There’s nothing like a good old road trip up North and after a couple of months of cold rainy weather, Roger Groom and myself for looking forward to getting some sun and clear skies. The now annual pilgrimage to the Dark Skies of Gascoyne Junction started on Thursday 12th of August as Roger and I drove from Perth to Geraldton where we ran a nightscape workshop with Ken Lawson from Astro Star Tours at the Walkaway Wind Farm lookout. The workshop started with dinner for some at The Provincial Restaurant and we met up with the others at the lookout it was great to get the different perspectives on nightscape shooting from both Roger and Ken who are some of the best Astrophotographers in Western Australia during the introduction part of the night.
With the setting of the Sun, Venus and a lovely small crescent Moon were low in the West as we started taking our shots with the wind turbines and the beautiful farming scenery to go with them. Both Roger and Ken had nifty lighting tools so the participants could get the wind turbine blades in nice flower configurations with the Milky Way as well. To top of the end of the night with everyone pumped to go on to do more Astrophotography in the coming weeks and saying our goodbyes we got a glorious meteor burning up which unfortunately no one got a photo of as we all packed our equipment away but we got to all experience that amazing moment as we watched the fiery death of that meteor.
Friday morning, we got up early and made our pilgrimage stop to the amazing doughnut shop Beach Barrel for breakfast and coffee and continued up the North West Coastal Highway to Carnarvon where we did a lovely one on one nightscape workshop with a father and daughter. The Moon was a larger Crescent on Friday night and while normally we don’t like light pollution from the Moon, it did light up the beautiful red and green in the scenery and to give us beautiful bordering for our nightscape photos.
We got to have a bit of sleep in on Saturday as we only had to drive 2 hours to Gascoyne Junction, so we restocked our supplies at the Gascoyne Growers’ Market and the local orchardists. We also made a pilgrimage stop to the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum and if you’ve never been to the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum, it’s definitely a must-see. The museum is built at the tracking station that helped provide communications to not only the Apollo Lunar missions but to the Gemini and Skylab missions. While the dish isn’t THE dish that was used by NASA on the site, you do get to see the replica Redstone rocket and the equipment that they used at the tracking station. They’ve done a fantastic job of STEM activities for the kids and at the time of writing this article, they are about to unveil a replica of the Apollo Lunar Lander. While you’re there, you also have to make sure you give Buzz the cat a nice scratch behind the ears or at the base of the tail.
After our stop at the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum, it was onto Gascoyne Junction where we had to dodge cows, fitches playing chicken and the almighty wedge-tail eagles on the way to the town. At the start of the evening, we set the telescopes up at the Gascoyne Junction Pavilion and then dug into an amazing meal of curries, pappadums and rice. Everyone was amazed at what we could show in the night sky through the telescopes, especially the kids that live on station with one particular girl called Ella super keen to learn how to use a telescope. We couldn’t resist, so we let her loose on one of our Dobsonian Telescopes and at the very end of the night when it was just her and her mother, we showed her how to use one of our Celestron CPC 1100 and let her move to different objects and have a look at them. It was a real hoot seeing the glee on Ella’s face as she used the telescopes and we hope we’ve got a new potential astronomer now.
On Sunday morning bright and early, with the van already packed, Roger and I started the long way down back to Perth as we drove to our next destination Kalbarri to do a nightscape workshop at the Skywalk there. For our international and interstate readers, you may not know, but Kalbarri was badly damaged by Cyclone Seroja back in March and the locals have worked extremely hard to rebuild the town but you can still see there are areas still affected from the cyclone damage.
It came time to do the nightscape workshop at the Kalbarri Skywalk and it was fantastic to have completely clear skies as last year it was partly cloudy at the start of the night and then became mostly cloudy halfway through the workshop. If you haven’t been to the Kalbarri Skywalk, I highly recommend going in the late afternoon as the shadows give an already impressive scenery just that extra amount of awe. After the introduction and info session for the night, the participants went around and took photos of the night sky with the Kalbarri Skywalk and the animal statues, plus the artwork.
I want to thank Ainsley Harris from the Gascoyne Development Commission for the help in organising this year’s trip to Gascoyne Junction and if you’ve got any time off at the moment or coming up, it’s definitely worth driving up north at the moment, especially as we are in wildflower season and with this Winters rain, it’s amazing to see them all in full bloom.