In the brief window where borders to our neighbouring states were opened, my father and I took the opportunity to visit the Warrumbungle National Park in central New South Wales. This trip was inspired by another road trip in 2017. While returning to Brisbane from Kosciuszko National Park, the Warrumbungle’s volcanic peaks of the park grew from the barren horizon of NSW central-western plains and we immediately added it to our bucket list.
What I didn’t know at the time, is that the park, roughly eight hours south-west of Brisbane, is Australia’s only Dark Sky Park.
What does this mean?
Due to its remote location, low light pollution and high altitude, it makes the park the perfect spot for stargazing.
Why did this excite me so much?
Because while I love architectural photography, my true photography passion is astrophotography!
With a less-than-favourable weather forecast for Friday night, we arrived late Thursday afternoon and set up camp. If the view from our camp was anything to go by, I knew I was in for a photographic treat.
Warrumbungle is a Gamilaroi word meaning crooked mountain. Sheer & dramatic peaks formed over thousands of years of volcanic activity including volcanic plugs and dykes, such as the parks most iconic formation, The Breadknife.
We spent the first night exploring the park in search of the perfect vantage point to shoot both the peaks of the park and the sparkling lights above. Unfortunately, due to the geographical arrangement of the park, such spots don’t exist. That is unless you’re willing to hike the Grand High Tops Walk. Marked as one of the top ten hikes in NSW, this hike will see you climb and scramble up various volcanic volumes. You can even camp on the mountainous ridge to capture some of the best panoramic views Australia has to offer.
We didn’t this time, but I will be back!
Instead, we completed the somewhat less intimidating, but still slightly sketchy, Macha Tor hike with views towards the Grand High Tops.
Shooting the stars
Our final night in Australia’s only Dark Sky Park saw us embark on an astronomy tour at the Warrumbungle Observatory just outside of Coonabarabran, known as the stargazing capital of Australia. Here, we had the opportunity to use telescopes to view star clusters, nebulae, constellations, and neighbouring planets such as Saturn and Jupiter. The real reward of the night, and the trip, was the opportunity to connect my camera to an observational telescope to photograph the Lagoon Nebula.
This giant interstellar gas cloud is located in the Sagittarius constellation, approximately 5,200 light-years from Earth. I found trying to comprehend our distance from Earth to the nebula, and distance in time I was looking back through unfathomable. I was also completely taken back by the colours and formations my small camera had captured. This one image perfectly captured the ending to our trip and I was leaving the Warrumbungle National Park one happy photographer…. that and the cloud rolled in about two hours later and it rained for three days straight on our drive home.
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