It’s a month today that Sydney Observatory’s Eclipse Tour group stood in almost the middle of nowhere to witness one of the most amazing sights on Earth – a total solar eclipse.
Weather prospects were not looking good and by Monday night I had started to consider an inland move for Sydney Observatory’s eclipse group. With the weather update on Tuesday I decided that we had to move off the coast to maximise our chances and gave Ibi Selim from Harvey World Travel a call to see if it was possible to change the bus pickup time and extend the time we had for the bus. Ibi at the time was at the airport waiting for the rest of the group to arrive and made a few calls and was able to secure the bus for the extended time.
We had a few alternative site options for observing thanks to Joe Cali and I decided site 3B would offer the best option for us as it provided easy access for the bus. Cathi Humphrey-Hood, another seasoned eclipse chaser and I, set off for the observing site about midnight, to check out the site and make sure it would suit our group. We arrived early to pristine night skies and more stars than I’ve seen in a long time and started setting up our equipment. We also managed to scare potential site hunters away when we mentioned a 50-seater bus would be roaring in shortly! Everyone arrived just before twilight and were able to enjoy the night sky, complete with meteors and Venus shining in the eastern sky.
It was a bit of a wait to see the Sun – the trade-off for moving inland meant we missed the first part of the partial phases but there were no complaints when a triangle-shaped Sun peaked over the distant hill – one of the most unusual and beautiful sites I have seen.
The partial phases sped by and it was time for totality heralded by a spectacular diamond ring. Totality was stunning, and the 2mins, 2secs flew by all too fast and the second diamond ring brought an end to an unforgettable totality.
Time has certainly not dulled the memory of this eclipse and I don’t think it ever will – it was the most spectacular total solar eclipse I have seen, perhaps for a few reasons. The eclipse was low in the sky at totality and it nestled above the distant hills and trees, whereas my past eclipses have all been high in the sky, so this made a nice frame for the eclipsed Sun. Being so close to the horizon, there is the optical illusion that the Moon (and in this case at totality the Sun as well) look larger close to the horizon so the eclipsed Sun looked very prominent in the sky to the unaided eye. Finally the corona this time appeared quite extensive, certainly the largest outer corona I have seen again giving the illusion of great size. Speaking with a few eclipse chasing friends at other sites in and aroundCairns, they also confirmed the large extended corona.
We all stayed and enjoyed the partial phases and at 7:39am when the last of the Moon moved off the Sun, it was time to pack up and return to our accommodation where we had arranged a wonderful celebratory lunch.
The following day saw half of the group continue the tour with a base inCairns. We visited the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park where we learned about the indigenous culture of the local area which included a talk on bush medicine. We were taught how to throw boomerangs and spears and were each given a chance to put that knowledge to use, some of us more successfully than others. We continued our day aboard the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which gives you a bird’s eye view of the rainforest. Along the way are a couple of stops where you can wander through the rainforest and toBarronFalls, finishing the journey inKurandaVillage. From the village we had a pleasant journey on the Kuranda Scenic Rail past waterfalls and spectacular views from the top of the tablelands looking back towards Cairns.
Our next day took us to one of the wonders of the world and the heritage listedGreat Barrier Reef. We visited Agincourt Reef and our ride out on a catamaran included an informative presentation by a marine biologist. We were able to enjoy the reef in various ways, including snorkelling, the semi-submersible boat and underwater observatory.
Sunday was a long day as we boarded our bus at 7am for our 13 hour return journey to Undara and the lava tubes.
After lunch we enjoyed a guided two hour tour of these amazing natural formations, led by an experienced guide who talked about the geological processes that formed these tubes long ago. Last year with all the rain one of the tubes flooded and became a swimming pool for visitors which would have been an unusual site in that environment. The tour went all too quickly and it was time to head back toCairns. Though a long journey everyone agreed it was well worth it.
Our final night we visited the Cairns Night Zoo. After our BBQ dinner with live entertainment under the evening sky we broke into groups for a guided spotlight tour of the zoo where we were able to meet some of the local nocturnal inhabitants including the saltwater and freshwater crocs and owls, koalas, cane toads and the reptile house. Afterwards it was Billy Tea, damper and feeding the kangaroos followed by live music and bush dancing. While this is not something you usually think of doing in your own country, it was a wonderful night and a great ending to a memorable tour.
For me the journey had not yet finished as I had driven up and was heading home via inland QLD. If I had to pick a highlight, it would have to be Winton, home of the dinosaur stampede at Lark Quarry and the Age of Dinosaurs Museum – both well worth the dirt roads and long drive for a visit!