People come to COONABARABRAN on the Castlereagh River, 160km north of Dubbo via the Newell Highway, to gaze at stars in the clear skies, or for bushwalking and climbing in the spectacular Warrumbungles mountain range 35km to the west.
By virtue of its proximity to the Siding Spring Observatory Complex, perched high above the township on the edge of Warrumbungle National Park, Coonabarabran considers itself the astronomy capital of Australia. The skies are exceptionally clear out here, due to the dry climate and a lack of pollution and population. The giant 3.9m optical telescope (one of the world’s largest) can be viewed close up from an observation gallery, and there’s an astronomy exhibition, complemented by hands-on exhibits and a film.
You can’t actually view the stars at Siding Spring because, as a working observatory, it’s closed at night. However, the improbably named Peter Starr, a retired Siding Spring astronomer, offers stargazing tours by request utilizing his five telescopes. Take along a digital SLR and he’ll take some close-up photos of the moon’s lunar landscape as well as stunning astral skies for you. The one night of the year Siding Spring does open to the public is during October’s Festival of the Stars, when you can also catch pub talks by astronomers, as well as markets and Coonabarabran’s annual racing carnival.