People come to COONABARABRAN on the Castlereagh River, 160km north of Dubbo via the Newell Highway, to gaze at stars in the clear skies, or for bushwalking and climbing in the spectacular Warrumbungles mountain range 35km to the west.
By virtue of its proximity to the Siding Spring Observatory Complex (Mon– Fri 9.30am–4pm, Sat & Sun 10am–2pm; $5.50; Web:www.sidingspringexploratory.com.au), perched high above the township on the edge of Warrumbungle National Park, Coonabarabran considers itself the astronomy capital of Australia. The skies are exceptionally clear out here, due to the dry climate and a lack of pollution and population. The giant 3.9-metre optical telescope (one of the largest in the world) can be viewed close up from an observation gallery, and there's an astronomy exhibition, complemented by hands-on exhibits and a film.
You can't actually view the stars at Siding Spring because, as a working observatory, it's closed at night. However, the aptly named Peter Starr, a retired Siding Spring astronomer, offers star-gazing tours by request (Tel:0488 425 112) utilizing his five telescopes. The one night of the year Siding Spring does open to the public is during October's ten-day Festival of the Stars.
Cultural tours focusing on the Gamilaroi Aboriginal history of the region are run by Ukerbarley Tours (Tel:02/6843 4446).