Time to explore the nocturnal side of life.
When the sun goes down, a window to other worlds and timeless stories opens up – if you know where to look.
Daniel Tran (@_danieltran_)
16 October, 2020
For overwhelming proof that some of the best views can be seen at night, you need go no further than country New South Wales and the Warrumbungle National Park
The Audi Q range is so irresistibly advanced you'll often find yourself driving well into the night. After all, some technology is just impossible to put down. That's why we've curated a series of our favourite nocturnal adventures around the country in 'Drives After Dark' featuring after-dark experiences from breathtaking natural nightscapes and up-late eateries to weekender getaways and more.
Just because the day has come to an end doesn’t mean you have to park the car and call quits for the night. When the sun goes down a wealth of after dark possibilities open up, and just as many reasons to get behind the wheel and explore the nocturnal side of life.
For overwhelming proof that some of the best views can be seen at night, you need go no further than country New South Wales and the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran. For this six hour drive from the heart of Sydney, we got behind the wheel of the new Audi Q7 and headed for what is the first and only Dark Sky Park in Australia, a unique location where the climate and the clarity of the night sky, make for an unequalled star gazing experience. Out here, well away from the interference of man-made light sources the night sky presents a dazzling canopy of stars that has attracted star gazers for thousands of years, an integral part of the local indigenous culture and now home to the astronomy research facility at nearby Siding Spring Observatory.
Warrumbungle National Park attracts visitors from all over the country and indeed the world, captivated by this window to countless other worlds, too numerous to count.
Over 80 Dark Sky Parks exist around the world in locations as widespread as Germany to Scotland, Japan to the United States, Israel to South Korea. But for those wanting the best view of the heavens in the Southern Hemisphere, only Warrumbugle National Park and Wai-Iti in New Zealand’s South Island fit the bill and are recognised Dark Sky Parks.
Not just a source of wonder but also a source of information, the night sky has long captivated and informed, the first Australians looking to the heavens for navigation and portents of seasonal change as well as using the stars as a tapestry upon which stories could be woven.
Local indigenous elder, Ghillar, Michael Anderson, speaks of dreaming stories connected to this particular region, with the Wedge Tailed Eagle visible in the night sky at this time of year, signifying the time when the birds nest and breed in the spring.
Not just a source of wonder but also a source of information, the night sky has long captivated and informed
“We travel through by the waterholes, and they’re represented by the stars through one location to another at certain times in the year”
“Now, because there’s a new cycle coming, when you see that eagle coming to land, you know that’s when all the birds are starting to come to land and nest and sit up there and breed,” says Ghillar.
“And you can see him in the southern sky there now. He’s a massive thing, takes up nearly a whole of the southern sky.”
The stars also serve as a living map that has long pointed the way for earthbound travellers says Ghillar.
“We travel through by the waterholes, and they’re represented by the stars through one location to another at certain times in the year.”
The brightness of the stars can often indicate the water levels. “If you see them dull,” says Ghillar, “ then we don’t go that way because we know there’s not enough water in that area. We stay in our own country … or we go another way where the stars are saying it’s very strong and there’s plenty of water.”
Charting a course for travel, the onset of cold weather and the start of new breeding cycles – all of these things have been found in the stars says Ghillar, along with the rich stories of the land and its creation that have been handed down since the dawn of time.
“When you’re observant enough you can understand and see what’s going on,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff in relation to our existence on the earth that is read from those stars.”
Contemporary astronomy likewise looks to the stars for clues as to our origins and for answers to the burning question ‘are we alone’ and there is nowhere better suited to that pursuit than this part of the country. The Warrumbungle Observatory, just nine kilometres out of Coonabarabran is essentially the nerve centre of celestial investigation in the area. Here, visitors can get a closer look at the solar system through many of the observatory’s telescopes, including their large 20-inch plane wave telescope, while the observatory staff point out the planets, constellations, stars and galaxies.
It is both a humbling and inspiring experience, and one that will long remain with you. Indeed, taking in the crowded night sky over The Warrumbungles whether it be through a telescope or with the naked eye, it is impossible to believe that we are the only ones in the galaxy making the most of the nighttime hours and gazing skyward.
“When you’re observant enough you can understand and see what’s going on”
Make the journey
With its world class view of the heavens as well as its stunning vistas and rich indigenous history, the Warrumbungles region is the perfect escape from the big city and a weekend destination with a difference. Roughly six hours drive from Sydney, it’s a trip that lends itself to a stopover or two along the way and if time is on your side, it’s a journey that can be comfortably extended to suit.
Rather than rush from Sydney, a particularly rewarding way to tackle the trip is with a stop in the stunning Hunter Valley Wine region, a rewarding destination in itself and one that can be as long or brief as you like.
Here the award-winning wine and food offerings make it difficult to hurry a visit, and it may be necessary to stay a night or two to sample just some of what’s on offer. There is a long and distinguished list of excellent restaurants in the area, but Muse restaurant, right in the heart of the Hunter Valley wine region is a long-standing favourite that has consistently set the standard. While its seasonal take on contemporary Australian cuisine delights year round, a trip to Muse when the nights are still cold and the huge fire is lit makes for an irresistible combination of atmosphere and fine fare.
Not far away is EXP, boasting a dining experience that makes the most of the local and seasonal produce but with its own unique flare. Opened in 2015, the innovative approach of Chef Frank and owner, Frank Faulkner and his talented team have seen EXP ranked in the Delicious Top 100 Restaurants since 2017, enjoying a current ranking of 28th.
In terms of accommodation in the area you will once agin be spoilt for choice, but the likes of Spicers Guesthouse, Kirkton Park and The Convent to name just three, all make compelling arguments for extending your stay.
Back on the road towards Coonabarabran, make your way to Skywatch Observatory Domestays, just half hour from Warrumbungle National Park, were your star gazing can begin in earnest, staying as you are right next to a working observatory with its own 12.5” telescope.
During the daylight hours, immerse yourself in the stunning countryside and explore the myriad walking trails while you wait for the sun to dip, the sky to darken and the show to begin.
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