What is astro-tourism?
Astro-tourism is a fun concept that invites explorers to travel and explore the exciting world of astronomy, promoting public interest and education through travel.
Astro-tourism in NSW
New South Wales offers myriad astro-tourism experiences, including the country’s largest optical telescopes, the world’s biggest “virtual solar system drive” and quirky astro-accommodation and tours. Astronomy/star-gazing observatories can also be found in the Blue Mountains, Parkes, Dubbo, Broken Hill, Bathurst, Port Macquarie and Mudgee.
Most recently, NSW strengthened its position as Australia’s astro-tourism capital with the certification of Australia’s first Dark Sky Park at Warrumbungle National Park in Country NSW by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), joining an elite list of only 36 others in the world. This is a public recognition of the exceptional quality of Warrumbungle National Park’s starry nights and nocturnal environment, which have made it a magnet for professional and amateur astronomers.
Warrumbungle National Park by @angusmullane (IG)
IDA is a non-profit organisation that aims to stop light pollution and protect the night skies for present and future generations. An IDA International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) is defined as a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, culture heritage and public enjoyment.
From the capital of astronomy at Coonabarabran to Outback star-gazing at Broken Hill, here are 10 out-of-this-world astro-experiences in NSW for astronomy enthusiasts:
- Coonabarabran is known as the astronomy capital of Australia. Siding Spring, Australia’s premier optical and infrared observatory is a 20-minute drive away in the Warrumbungle Mountains. The observatory has several telescopes on the site, including the world famous 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope. The site has a visitor centre with a small astronomy exhibition.
Siding Spring Observatory, Coonabarabran
- Experience the world’s largest virtual solar system drive, a daytime experience with 3D planet models on billboards at Visitor Information Centres and on roadsides, imitating a scaled model of the solar system. There are five drives departing from Dubbo, Birriwa, Merriwa, Tamworth and Bellata, finishing at Siding Spring Observatory – the Sun.
- The Bathurst Observatory Research Facility offers a sensational way to get a live view of some of the wonders of the planets and the solar system, along with special solar telescope tours to view the sun. Public tours operate most Friday and Saturday nights at 7.30pm and every night during school holiday periods.
- A rising number of NSW operators offer unique star-gazing services, from sleeping under the stars in astro-accommodation at Skywatch Observatory Domestays at Coonabarabran and astro mini-golf at the Dubbo Observatory, to Blue Mountains night tours with Tread Lightly Eco Tours, where visitors can view glow worms and learn more about nocturnal species and ecology.
Skywatch Observatory Domestays, Coonabarabran
- Star-gaze above the vines at the Mudgee Observatory. Situated a 15-minute drive west of town, the observatory has several telescopes as well as a theatre and flat-screen planetarium that runs features on the night sky and space missions.
Mudgee Observatory by @sachin_wakhare (IG)
- Located on Camp Road just behind Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo Observatory has up to five powerful telescopes to view the night sky, including a 14-inch Meade LX200gps, as well as a theatre. Solar viewing shows are available during the day, with star-gazing sessions at 7pm daily during winter and 6.15pm and 8pm during school holidays.
Dubbo Observatory by @thejubawuki (IG)
- The NSW State Heritage registered Linden Observatory in the Blue Mountains celebrates the life work of Ken Beames, one of Australia’s most famous telescope manufacturers. Now operated by amateur astronomers and used as a centre for astronomical education. Group bookings and viewing nights available upon request.
- The visitors’ centre at the Parkes Observatory is open seven days a week, giving visitors the opportunity to view the iconic “Dish” firsthand and to visit a dedicated astronomy and space science exhibition. It’s been more than 45 years since Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first to set foot on the surface of the Moon.
Parkes Observatory, Parkes
- Over the October long weekend, Siding Spring Observatory will host StarFest, a one- day event on Saturday 1 October 2016 celebrating all things astronomy. Visitors can tour the telescopes, hear talks by world famous astronomers and learn more about how they use the telescopes at Australia’s premier astronomical research facility.
Siding Spring Observatory, Coonabarabran
- The vast desert plains of the NSW Outback provide the perfect blank canvas for star-gazing. Outback Astronomy in Broken Hill offers nightly tours (weather dependant) for novice star-gazers. The 60-minute tour gives participants an introduction to famous stars, constellations, nebulae and more during a virtual cruise across the Milky Way.
Broken Hill night sky by @jackson_schorn_photography (IG)