Australia is home to three accredited Dark Sky Places—a park in New South Wales, a reserve in South Australia and a sanctuary in Queensland. These sites have been designated as such thanks to the lack of light pollution which gives stargazers a superb view of the stars, the Milky Way and every other beauty that the night sky beholds.
You might be thinking, but Australia is such a huge country and our cities are all located on the coast… So, shouldn’t we have more dark skies? While partially true that much of Australia does experience pristine stargazing conditions, rural areas are under threat as a result of mining and oil or gas production, which is why Australia’s three accredited Dark Sky Places are all in conservation areas.
We’re keen to see more Australian Dark Sky Places in the future as they’re “vital to the proper functioning of natural ecosystems.” From affecting migration patterns to the circadian rhythms of organisms, darkness is just as important as light. Dark skies are also great for tourism with Dark Sky Places around the world seeing an influx of visitors.
Warrumbungle National Park (NSW)
Home to the Siding Spring Observatory and Australia’s largest telescope, Warrambungle National Park has been a refuge for stargazers and astronomers since the 1950s. Early conservation of dark skies in the area meant that the 23,312-hectare park in the Orana region of New South Wales became Australia’s first IDA International Dark Sky Park in 2016.
The conservation work continues with NSW National Parks modifying lighting to limit light pollution, removing all street lighting within the Dark Sky Park area and using timers so that lights stay on for less time. The results shine for themselves.
The Warrumbungle National Park is also a phenomenal attraction throughout the day and contains one of the New South Wale’s best walks, the Breadknife and Grand High Tops walk. the 14.5km loop takes hikers past volcanic landscapes and iconic formations such as Belougery Spire, Bress Peak and Crater Bluff. Take a peak for yourself with the Google Street View Trekker.
The national park has got plenty of camping options as well as the possibility of hiring campervans nearby.Warrumbungle National Park
River Murray (SA)
South Australia’s River Murray Dark Sky Reserve is special for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is located just 100kms east of Adelaide. Secondly, its dark skies have been measured as being some of the darkest anywhere. And thirdly, it is the fifth-largest reserve in the world.
The core of the reserve is the Swan Reach Conservation Park where “state government legislation and associated regulations mean that development inside the park is restricted solely to structures associated with conservation management.” In other words, these dark skies just over an hour’s drive from Adelaide are going to be around for a long time to come.
There are a heap of nearby accommodation options as well as stargazing tours, from one-night to multi-night adventures, where avid astronomy lovers can set out for some of the most spectacular night skies. Take a look here for more info.
The Jump-Up (QLD)
The not-for-profit organisation Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a museum located near Winton in Central West Queensland, submitted an application to the Dark Skies Association in late 2018 for The Jump-Up to be considered Australia’s first Dark Sky Sanctuary. They succeeded thanks to several years of dark sky readings reporting that the darkness was as pretty much as dark as dark can be.
The application also included information saying that the area has an average of 58 cloudy days per year and only 31 days of rain, which makes for great odds of seeing the stars in all their shining glory when you make the trek to Outback Australia. And the museum, which has the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils in the world, has two night-time viewing areas for stargazers.
The first is an unsupervised area open 24 hours while the second, the Gondwana Stars Observatory, is a raised concert viewing platform featuring telescope mounting infrastructure, angled concrete seating and an equipment storage room plus 250m safety balustrading along the cliff edge at Dinosaur Canyon for night visitation safety. It’s accessible only with trained Museum Tour Guides.Find out more on the museum website.
Dark Sky Places
As of January 2022, there are 195 certified International Dark Sky Parks in the world while there are only 20 Dark Sky Reserves and only 15 Dark Sky Sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are typically quite remote locations and whereas Reserves “consist of a core area meeting minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky preservation in the core.” Parks are more accessible to the public and still feature exceptional starry nights that the International Dark-Sky Association wants to protect because our nocturnal environment is “a shared heritage benefitting all living things.”For more info on the International Dark-Sky Association, see here.