spring with stunning views, while Camp Blackman is a popular base to explore the park and star gaze, well-equipped with hot showers, barbeques and picnic tables. Visit www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Warrumbungle Observatory, 9km from Coonabarabran at the foothills of the Warrumbungle Mountains, holds nightly viewing sessions and astro-photography sessions. Visit www.tenbyobservatory.com
Milroy Observatory has a popular Night Sky Show and also offers customised tours of all kinds for school groups, universities, senior citizens - even events such as birthdays and wedding proposals. Visit www.milroyobservatory.com.au
Siding Spring on the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park is a working research observatory with no public stargazing facilities, but they do offer daytime bookable experiences. The group tours include solar viewing activities and a look at research instruments such as the largest telescope in Australia. The tours visit Trig Point lookout, which has incredible 360 degree views of the region.
Siding Spring School Holiday Tours are coming up in October and give children a behind-the-scenes peek into a working observatory and for adults, there are Astrophotography Masterclass Workshops, hosted by the Siding Spring head astronomer. Visit www.sidingspringobservatory.com.au
For more to see and do in the Warrumbungle region of NSW, go to www.visitnsw.com