Warrego Way, Queensland © Tourism and Events Queensland/Sean Scott
Australia’s ultimate stargazing locations
The world’s best view of the Milky Way is just one of the marvels on display in Australia’s night skies.
By Ute Junker
Get ready to be dazzled. Not only does Australia’s outback offer some of the darkest skies on the planet, but the Southern Hemisphere offers celestial sights you simply can’t see anywhere else. That includes the mesmerising light show of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) and otherwise-invisible galaxies including Alpha Centauri and the Magellanic Clouds. You will also get a new perspective on familiar constellations such as the Big Dipper, or Plough – known in this hemisphere as the Southern Cross – which appear to hang upside down in the skies.
Australia also has the best view of the Milky Way on Earth, looking towards the galactic centre rather than away from it. There are 100 times more stars on display than can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere, not to mention meteor showers, dust lanes and nebulae. So get set for some out-of-this-world experiences.
Surf the Milky Way outside Alice Springs
The Milky Way contains billions of stars and when you gaze into the desert skies above Central Australia you’ll feel like they are all blazing down on you. Earth Sanctuary’s astronomy tours highlight not just planets and constellations, but also lesser-known phenomena such as dark nebulas, accumulations of gas and dust that will eventually collapse in on themselves and become the breeding grounds of new stars.
- How to experience it: Explore the southern night sky with an experienced guide, laser pointer and telescope at Earth Sanctuary.
Be mesmerised by the Aurora Australis in Tasmania
Where: Multiple locations in Tasmania.
Like its Northern Hemisphere counterpart, the Aurora Borealis, the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, illuminates the night sky with shades of green, blue, purple and red that dance across the sky. The light show is visible all year round from Tasmania, although the best displays take place in winter. Hobart’s highest mountain, kunanyi/Mount Wellington, offers a magnificent viewpoint, as does the nearby – and more easily accessible – Mount Nelson.
- How to experience it: The further south you are, the better your chances will be. Avoid a full moon and light pollution and set your camera's shutter speed between five and 15 seconds.
Sleep under the stars
Where: Various locations Australia-wide.
Like the idea of falling asleep beneath a blanket of stars? Wherever you go in Australia, you will find glamping and off-grid experiences that allow you to soak up the full splendour of the night sky. Simply step outside your tent and look up to see the spectacular display in all its glory. Each location is unique and offers experiences beyond stargazing, such as Aboriginal tours, magnificent wildlife viewing, beautiful bush settings or memorable outback experiences.
- How to experience it: Get away from it all at Kooljaman Camp at Cape Leveque in the Kimberley region of Western Australia; Wildman Wilderness Lodge in the Northern Territory; Queensland’s Nightfall camp and New South Wales’ Paperbark Camp; Ikara Safari Camp at Wilpena Pound Resort in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.
Moon-gaze at Perth Observatory
Where: Bickley, 35 kilometres (22 miles) east of Perth.
You don’t need to go far from the city to enjoy a spot of stargazing as Australia’s biggest cities all have observatories that are open to the public. In Western Australia's capital, the Perth Observatory has been around for more than 120 years. Tour guides use both modern and historic telescopes to showcase globular clusters, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. Other urban observatories include Melbourne Observatory, located inside the Royal Botanic Gardens, and Sydney Observatory, next to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- How to experience it: Perth Observatory has a range of Night Sky Tours including a Moonlit Night option, which allows you to explore the details of the moon’s surface.
Discover Indigenous astronomy in Outback Queensland
Where: An eight-hour drive or a 2.5-hour flight west from Brisbane to Charleville Outback Queensland
Sometimes things hide in plain sight – like the giant emu in the sky. Never seen it? The guides at Cosmo Centre in Charleville Outback Queensland will show you not just this emu, but also the other people and animals that, according to Indigenous lore, live in the night sky on their Universal Dreaming tour. Some are etched out in the stars, just like our own star stories, but others are depicted in the dark spaces between the stars. You'll enjoy listening to ancient stories over a fire pit with complimentary marshmallows to toast yourself a treat.
- How to experience it: Tours with the Cosmos Centre run from April to September each year.
Take one small step in Canberra
Where: A 45-minute drive south-west of Canberra.
Australia plays a key role in NASA’s Deep Space Network – in fact, Australian telescopes were the first to receive clear images from the 1969 moon landing. The Canberra Space Centre is the largest antenna complex in the Southern Hemisphere. Here you can check out the latest images from across the solar system, discover what astronauts eat at the International Space Station, and see a piece of moon rock that is 3.8 billion years old.
- How to experience it: Entry to Canberra Space Centre is free. The complex includes a cafe, picnic grounds and a playground, making it a perfect day out for the family.
Dine under the stars
Candlelit dinners are romantic but they can’t compete with starlit dinners, particularly when they take place in one of the outback's most atmospheric locations. Experience a multi-course dinner highlighting native ingredients – anything from crocodile Caesar salad to pressed wallaby with fermented quandong – before sharing Aboriginal stories and decoding the night sky as it glistens above you.
Experience a Dark Sky Park in New South Wales
Where: Warrumbungle National Park, a six-hour drive north-east from Sydney.
How did Warrumbungle National Park get the nod as the Southern Hemisphere’s first Dark Sky Park? The high altitude and low humidity, as well as its distance from the big cities mean the stargazing here is second to none. Sliding Springs Observatory, on the edge of the national park, is home to the largest optical telescopes in Australia.