Western Australia is on track to become the world’s top destination for stargazing – from its regional towns, remote islands and even its capital city.
On a clear and moonless night, the Milky Way sparkles above Western Australia. Mirroring the pearls found underwater around the state’s isolated islands, millions of stars twinkle across the inky-black sky.
Peering up at this glittery galaxy from aboard a cray fishing boat, we can see it all. The Southern Cross shines brightest, along with planets that are visible to the naked eye.
Donna Vanzetti, director of Star Tracks Astro Tours, has been invited on the inaugural Astro Cruise with Eco Abrolhos to lead stargazing sessions at sea and on land. Using a green laser pointer, she highlights Indigenous constellations formed by the dark spaces between stars, such as the Emu in the Sky and the Hopping Kangaroo.
“Our First Nations people have used the night sky for more than 60,000 years. They used it as a calendar, for navigation, and as a storyboard for Dreamtime,” Vanzetti says.
“The constellations that we grew up with [in Australia] were drawn up by people in the northern hemisphere, so everything is upside down for us. But the Aboriginal constellations are up the right way.”
Explore Indigenous constellations in the WA sky. (Image: Louise Goldsbury)Explore Indigenous constellations in the WA sky. (Image: Louise Goldsbury)
Vanzetti has come equipped with a powerful telescope to show us the rings of Saturn, the ‘gas giant’ of Jupiter, and the dark side of tonight’s quarter moon. Moving to the more static vantage point of a deserted beach, we take turns on the eyepiece to admire the view.
The Abrolhos is the best place in the world for stargazing, Vanzetti says, because there is no light or air pollution. “As we are off the mainland, in the ocean, this provides us with pristine, world-class skies. We have some lovely islands to land on with the telescope as well as stargazing on a beach in the middle of nowhere, which is a great adventure.”
Spend five days under the stars. (Image: Louise Goldsbury)
For many passengers, the region’s main drawcards are its exceptional fishing and snorkelling. But the evenings bring other treasures that outshine expectations.
“Once you have had star patterns pointed out to you, or you see a star that is actually a planet, the night sky comes alive. Just knowing a little more about what is overhead really opens people’s minds to the universe above,” says Vanzetti.
The 32-passenger Eco Abrolhos offers its next Astro Cruise on 8-12 February 2024, during a New Moon phase. Guests reach the islands by small plane from Geraldton (included in fares) and sail back over five days. Pricing starts at $3265 per person twin-share or $3685 for a solo cabin including all meals and activities.
The Milky Way never gets old. (Image: Astrotourism WA)
WA’s dark skies
In a world that is glowing brighter with artificial light – increasing by two to 10 per cent every year – WA is working to keep its night sky as dark as possible. Viewing the magnificence of the Milky Way is an ongoing preservation project, led by Astrotourism Western Australia founder Carol Redford.
Camp under the stars in Western Australia. (Image: Astrotourism WA)
The organisation has designated many regional communities as Astrotourism Towns with efforts to change the local street lighting and offer dedicated observation sites and astrophotography hotspots. Sites along the Coral Coast include Lake Thetis in Nambung National Park, near Cervantes; Macpherson Homestead, Carnamah; Three Springs Golf Club; Yandanooka Hall campsite, Mingenew; Little Lagoon, Shark Bay; and the Bibbawarra Bore, Carnarvon.
Western Australia is on track to become the world’s top destination for stargazing. (Image: Astrotourism WA)
Following the steps in these locations, Renford hopes to extend the dark sky privilege to Perth, perfectly positioned as the world’s most isolated capital city.
“Back in the 1960s, when American astronaut John Glenn was orbiting Earth for the first time, he asked the people of Perth and Rockingham to turn on their lights so he could see them from space,” she recalls.
“We became known as the City of Light. But I have a dream that one day Perth can reinvent itself as the City of Starlight. I think we could see the Milky Way, which would be an amazing achievement.”
Astrotourism Western Australia is a stellar resource of stargazing trails and itineraries, tours and attractions in regional towns, and a calendar of events and experiences.
The Quobba Lighthouse is a majestic sight. (Image: Astrotourism WA)
Other stargazing hotspots around Australia
Queensland: See planets and constellations through powerful telescopes and listen to Indigenous stories around a firepit in outback Charleville.
NT: Sounds of Silence or Tali Wiru at Uluṟu, Under a Desert Moon at Kings Canyon, or Earth Sanctuary’s astronomy tours near Alice Springs.
Book a stargazing trip with Uluṟu Astro Tours. (Image: Tourism NT/Tourism Australia)
NSW: Coonabarabran is the gateway to Siding Spring, home to Australia’s largest optical telescopes, Milroy Observatory, and Warrumbungle National Park, the Southern Hemisphere’s first Dark Sky Park.
Set up your tent at Warrumbungle National Park under the sky full of stars. (Image: Destination NSW)
SA: River Murray Dark Sky Reserve hosts a Dark Sky Night Tour. You can also enjoy dinner followed by a telescope viewing at Juggle House.
ACT: Canberra Space Centre is the largest antenna complex in the Southern Hemisphere.
Tasmania: The best displays of the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) take place in winter. Viewpoints include Hobart’s Mt Wellington and Mt Nelson, but the further south the better.
Witness the spectacular Aurora Australis in Tasmania. (Image: Matty Eaton)