The night skies open with a field of stars stretching as far as the eye can see in the Warrumbungle National Park, Australia’s first Dark Sky Park. A 90-minute to two-hour drive from Dubbo or Tamworth, the national park was created over millions of years from an extinct shield volcano.
And this volcanic landscape is unimpeded by artificial light, making it a perfect candidate for its 2016 designation as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. The Warrumbungles are also home to Siding Springs Observatory.
By day, the park is a bushwalker’s dream – its trails wind and loop through this ancient land.
One of the most exhilarating treks in the park is the five-hour Breadknife and Grand High Tops walk – a 14.5-kilometre loop that winds through the Belougery Spire and Bluff Mountain.
The Breadknife is a narrow, weatherworn formation of solidified lava with a jagged edge stretching 500 metres high. It can be reached in a day hike or on an overnight trek.
There are two campgrounds on the trail if you want to stay overnight, but it is recommended you book Balor Hut and Ogma Gap in advance.
Astronomy research in the Warrumbungles dates back to the 1950s.
The Siding Spring Observatory is only open to visitors during the day, but at the Milroy and Warrumbungle observatories in nearby Coonabarabran there are powerful telescopes and experts will guide you through the stars. There is even an option to stay overnight at the Skywatch Observatory.
The park also has many significant Indigenous cultural sites, including Tara Cave. These cathedral-like caves are home to rock art and engravings from the Gamilaraay people.
If you don’t want to camp overnight, the closest town to the Warrumbungles is tiny Coonabarabran.
It’s the sort of place where the locals love to strike up a conversation – try at the Imperial Hotel – and host guests in quaint bed and breakfasts.
Over the NSW Labour Day long weekend, the town will be lit (or dimmed) for the annual StarFest, hosted by Siding Spring Observatory.
This year all of Australia can take part (lockdown or not) as all events will be virtual, from the lectures to Science in the Pub, observatory tours and the new StarFest Goose Chase, a gigantic intergalactic scavenger hunt.
Take me there
Drive: Coonabarabran is a 90-minute drive north-east of Dubbo or two hours’ west of Tamworth. The Warrumbungles are 24 kilometres from Coonabarabran. Park entry fees are $8 per day.
Stay: Get close to the night-time action at Skywatch Observatory where a domestay costs $150, plus $30 per extra guest to a maximum of five. See skywatchobservatory.com.au
Festival: The virtual festival kicks off with the StarFest Goose Chase on September 18. The full StarFest program for October 2-5 is at starfest.org.au.