If you have a star-gazer or a planet-lover in the family then a trip to Siding Springs Observatory in NSW is a must. The observatory is located in Coonabarabran, and also the centre of the largest virtual solar system drive in the world.
As you approach Siding Springs Observatory along the Newell, Oxley or Golden Highway you can spot the giant billboards, displaying one of the 8 planets or Pluto. What is unique and incredible about the drive is that the models and their distances from the sun are all to perfect scale, 38 million times smaller than the real thing. At the centre of the solar system you will
We found ourselves in the middle of the solar system by accident, after popping
Apart from having one of the best names in Australia, the Warrumbungles have to be one of the most beautiful spots that we drove through. Meaning ‘crooked mountain’ in the Aboriginal Gamilaroi language, the remnants of ancient volcanos have created this spectacular westerly edge of the Great Dividing Range. We stopped along the way for a short bush walk and marvelled at the magnificent views. Whitegum Lookout is an easy sealed path, suitable for kids and prams, and leads to incredible views over the mountains. The park costs $8 to enter for the day and is Australia’s only Dark Sky Park, meaning it’s also a great spot to visit at night to stargaze. You can find more info on the Warrumbungles here.
Siding Springs Observatory
At the centre of the solar system is the Siding Springs Observatory, Australia’s foremost optical research centre, also boasting the country’s largest optical telescope. The visitor centre is full of great astronomical displays, as well as lots of interactive stuff for the kids. At the time of writing it cost just $5.50 for adults and $3.50 for children to enter. You can also view the huge telescope, which is over 6 stories high!
Coonabarabran is known as the astronomy capital of Australia, chosen as Australia’s premier night sky viewpoint due to its clean air, lack of light pollution, non-turbulent atmosphere and lots of dark nights. Due to the observatory itself being used for research, it closes to the public from
While you’re in ‘Coona’ you can also visit the Coonabarabran Visitor Centre with great exhibitions. Currently showing is the Australian Museum Megafauna Exhibition with the Diptrodon Display where you can get up close to the largest marsupial on record which walked with dinosaurs. You can also learn about the traditional landowners of the area, the Gamilaroi and Wiradjuri people, with sites identified dating back 21,000 years.
Also in the area, the Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre is well worth a visit, where you can learn about Aboriginal culture, European settlement and local flora and fauna. Entry is free and it’s great for families. Other sites of interest around Pilliga are Sculptures in the Scrub and the Sandstone Caves. You can also visit the Artesian Bore Baths at Pilliga and bathe in therapeutic waters, but access is 30km by unsealed road so it will depend on your vehicle. If you are set up for off roading you can also visit the Salt Caves at Baradine.
Back on the solar system
The Siding Springs Observatory is just 28km from Coonabarabran, at the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park. For more information on the five solar system drives leading to the centre click here.
See you in outer space!