The spectacular sight of the Milky Way is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the Central Australian night sky. But what makes this region so perfect for stargazing?
We spoke to Dan Falzon from Earth Sanctuary, Alex Revithiadis, Manager of Guest Activities & Touring at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, and Bronte Stray of Alice Springs Desert Park for more information on the Central Australian nightlife.
“Voyages Ayers Rock Resort and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are a stargazer’s heaven, being located over 400km away from the closest regional town. The dry environment coupled with minimal rainfall and very little light pollution gives you the perfect view for dark sky chasers,” Alex asserts.
The lack of light pollution also gives stargazers at the Earth Sanctuary, a facility that offers astronomy tours and dining experiences, a clear view of the night sky. “Light tends to come with development. We’re obviously not starved of beautiful nighttime skies in the outback,” says Dan.
Bronte Stray from Alice Springs Desert Park, a conservation park showcasing desert ecosystems, offers different types of nocturnal experiences. “The most popular nocturnal experience at the Park is the Nocturnal House — one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. Here, you can see a huge variety of reptiles and insects, both diurnal [active during the day] and nocturnal, as well as nocturnal birds and mammals. Sadly, most of the mammals no longer exist in Central Australia, but it is still an eye-opening experience,” Bronte says.
Alice Springs Desert Park also offers nocturnal tours, where you can see most of the nocturnal species naturally in the environment. Bronte says, “It’s amazing to see the animals doing what they do best, and no two tours are the same. From Echidnas walking over your feet to spotting a bilby or a Mala, with a little joey poking its head out and — if you are really lucky — seeing a joey take its first steps.”
The Pull of Alice Springs
Dan from Earth Sanctuary and his family have been providing nocturnal experiences in Central Australia for over 20 years.
His night sky education began as a youth, when he and his brother opted to sleep outside the family home in swags.
“I think Mum and Dad thought we’d be back after one night, but we didn’t. We fell in love with the night sky and didn’t return to a normal way of living for 10 years.
We learnt about the skies from a visual perspective and so everything we did and learned was pure education under the stars.”
Alex was drawn to Alice by the opportunity to conduct astronomy tours.
“To start with, the chance to deliver astronomy tours under the Central Australian night sky was irresistible. Once I arrived and began to learn about the local Indigenous culture and natural history of the area, I was hooked.”
Bronte was drawn in by the opportunity to work so closely with the wildlife. “There are not many zoos in Australia where you are so involved in conservation programs that are helping the immediate environment,” she says.
A Cultural Experience
Indigenous culture is a significant part of the star gazing experience. According to Alex, who is from Uluru, “There are many constellations visible, each with their own unique story. Indigenous Australians have been passing down these stories through the stars for generations, and we’re very lucky that some have been shared with us so our guides can pass these onto guests.”
It is this connection that makes cultural awareness so important for both operators. Alex says, “Cultural awareness is very important for both our Indigenous and non-Indigenous guides. We take steps to educate our guests about local Anangu culture [Anangu are the Traditional Owners of the area surrounding Uluru]. We begin our evening presentations with an Acknowledgement of Country, and Indigenous perspectives are key to our tours.”
Dan is equally aware of the cultural significance of stargazing to the local Arrernte people of Alice Springs. “We all come from the stars, from tribes, and communities that respected the sky for navigation and understanding the seasons. Many cultures refer to what we call star civilizations. Indigenous people in Australia have an ancestral and spiritual link to Pleiades, for example.”
Bronte has a similar perspective. “The Desert Park prides itself on showing the rich culture of the Arrernte people of the area and educating people on cultural awareness. Culturally significant plants and landmarks need to be protected. As with travelling anywhere, it’s essential to research the background of an area, alongside dos and don’ts,” she explains. There’s also a safety element intertwined with this. “Indigenous culture has significant aspects of environmental protection, as well as safety, and being unaware can get you into trouble.”
While the Central Australian skies are beautiful year-round, there are certain times of year in which the conditions are ideal for stargazing.
Alex explains, “The winter months are better. We lose the Southern Cross for three months in the evening in summer, while cooler weather produces slightly less pollution in the atmosphere.
Also, the ‘dark emu’ [an Indigenous constellation outlined by dark areas of the sky, not stars] and the centre of the galaxy are more prominent in winter.”
Dan agrees, stating that night skies stabilise between April and October. “Outside that period, we’re dealing with clouds. The ideal time is between 7 to 9pm.”
These wintry conditions make Earth Sanctuary’s Dark Sky Festival in May highly popular. “This is our second year running the festival,” says Dan. “Just as we come out of summer, we find a two-week gap when the moon won’t influence our stargazing. It’s a stunning time to be here.”
The Dark Sky Festival is scheduled for 25-29 May 2022.
Alex cites the Sounds of Silence dinner as the group’s most popular offering at Uluru. “Our award-winning, world-renowned Sounds of Silence dinner has been going strong for over 20 years, so that comes in at the top of the list. A journey through the night sky is included in Sounds of Silence, which is offered daily at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort.”
According to Alex, Tali Wiru also draws in the crowds. “Tali Wiru — our Indigenous, outdoor fine dining experience — also includes stargazing and is popular for smaller groups.”
Bronte also believes winter is best.
“Between April and October is a really good time to come, as the days are sunny and perfect temperature, and the nights cool down.”
Whatever time of year you visit, searching the night skies in Central Australia offers a wholly unique experience. Bronte concludes, “The climate and landscape here can seem harsh and uninhabitable, but when people realise how much life comes out after dark, it can be shockingly beautiful to experience.”
The Red Centre Drive Guide
We recently collaborated with Tourism Central Australia on their Red Centre Drive Guide. You can learn more about that guide to this beautiful region and get your copy at discovercentralaustralia.com/drive
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The Traditional Owners of these locations have lived in the region for over 20,000 years. We wish to acknowledge Elders past, present and emerging. We ask that travellers in the region respect their ancient traditions and ongoing custodianship of the land.