Coonabarabran is the stargazing capital of Australia. The small country town by the Castlereagh River is on the edge of the iconic Warrumbungle National Park. An ancient volcanic mountain range creates a spectacularly jagged backdrop in the national park, the first Dark Sky Park in Australia.
Officially recognised as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016, the pristine night sky is free of artificial light that limits celestial views in cities. Some observatories near the park are open to the public all year for amazing night sky experiences through large telescopes, weather permitting.
Inside the park is the Siding Spring Observatory, home to Australia’s largest optical telescopes. You can only visit the research observatory during daytime. You’ll learn about the solar system and the Universe at the interactive Exploratory centre, which is open daily except on major public holidays.
The research telescopes are open to the public on one day of the year, the Siding Spring Observatory Open Day on the October long weekend. You’ll get an opportunity to talk to the astronomers about their scientific research into the Milky Way and other galaxies, as well as see the telescopes up close.
The open day is part of StarFest, an annual celebration of astronomy on the three-day long weekend. You’ll find plenty of starry things to do, including Science in the Pub and the Bok Lecture. Check out the events calendar for other fun events, such as the Coonabarabran Agricultural Show.
You can observe the galaxies of stars through powerful telescopes on any night of year at the Milroy Observatory and the Warrumbungle Observatory. Both observatories offer experts to guide you through the stars. You can even stay at the Skywatch Observatory, which has a large telescope.
For earthly observations, explore the rare crystals and fossils at the Crystal Kingdom. The fossilised skeleton of the largest marsupial to have ever lived is at the Australian Museum Diprotodon Exhibition. There are also scenic drives and day trips to the Pilliga Forest, a breathtaking landscape.
You’ll find plenty of accommodation options, from motels and pubs to cottages, farm stays, caravan parks and campgrounds. Coonabarabran is 100 minutes’ drive northeast of Dubbo. The drive from Sydney to Coonabarabran, via the Blue Mountains or the Hunter Valley wine region, is six hours.