Part 2: Dubbo to Coonabarabran then to Sydney
This is part 2 of our outback NSW escapades, hope you will enjoy reading about my favorite part of the trip. Before we parted ways with Dubbo we made a calculated last stop at the local information center. When I was doing my research into what there is to see on the way to Coonabarabran I came across a really clever and educational driving challenge. It is called the Solar System Drive and it is essentially “ a scaled model of our Solar System that’s 38 million times smaller than outer space!”. Put it another way it is a series of billboards each containing a 3d model of the nine planets (including Pluto before it was dethroned from its status as a planet) which I will add are proportionately scaled in size and distance. There are several starting locations you can begin the drive, but all of them lead to a single point; the Siding Spring Observatory that represented our Sun. As I was saying the purpose behind my visit to the Information center was to snap a photo of the first of the now dwarf planets Pluto that is located in Dubbo. See the map below.
We managed to see, stop and snap a photo of each of the planets all the way up to the massive observatory. What I loved about the experience was how it gave me a good sense of the enormous distances between the planets and how far apart the real things must be from each other. My appreciation rose in regards to the effort it would have taken to pull of the 10 year journey of the New Horizon probe that recently sent us those beautiful images of Pluto and its moons. It took us around 1.5 hours to drive from Pluto, past Neptune, then Uranus and see the rings of Saturn. Saturn was the last planet before Coonabarabran which we were required to pass to get to the remainder of the planets. The final five came at us much sooner and with much shorter intervals. It felt like Earth was almost rubbing shoulders with Mars and Venus.
The Siding Spring observatory, the biggest of its kind in Australia is situated on a 12,000 meter mountain overlooking the gorgeous Warrumbungle National Park. It is ironic that it is meant to represent the final element of the drive i.e. our Sun, because the wind-chill was making us all shiver in our shoes. There is a tourist level within the observatory from which you can read a bit about the telescope and astrophysics in general and then gaze at the mighty machine itself through thick glass of course.
There is also a kiosk and a little museum with an entry fee next to the observatory, but we had no time for either. We still have not checked into our space themes accommodation.
I found the place we were staying at through Airbnb website. When I read that the place had its own observatory and we could get a private guided viewing, I had to enquire. It was called ‘Skywatch Observatory Domestays’ and featured a nice clean and spacious private two bedrooms, one bathroom and living-room place.
We were greeted by Gary as we got out of our car, who together with his wife Merril own and run this bed and breakfast business with their own observatory. They were very accommodating and made us some coffee as we had a little chat to get to know each other. We quickly learn that Gary was scientifically trained and enjoys the wonders of science, especially astronomy, while Merril had a talent for art and a unique perspective on all things, her other talent was revealed the next morning.
As we settled into our little cottage and bathed the boys, the sun slowly began to melt away into the horizon as the sparkle of the night sky patiently emerged. Gary let us know that he will be our till 8pm after which we can all go and make use of his telescope.
When it was finally time to stargaze we made way to the observation deck that trying to simultaneously look up into the sky while also looking down to maintain our footing in the dark.
As soon as we were standing on the platform and turned off all the lights around us the stars enveloped us in all directions. The Milky Way that would have been impossible to see back in Sydney glared at us with all its majesty. It was something magical. I wish I had just gone somewhere secluded and starred into the eye of the night sky. Gary took out a powerful laser and began to point out various objects in the sky such as planets, constellations, star clusters, famous stars and general tricks in identifying other objects. He pointed out a dark patch on the Milky way that resembled an Emu, which made me remember an aboriginal painting I saw just earlier that day of an emu painted on what I now realize was the Milky Way. The Milky Way Emu looks something like THIS. Gary also fielded and questions we had for him.
We then proceeded into the observatory as Gary cranked up the telescope. Benji was getting restless at this point but we soldiered on as Gary stepped away and told us to look. The first thing he showed us was the planet Saturn. Through the eye-peice we could clearly see the planet with its, it was like we were looking at a kids picture book. He showed us a number of other awesome things through the telescope. Highlights bthat come to mind include the Magellanic Cloud dwarf galaxy and alpha centauri, our closest to earth, star system.
At this point Levi was asleep and Benji was bawling his eyes out so we headed back to our lodge to put the boys down. But I wasn’t done yet, I wanted to try to night photography. I purchased a tripod just for this occasion. Gary graciously agreed to join me, even though he wasn’t an expert in taking the night shots.
Unfortunately, the postcard images I envisioned taking in my head did not come out as I wanted. It took a while to get my head around the camera settings, and the location I was standing on did not offer me the wide expanse of the sky I needed, so I mostly got blurry isolated shots. I have included my best image. I hope to try again, perhaps next time we go travelling away from the city.
With my hands almost frozen, I called it a night and thanked Gary for joining me back on the deck.
The next morning Merril prepared us a nice hot breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon and her special recipe kale with fennel. This was three out of three great breakfasts we have enjoyed on our trip capping off the final leg of our travels.
Before we put the suitcases back into the car we had a great long chat with Merril about her art, her architectural design dreams and other things. It was a great way to relax before the arduous drive home.
The route we take back was a more direct path that cut through a small town called Dunedoo and a wine region around Mudgee.
We got to see more of the beautiful country side and many farm animals for Levi to spot. After stopping in Mudgee for lunch the last stretch of road was through another part of the Blue Mountains, via Chifley road that eventually turned into Bells Line of road and then finally into Richmond road.
Overall I highly rate the space themed part of our holiday and the experience of gazing into the night sky. There was something primal about the whole thing, it was a very humbling feeling.