If your interests run to stars, supernovae, constellations and ‘cannibal’ galaxies (a thing, apparently), you are going to love NSW’s astrotourism experiences – from the country’s largest optical telescopes and the world’s biggest ‘virtual solar system drive’ to quirky astro-themed accommodation.
The State strengthened its position as Australia’s astrotourism capital with the certification of the country’s first Dark Sky Park at Warrumbungle National Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The certification recognises the exceptional quality of the park’s nocturnal environment, which has made it a magnet for professional and amateur astronomers.
From the capital of astronomy at Coonabarabran to Outback stargazing at Broken Hill, here are 10 out-of-this-world astro-experiences in NSW.
- Coonabarabran is known as the astronomy capital of Australia: launching pad for both Siding Spring, Australia’s premier optical and infrared observatory, and the Warrumbungle National Park. The observatory has several telescopes, including the world-famous Anglo-Australian Telescope, which has a 3.9m-diameter mirror, and a visitor centre with a small astronomy exhibition.
- Marvel at the world’s largest virtual solar system drive, a daytime experience featuring 3D planet models along prescribed routes, imitating a scale model of the solar system. There are five drives, departing from Dubbo, Birriwa, Merriwa, Tamworth and Bellata, finishing at Siding Spring Observatory (standing in for the Sun).
- The Bathurst Observatory Research Facility offers great live views of some of the wonders of our solar system, along with special solar telescope tours to view the sun. In 2019, the observatory was moved to a new site at Billywillinga near Bathurst, so check the website for future tour dates, prices and times.
- Stargaze above the vines at the Mudgee Observatory, located a 15min drive outside the food and wine town of Mudgee in Central NSW. The observatory has several telescopes as well as a theatre and flat-screen planetarium that shows features on the night sky and space missions.
- Located just behind Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo Observatory has five powerful telescopes to view the night sky, including a 14-inch Meade LX200-GPS (that will mean something to somebody). There are solar-viewing shows during the day and stargazing sessions at 7pm during Winter (twice nightly in the school holidays).
- The NSW State Heritage-registered Linden Observatory in the Blue Mountains celebrates the work of Ken Beames, one of Australia’s most famous telescope manufacturers. The observatory is operated by amateur astronomers and is used as a centre for astronomical education. Group bookings and viewing nights available upon request.
- The visitors centre at Parkes Observatory is open every day, giving visitors the opportunity to view the iconic ‘Dish’ first-hand. The observatory played a crucial role in the Apollo 11 Moon landing, receiving and broadcasting live images from the mission.
- Every October long weekend, Siding Spring Observatory hosts StarFest, an open-day event celebrating all things astronomy. Visitors can tour the telescopes, hear talks by world renowned astronomers and learn more about Australia’s premier astronomical research facility.
- The vast desert plains of Outback NSW provide the perfect blank canvas for stargazing. Outback Astronomy in Broken Hill offers nightly tours (weather dependent) for novice stargazers. The 60min tour gives participants an introduction to famous stars, constellations and nebulae during a virtual ‘cruise’ across the Milky Way.
- Enjoy other astronomy-themed experiences across the State, such as sleeping under the stars in astro-accommodation at Skywatch Observatory Domestays in Coonabarabran, or playing astro-mini golf at Dubbo Observatory.