There are certain things in life that will always make your heart race faster than a uni-testicular road cyclist, no matter if it’s the first time you’ve seen it or the five-hundredth time. A double rainbow burning brightly across a sunset sky. The cool glow of phosphorescence that lights up around your body in still, night water. The ripple of a platypus breaking the surface of a quiet river. Or a night sky full of showering meteors, streaking across the vast depths of space.
While most of those things you can’t plan, you’re in luck – the Delta Aquariids meteor shower peaks this weekend, so grab your lover (or platonic adventure buddy) and get a little star-crossed.
Don’t know where to go? We’ve got you covered.
Even if you can’t get out of Sydney, it’s no excuse. Head out to the coastal lookouts – Barrenjoey Lighthouse or the headland at Clovelly are good options, but the white cliffs of The Balconies on the Royal National Park Coast Track are next-level under a starlit sky, away from the lights of the city. The trailhead starts from the end of Beachcomber Avenue in Bundeena, only an hour or so from Sydney.
North and South
If you’re willing to go a little further, Mangrove Mountain is only 1.5hrs north, on the Central Coast and outside Sydney’s light haze.
Those down south might want to try the Drawing Room Rocks just outside Berry, which comes complete with its own rock furniture – perfect for a Mad Hatters Moonlit Tea Party! It’s only a 4km return, but you might want to check out the lay of the land in daylight hours first.
The lookouts in the Blue Mountains are fantastic for stargazing, as you get away from the light pollution of the city. Any of the lookouts will do – you might want to try Hargraves Lookout , Cahills Lookout, Lincoln’s Rock/Flat Rock, Mt Blackheath Lookout, or Mt Banks .
Starlit Sand Dunes
A particularly good option 2.5hrs north of Sydney is the Stockton Sand Dunes . There’s plenty of space out here to find your own patch of sand – 32 kms of it, to be exact! You can 4WD right onto the beach and into the heart of darkness, but I’d only recommend it if you have some experience with beach driving and/or are heading up in daylight hours. Otherwise, you can access the beach from the North at Anna Bay or near the middle from Lavis Lane. Put this one in your diary for a full moon too, the dunes look like snow drifts on a bright night…
Go West, Young (Wo)man!
Nope, all of those sound too pedestrian. You want only the very best and you’re willing to travel. Good stuff – what you’ll want to do is head west, out to where it’s cold and clear.
Mount Kaputar, near Narrabri, is renown as one of the best spots in NSW for stargazing. At 7hrs northwest of Sydney, it’s a fair hike – but in the morning, you’ll be able to explore the incredible Sawn Rocks or Waa Gorge, so you can pack a lot into this weekend of adventure! If you’re quick, you might be able to snap up one of the NPWS cabins tucked away amongst the towering snow gums.
The Warrumbungle National Park is another fantastic option for dark skies, around 6hrs northwest from Sydney. It also has fantastic campgrounds and… well, just plug ‘Warrumbungles’ into google image search!
If you’re after one of those iconic deep-space shots, capturing the Milky Way rising over the massive radio telescopes out at Parkes should be on your list. It’s 5hrs west of Sydney, and it’s one of the most well-known observatories in the country, so they must be on to something.
Before you go…
The best time for viewing the shower will be after midnight and before dawn, as the moon will have set and the sky will be dark. So either grab the blow-up mattress and some warm sleeping bags to camp out, or get up early.
ClearOutside and CloudFreeNight are great resources for planning the perfect night – they’ll tell you when the moon will rise and set, whether and when there will be fog or cloud in a certain location, and even when the International Space Station will pass over!
And if it does end up being cloudy, don’t stress – the Delta Aquariid meteor shower goes for a while, and while the nominal peak is the 27-28th July, it will continue throughout late July and early Aug.
While you’re at it, download one of the night sky mapping apps like SkyView or SkyMap, which allow you to find or identify constellations just by pointing your phone at them. You can also time travel forward in time to work out when certain stars or galaxies will be rising, and where. Phwoar!
Lastly, don’t forget to review WAE’s relevant informational material…
Snap a star!
This is the perfect time to try out some of that astrophotography that blankets your Instagram feed. Not sure how? Here’s a cheat’s guide:
Set up your tripod in a sturdy location (you didn’t forget it, did you?!) and bolt your camera to it. If it’s windy, you may need to weigh it down to reduce the chance of it moving around.
Strap on a wide angle lens and focus on the most distant horizon. If you can’t get a focus point, manually set your focus to just below infinity (the photocopied-bum emoticon that’s marked on the end of your focus ring: ∞)
Flick your settings to manual. I know, it’s scary. You’ll have to do some experimentation, but as a general rule, drop your f/stop as low as it goes (usually f/4 or f/2.8), set a long exposure of around 30 seconds, and really pump up your ISO (around 3000-5000).
If you can, set your camera to take photos continuously (timelapse mode). This will give you the best chance of capturing a meteor in full flight. If you have a Canon SLR which doesn’t have a timelapse mode, you may want to check out Magic Lantern, which will give you this functionality (for free).
Check out this quick-start guide to astrophotography for more info on getting that perfect star-shot.
Did we miss anywhere? Comment below on your favourite night sky viewing point in NSW!
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