A stargazer’s guide to Australia’s Dark Sky Parks

Where to find Australia’s Dark Sky Reserves, Parks and Sanctuaries, and how Palm Beach just became the first Urban Night Sky Place in Australia.

You don’t have to be a scientist or an astronomy buff to appreciate the beauty of stars. From the Milky Way and the Southern Cross to meteor showers and shooting stars, the celestial events that occur in Australia’s night skies are nothing short of magical. Yet, the mystery of the cosmos is often lost to the light pollution of our cities, which drowns out the constellations twinkling light years away. DarkSky International is dedicated to protecting the world’s darkest skies and nocturnal sites in the interest of the environment and its wildlife. With that in mind, the organisation identifies specific locations around the world that qualify for protection and stargazing recognition. Australia is lucky enough to have six such sites, with the most recent one designated just weeks ago in June.

Arkaroola Wilderness Dark Sky Sanctuary & River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve. Photography John Montesi (L) and Laszlo Bilki (R) for South Australian Tourism Commission.
Arkaroola Wilderness Dark Sky Sanctuary & River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve. Photography John Montesi (L) and Laszlo Bilki (R) for South Australian Tourism Commission.

Palm Beach Headland Urban Night Sky Place, New South Wales 

Palm Beach, located in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney, might be famous for being the film location of quintessential Aussie television series, Home & Away, but it now has a new claim to fame. On 25 June 2024, Palm Beach Headland was declared Australia’s first and only internationally recognised Urban Night Sky Place by DarkSky International, one of just nine worldwide. Awarded the title for the community’s efforts to reduce light pollution, the officially designated area encompasses 62 hectares on the northern tip, including Governor Phillip Park and Barrenjoey Headland, which is part of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The designation demonstrates how good-quality lighting and design can reduce the impacts of artificial light on the natural nighttime environments and open up opportunities for better viewing of the night sky. So, if you’re looking for fantastic stargazing locations within easy reach of Sydney, Palm Beach is your best bet. 

Milky way over palm beach headland
Palm Beach Headland © Adobe Stock

Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park, New South Wales

Attaining Australia’s first official Dark Sky Park status in 2016, Warrumbungle National Park is famous for its dramatic rock formations and abundance of wildlife but truly shines at night when the clear skies, low humidity and high altitude make it Australia’s premier stargazing location. Located a half-hour from Coonabarabran, visitors can find the world-class Siding Spring Observatory just a 20-minute drive away from the park. The observatory welcomes visitors year-round, is operated by the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the Australian National University, and is home to the four-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope, the largest in Australia. 

Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park
Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park © Destination NSW/Alex Aitken

River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve, South Australia 

River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve earned its designation in 2019. Located near South Australia’s Barossa Valley, around 100 kilometres from Adelaide, this nocturnal wonderland spreads across more than 3200 square kilometres and boasts some of the darkest skies on Earth. Swan Reach Conservation Park is the Dark Sky Reserve’s core site due to its exceptional natural darkness, size, protected status and central location, which is accessible only by 4WD or organised tours. 

River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve Photography by Morgan Sette
River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve Photography by Morgan Sette © Tourism Australia/South Australia Tourism Commission

The Jump-Up – Australian Age of Dinosaurs Dark Sky Sanctuary, Queensland  

Hidden away in Queensland’s outback, The Jump-Up – Australian Age of Dinosaurs is Australia’s first certified Dark Sky Sanctuary and one of only ten worldwide, awarded the title in 2019. By day, visitors unearth the secrets of prehistoric giants at the museum. But come nightfall, people flock to the base of The Jump-Up to see a spectacular celestial display at the Star Gallery, a free viewing area open all year round. Winton’s remote location and minimal light pollution make it a stargazer’s paradise, offering crystal-clear views of space. 

Gondwana Stars Observatory at The Jump Up - Australian Age of Dinosaurs
Gondwana Stars Observatory at The Jump Up – Australian Age of Dinosaurs

Arkaroola Wilderness Dark Sky Sanctuary, South Australia

Nestled in the Flinders Ranges, Arkaroola Sanctuary boasts some of the best seeing conditions in the Southern Hemisphere. Designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2023 – the second in Australia – Arkaroola’s aridity, elevation and remoteness contribute to its top-notch stargazing conditions. Stretching 63,000 hectares across the Flinders Ranges and the outback of South Australia, Arkaroola International Dark Sky Sanctuary is also renowned as one of Australia’s most remarkable geological hotspots due to its range of plant and animal life. Explore its rich geological and ecological wonders while the sun is high, and then when the moon rises, take in the spectacular celestial display. Visit one of the sanctuary’s six observatories to join guided tours and explore the space research facilities.

Arkaroola Wilderness Dark Sky Sanctuary
Arkaroola Wilderness Dark Sky Sanctuary. Photography by Morgan Sette © Tourism Australia/South Australian Tourism Commission

Carrickalinga International Dark Sky Community, South Australia 

The coastal town of Carrickalinga on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula is Australia’s first International Dark Sky Community. Separated from Adelaide’s light pollution by a range of hills and with minimal streetlights, Carrickalinga is dedicated to protecting its dark, starry skies. The community has been actively working towards this prestigious certification since 2021 through sky monitoring, educational programs, community consultations, and collaborative lighting policy development. 

How many Dark Sky Parks are in Australia?

There are six officially recognised Dark Sky sites in Australia, including one Urban Night Sky Place, one Dark Sky Community, two Dark Sky Sanctuaries, one Dark Sky Resserve and one Dark Sky Park. These are found in South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. 

Which town is known as the stargazing capital of Australia? 

Coonabarabran, a one-hour flight or five-and-a-half-hour drive from Sydney, is the stargazing capital of Australia. Also known as the ‘capital of Australian astronomy’, Coonabarabran is the gateway to Australia’s first Dark Sky Park, Warrumbungle National Park. With no light pollution, clean air, high altitudes and low humidity, these are some of the best stargazing conditions in the country.

Where is the darkest place in Australia? 

The River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve is the darkest place in Australia. It was the country’s first official Dark Sky Reserve and is one of only 15 in the world.

What is DarkSky International all about? 

DarkSky International, formerly known as the International Dark-Sky Association, is a United States-based non-profit organisation founded in 1988 by professional astronomer David Crawford, and physician and amateur astronomer, Tim Hunter. DarkSky International is dedicated to restoring the world’s nocturnal environments and protecting communities from the harmful effects of light pollution through outreach, advocacy and conservation. The international designation of Dark Sky sites contributes to this goal. 

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