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The Dark Sky Park, Warrumbungle National Park. PIC: Destination NSW

Sooner or later all grey nomads who love to gaze up into the night sky while pondering the meaning of life are drawn to the New South Wales town of Coonabarabran, otherwise known as the ‘Astronomy Capital of Australia’.

Located about 500 kilometres north-west of Sydney on the banks of the Castlereagh River, ‘Coona’ as the locals affectionately call it, also sits right next to the Warrumbungles’, a stunning mountain range which is an incredible attraction in its own right.

While the Southern Cross and a host of other constellations can be enjoyed from a campchair in numerous remote Outback locations, it is the Siding Spring Observatory and the famed Anglo-Australian optical telescope which has helped Coona’s star shine that bit brighter with astronomers.

The popular StarFest, which is held on the October long weekend every year, is another drawcard for grey nomads eager to get stars in their eyes at a series of events hosted by the observatory. The Siding Spring Observatory, which opened in 1964, is actually about 28 kilometres west of town along the Newell Highway.

There are a number of powerful telescopes in the observatory but the ‘big boy’ is the Anglo Australian Telescope. Its mirror measures a whopping 3.9 metres in diameter. The Siding Spring Visitor Centre is absolutely fascinating and hosts an interactive exhibition, and a number of other attractions. There are also a number of other locations in the area – including the Warrumbungle Observatory and the Milroy Observatory – that offer visitors an opportunity to learn more about the skies above.

Coonabarabran itself is a lovely little town with an interesting history. In the mid-19th century, the site was identified as a suitable spot to ford the Castlereagh River and it then developed quickly as part of a transport route on what became known as the ‘Old Wool Road’.

As the wool trade grew, the town really began to establish itself. Over the next couple of decades, there came a hotel, a post office, a courthouse, a school and a number of churches. The first bridge over the Castlereagh River was built in 1885, and the railway arrived in 1917.

The Coonabarabran Memorial Clock Tower was built from local sandstone and dedicated in 1928 and remains a central feature of the town. Today, Coona has a population of around 2,500 and is a successful service centre for an area known for its wheat, sheep and timber production. It has an array of shops, cafes, caravan parks and attractions.

Tourism is also a growing part of the local economy and a large part of Coonabarabran’s visitor appeal is its proximity to Warrumbungle National Park, just 36 kilometres to the west. Covering 20,000 hectares, the park boasts numerous fantastic walks and a host of flora and fauna.

Whitegum Lookout is the perfect place to take in the spectacular views of the park’s volcanic landscape. For those visitors seeking to unlock more of the area’s geological secrets, a visit to the Crystal Kingdom is a must. It is apparently the first collection in Australia to display minerals and fossils from one local area only, and includes rare zeolite crystals, a huge crystal cave, and local fossils.

And then there’s the Coonabarabran Visitor Information Centre which hosts the Australian Museum Diprotodon Exhibition where you can see the skeleton and skull of a Diprotodon, the largest marsupial ever to have lived.

Wow! A welcoming country town with some serious prehistoric appeal mixed with genuine star power. No wonder it’s becoming a real grey nomad favourite.

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