Ultimate Travel Bucketlist: The Milky Way
Okay. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with space. The milky way. Astronomy. Stars.
Well, actually, I think I can pinpoint it to around September 2005, when I watched my first ever episode of Doctor Who… then Brian Cox came along circa 2010 with his creamy voice and amazing show Wonders of the Solar System, which didn’t help the anything.
I always think part of the reason I have a weird love for maps and travel is because of this. I mean, thanks to my 16 year old idiocy, I didn’t choose physics and so couldn’t become a astronaut. (Unless they let 21 year old songwriters who did really well in the physics module of combined science into the space program?)
So without further ado, here is a little extension of my Ultimate Travel Bucketlist series and the first in my chasing space collection of posts. (Oh, and here is a little more info about the different types of dark sky areas that exist in the world)
In Europe, there is only one place that’s certified with Dark Sky status, and that’s Galloway Forest Park in Scotland. However, having lived in between Brighton and Salisbury for the past 3 years, I’m constantly surprised whenever I arrive back home in the shire and I’m greeted by seemingly hundreds more stars – which I officially take as proof that all these reserves and dark sky parks are going to be overflowing with sexy night sky views.
- Galloway Forest Park and the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, UK – The UK’s only dark sky park and one of only 4 in the western world. (Here is a link to another useful page)
- Exmoor National Park (Dark Sky Reserve), UK – The first Dark Sky Reserve in Europe
- Mount Tiede National Park, Tenerife
- Iceland – As well as getting a glimpse of the milky way, on the right day you might even get to see the northern lights too! West Iceland has some of the lowest light pollution in Europe, as well as having ridiculously long nights in winter, giving you ample opportunity to spot the stars.
- Stonehenge, UK – I’ve seen this dotted about and I’m so pleased because it’s right on my back doorstep! I originally wouldn’t have thought of my home town as a place to see the stars, but since living between the countryside and the city, the difference between the night sky is so noticeable.
- Tuscany, Italy – Whilst not the first place you’d think of when it comes to night sky gazing, it is the place where Galileo first observed astronomical phenomena such as Jupiter’s moons.
- Esrange Space Centre, Kiruna, Sweden – another remote north destination that can hit you with the aurora borealis as well as some spacey views.
- Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia – It takes an entire week to get across it, but considering Siberia is one of the least built up places in Europe, it can offer some amazing views. It also takes you right to Mongolia, another prime stargazing location.
I didn’t really think of Asia as a particular hotspot for viewing the night sky, seeing as a large portion of it is very built up, then I quickly remembered that it’s actually quite big and does include Mongolia.
- Yeongyang Firefly National Park, South Korea – Although you wouldn’t have thought of South Korea being a place you could concentrate on the stars, this national park is the first dark sky park in Asia!
- Mount Bromo, Indonesia
- Koh Kood, Thailand – The sparse population and relative remoteness make it a great area for stargazing. Soneva Kiri hotel even comes with it’s own observatory!
- Nubra Valley, India
- The Maldives – The fact that it’s in the middle of the Indian ocean offers an obvious advantage.
- Khurel Togoot Astronomical Observatory, Mongolia – Or in fact, anywhere in Mongolia. In history the people of Mongolia used the stars to navigate, so I’m betting that any Mongolian nomads can give you one hell of an astronomy lesson.
- The Sheshan Observatory, Shanghai, China – It’s free admission and the oldest observatory in China. What is there to lose?
- The Dongtan Wetland Park, China – You can even camp here!
- Ngari Dark Sky Reserve, Tibet, China – This dark sky reserve is the first in China, and has literally only just opened. It’s said to be one of the best places in the world to view the stars, due to it’s extremely low light pollution, large number of clear days, and high altitude
My current flatmate lives in South Africa, and I’ve been itching to go visit her. If nothing excites me about another country, it’s the thought of having an entirely different night sky to look at. To see not only famous sights that are on everyone’s travel bucket lists, but also constellations you can’t see where you live or anywhere around! On top of that, many countries in Africa are some of the least light polluted places in the world, just look at this light pollution map.
- NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia – The Namib Desert is one of the darkest places on earth. This nature reserve has been named Africa’s first dark sky reserve, and you can even sleep out under the stars at the education centre within the park.
- Sahara Sky Observatory, Draa Valley, Morocco – the Sahara Desert is one of the best places in the world to see the night sky, and the Sahara Sky observatory is the easiest place to access these amazing views. The hotel is also very reasonably priced – like we’re talking backpacker cheap right now. Brb getting on a flight to Marrakech.
- South African Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa – Entry includes a talk, tour of the sight, and stargazing. Oh, and it’s free.
- Karoo National Park, South Africa
- Kruger National Park, South Africa – Olifants Camp is the best place to stay according to the Kruger National Park blog. As well as seeing all the constellations of the southern hemisphere by night, you can see spectacular views of the Olifants River and Lebombo Mountains by day.
- Victoria Falls Safari Club, Zimbabwe – They offer complimentary stargazing for guests of their lodge, including a talk twice-weekly.
As a person who is excitedly heading off to Australia next year, I’m excitedly googling the best places to see the night sky in the southern hemisphere. Imma be checking out all those southern constellations I don’t usually get to see and probably freaking out about it every night.
- Aoraki Mackenzie, New Zealand – The World’s Largest Dark Sky Reserve. Thanks to this title, there is a lot of astro-tourism in this area, meaning readily available tours and information!
- Lake Tekapo, New Zealand – Earth & Sky offer many observatory tours as well as tours into Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve.
- Wiruna, New South Wales, Australia – the land here is owned by the Astronomy Society and they provide facilities and accommodation, as well as an annual South Pacific Star Party.
- Ayers Rock, Australia – The middle of Australia is basically a big patch of light pollution free ground, so obviously placing yourself relatively slap bang in the middle of the outback will increase your odds of seeing those stars.
- Solomon Islands – Just looking at this on the light pollution map is literally like woah, does anyone even live here.
- Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia – Awarded the Astronomy Capital of Australia, this spot is recognised as the go to place for stargazing in Australia. You can visit Warrumbungle Observatory (which officially wins the prize for the best named observatory in the world), or just use your own two eyes.
North & Central America
- Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania – Here you can find some of the darkest skies in the states. Inside the park there is a dedicated astronomy observation field for those who want to camp under the stars, and a free night sky viewing area with a blacklit sky map.
- Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah – In parts of this park you can see up to 15,000 stars (wow). Astronomy programs are also presented through out October at the visitor centre.
- Muana Kea Observatory, Hawaii – This observatory holds a free stargazing program nightly! It’s also the only place where you can drive from sea level to 14,000 feet in under 2 hours – the website even warns away people under the age of 16, pregnant, or with respiratory problems, which frankly makes it about 10 times more exciting.
- Mont-Mégantic National Park, Quebec, Canada – Another low light pollution national park with an observatory (catchily named “ASTROlab” which sounds scientific yet exciting)
- Caribbean – Getting out to sea offers the opportunity to escape light pollution in ways that you can’t always do on land!
- La Fortuna, Costa Rica – Costa Rica is one of the only places in the northern hemisphere where the Magellanic Clouds, two galaxies identified by Ferdinand Magellan in the 1520’s, are visible.
Last but by no means least. I think really, this continent is the ultimate for viewing the night sky. There are is a crazy number of places that offer a stellar (pun intended) view of the night sky, but these are the four that come up over and over again.
- Atacama Desert, Chile – This place is generally regarded as one of the best stargazing spots in the world. It has high altitude, barely any clouds, and extremely dry weather.
- Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia – This has been on my bucket list forever, especially as the floor is highly reflective and basically looks like it could transport you straight into space. Like, you can literally space travel but not really. I’m down.
- Galapagos Islands – Thanks to the light pollution being pretty much at 0%, the Galapagos is perfect for seeing as many stars as possible. It’s also one of the only places you can see the stars of both hemispheres. Whilst there aren’t many observatories or excursions available, there are a few cruises which offer stargazing activities.
- Lake Titicaca, Peru – Take a trip out to one of the islands on this lake.
Here are some tips on how best to see the Milky Way:
- Allow 15 minutes to let your eyes adjust to night time.
- Cover your mobile and torch with red plastic to protect your night vision.
- Invest in some binoculars!
- Aim to go during a new moon, where it won’t be visible, making the constellations easier to see.
- Use star maps and charts to help identify constellations.
Has anyone else been anywhere and found the milky way that I haven’t mentioned?