New South Wales has strengthened its position as Australia’s astro-tourism capital with the certification of Australia’s first Dark Sky Park at Warrumbungle National Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
The rare honour is public recognition of the exceptional quality of the park’s starry nights and nocturnal environment, which have made it a magnet for professional and amateur astronomers.
The accolade is the latest feather in the cap for NSW, which offers myriad astro-tourism experiences, including thecountry’s largest optical telescopes, the world’s biggest “virtual solar system drive” and quirky astro-accommodationand tours. Astronomy/star-gazing observatories can be found in the Blue Mountains, Parkes, Dubbo, Broken Hill, Bathurst, Port Macquarie and Mudgee.
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events Stuart Ayres welcomed the designation of Warrumbungle National Park as a Dark Sky Park.
“The Warrumbungle National Park in Country and Outback NSW has long been renowned for its star-gazing opportunities, due to its crystal-clear skies, low humidity, high altitude and world-class optical astronomy research facility at neighbouring Siding Spring Observatory,” Mr Ayres said.
“The announcement is yet another fantastic win for NSW, reinforcing our position as the country’s leading tourism and events state. I encourage astronomy enthusiasts to start planning a trip to Australia’s first Dark Sky Park for a memorable Regional NSW first-hand experience.”
Destination NSW Chief Executive Officer Sandra Chipchase said she was delighted Warrumbungle National Park had been recognised as Australia’s first Dark Sky Park, joining an elite list of only 36 others in the world.
“NSW is Australia’s premier astronomy state, with the certification of the Dark Sky Park in the Warrumbungles a wonderful addition to the existing experiences on offer,” Ms Chipchase said.
“From the capital of astronomy at Coonabarabran to Outback star-gazing at Broken Hill, the breadth of astronomy experiences continues to grow amid a fascination and curiosity from visitors and locals alike.
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. [i]
Here are 10 out-of-this-world astro-experiences in NSW:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 8pmduring school holidays
- 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
- 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
- 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.