Lead image by @photographybylazlo
Some of us love looking up at the night sky and getting lost in the far away galaxies, constellations and twinkling lights.
If you’re an avid stargazer, you’ll know that the best way to get a clearer, brighter look at the night sky is by getting as far away from light pollution (ie. the city) as possible. THIS is what makes Australia’s first International Dark Sky Reserve so incredible – it has some of the best views to the stars and it’s located right here in SA, along the Mid Murray stretch of the Murray River, less than a 2 hour drive from Adelaide.
For years the extraordinary night sky viewing places in this region have been a well-kept secret amongst astronomers, astrophotographers and campers. However, through the newly accredited River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve everyone can now easily discover the spectacular Southern Hemisphere sky.
Above: Discover the beauty of our Dark Sky Reserve this October. Image: @photographybylaszlo
In Australia, the Milky Way is best seen during the colder months (May to October) – so this month is your best chance to escape the bright city lights and discover the night sky at its best. Of course, you can come all year round – but the clearest skies are seasonal, and generally fall in line with the cooler months.
Want to lock in your stargazing experience now? There are some incredible experiences at your fingertips, so all you need to do is work out who’s coming, pick a place to stay and pack the car.
Here’s our quick guide to making the most of the last month of the Milky Way season. You’re sure to find something that suits your interests.
Our Dark Sky Reserve spans 3,200 square kilometres and includes more than 20,000 hectares of public conservation parks, privately-owned wildlife reserves and significant wetlands – so you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere new and interesting to visit.
To help get you started, we’ve already prepared our best 15 places to visit for astrophotography and general stargazing, in a map here.
There are plenty of small towns to visit and explore the skies. Ovals at Cambrai, Blanchetown and Sedan are ideal, along with lookouts at Palmer, Purnong, Younghusband and Maynards Lookout between Walker Flat and Wongulla.
Above: The 'bear rock' in Palmer. Image: @row_an_james
However, if you’d rather sit back in a guided tour – your chariot awaits with Juggle House Experiences. Who better to show you around than a proud local? This quirky and hilarious team will provide insightful and light-hearted commentary on your journey. Choose from three different levels of dark sky tours to suit your interests (one even includes champagne!).
Above: Juggle Houses' tours provide telescopes and red torch lights to view stars, constellations, planets, clusters and galaxies.
Sometimes taking a break from the busyness of life can be a challenge. If you need to unwind, then book in a relaxing adventure in nature. The Mid Murray is a great destination for camping with numerous caravan parks, campsites and reserves available.
Get the best night sky experience by camping out under the stars. It’ll make you want to put down your phone, put the hustle and bustle on hold and switch your focus to something more slow-paced.
The Swan Reach Conservation Park (core site of the Dark Sky Reserve) sits within untouched Mallee bushland. It’s one of the darkest places you’ll find (rating up to 21.99 out of 22 for total darkness), thanks to the isolation from light pollution, and PERFECT for stargazing. Note: You will need a 4WD to access the tracks within the park.
The Meldanda campsite (near Cambrai) is great for groups, offering a wide range of facilities including a recreation hut, BBQ, toilets, campfire, dark sky observation paddock, walking trails and outdoor game activities.
Above: The Meldanda campsite has lots of facilities to make your visit easy and enjoyable.
If you’re not an experienced camper but are keen on an authentic bush adventure, the Big Bend by Night team are a local farming family who love sharing their rural lifestyle and picturesque property with visitors. If you want to indulge in your love for astronomy, with the added bonus of a bush tucker breakfast the morning after, pack your swag and camera because their overnight camping option is just for you.
Or if you can’t get enough of native Aussie animals, take the nocturnal tour and dark sky viewing package, where you can spot kangaroos and wombats in their natural habitat before turning your gaze to the stars.
Above: Join Big Bend By Night on an unforgettable stargazing experience in wide-open bush.
If you ask us, you can’t go wrong with either option. Both offer the chance to jump on-board their unique open-top carts and be transported to the centre of the Dark Sky viewing area (telescopes and binoculars provided).
Above: How fun does a ride in their open-top carts look?
Has the astrophotography on our Instagram feed inspired you to get out and capture your own magical sky shots?
Landscape photographers often find potential for fantastic nightscapes at the scenic Mannum Waterfalls, Palmer rocks and the various lookouts which offer sweeping views over the mighty Murray.
Above: The Mannum Waterfalls are stunning at night and day. Image: @blntpencil.
Looking for more inspiration? You’ll find plenty of desolated ruins, windmills, farm gates, barns, jetties, boulders, trees, natural structures and more, throughout our townships. Challenge yourself with being creative with a torch, lantern or light panel. Note: please do not trespass onto private property when taking photos.
If you’re eager to improve your astrophotography skills, Mannum photographer and local tourism guru Dave Hartley offers guidance on the best way capture the night sky on his photography tour which can be tailored to your interests.
Above: Photo inspiration is easily found within the Dark Sky Reserve! Image: @davehartleyphotographymannum
Wherever your skill level is at, you’ll find plenty of places to practice nailing the ultimate Insta-worthy image.
Our handy tips: we recommend planning your trip with the weather – cloud cover can impact your ability to get a clear shot of the Milky Way and stars (or even hide them altogether).
Another tip to consider is that less moonlight means more stars (but for brighter stars, aim to visit during a new moon).
Nothing beats the slow-paced lifestyle that comes from a houseboat holiday. It evokes an instant feeling of relaxation from the time you step on board.
After cruising our stretch of Murray River for the day, you’ll want to find a spot to moor between Younghusband and Blanchetown to stay within the Dark Sky Reserve.
One of our all-time favourite locations is by the Big Bend cliffs – not only will you witness some of the best sunsets imaginable with the ochre cliffs glowing in the light, but you’ll have a front-row seat to the evening sky show after nightfall. Admire the stars in all their glory from the comfortable deck of your houseboat.
Check out the Unforgettable Houseboats fleet as an option for your group.
Above: Unforgettable Houseboats' fleet give you an effortless river cruise experience by day, and the opportunity to comfortably view the dark sky by night.
Come make the most of the last few weeks of the Milky Way season – you’ll be rewarded with calmness and clarity from being in nature, and maybe even leave with a new appreciation for the wonderous night sky above.
And even better, you won’t need to travel too far to escape the glow from light pollution found in heavily populated areas. Less than 90 minutes from Adelaide, you can enjoy the River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve as an evening trip, or as an addition to your next river getaway.