The Southern Hemisphere as seen from New South Wales

8th February 2007

The Southern Cross (Crux)  Photo: Brett Miller

After a breathtaking 4 weeks travelling from Melbourne up to Cairns and Port Douglas, diving on the Great Barrier Reef, surfing in Surfer's Paradise and making a general nuisance of ourselves in downtown Sydney, my friends and I were coming to the end of our annual vacation.  "You should see the Milky Way from the Blue Mountains," said Alan, "I bet the views would be breathtaking."  So, we rented a camera (L&P Photographic in Artarmon) and a tripod, packed some cold drinks and climbed into the car.  I had no experience whatsoever with a digital SLR, but Brett owns a Nikon FSLR so I asked for a Nikon digital SLR.  All they had was the D200 with a battery pack.  We accepted a 17-55mm lens because it enabled the aperture to open up to f2.8 and the shop kindly threw in a fish-eye lens for free.  The day was cloudy.

As we drove up beyond Lithgow, it was about 5 in the evening and the temperature started to drop considerably.  The drive had been eventful: along the way, we came across a Police stop where random breath-tests for alcohol were being carried out.  We had stopped along the way for some liquid refreshment and there were concerns that their meter might have knobbled our driver - but thankfully, we were legal.  Our destination was Katoomba where there was an interesting rock formation called 'The Three Sisters' but as we drove on, it began to rain.  The excursion was starting to look like a fiasco, not to mention the waste of AUD$266 for the equipment hire.  The sleepy town of Katoomba must be sick and tired of trippers driving through only to stop at Echo Point for the magnificent view of the valley and the Three Sisters, but  - WHAT A VIEW!

You can see how cloudy it was that evening.  After taking a number of pictures off Echo Point, the weather got worse and it started to rain.  Cold, wet and in the dark, we ducked into a lovely Italian restaurant and ate some delicious thin crust pizza baked in a stone oven while we reassessed our situation.  It was 8 in the evening, we had a high-end camera and our appetites whetted for some clear skies and stars, but it was raining outside.  Undaunted, Alan said - " We should head for the coast."  It was true that on numerous occasions, when it was cloudy in Castle Hill, it was sunny on the coast - so after dinner, we got back into the car and Alan drove like a man-possessed - new destination: Palm Beach!  About 100km later, from 1067m down to sea-level, we arrived on a beautiful deserted beach at 11pm and looked back at the sleeping town lights.  Up above: broken cloud!  There was a stiff breeze and out to sea, the moon in its last quarter was just trying to break through the grey canopy with shafts of ghostly light on the gunmetal-grey Pacific.

Photo: Brett Miller

At first we thought that the long drive and the mad-dash was all for nothing.  No sooner had we taken stock of the dramatic sky and the empty moonlit beach than the rain began to fall again.  We stared balefully at the sky and had already begun packing up the tripod when, but for Alan's hesitation, we would have missed the best opportunity of the evening.  There as we looked, the skies parted like a post-diluvian vision and the moonlight spilled across the sea opening a window through to the heavens above.

Photo: Brett Miller

The clear skies that came across overhead gave us views of the Milky Way and the beautiful star clusters of Carina, the Large Magellenic Cloud and even Orion, reclining to the northwest.  The best two pictures of that magical evening can be seen on the deep sky page of this website or by clicking on the links in this paragraph.  If nothing else, the evening was a lesson in persistence and optimism, and the indefatigable 'can-do' attitude of Alan.  Many thanks also to Brett for the expertise on using an SLR camera.  We had the whole beach to ourselves that night, apart from an inquisitive kangaroo-rat which scared the wits out of me when it scurried through the scrub.  (So many things in Australia can kill you, I had my mind filled with fears of Brown Snakes, Funnel-webs, and Yrrigandji by the other two - I was ready to run at a split-second's notice.) 

Palm Beach Tripping!  Photo: Brett Miller