Astronomy and astrophotography under California stars

Chasing the Total Solar Eclipse in the Far North of Australia

November 11-19, 2012
My wife and I decided to take a vacation to Australia, and it just so happened to be around the time of the total solar eclipse visible from the north east of Australia. (OK, it was more than a coincidence.) In anticipation of the event, I had put together the following planning images:

Friday, November 9th: The day finally arrived to pack our bags and head south of the equator. After the 14-hour flight from LAX, we arrived in Sydney at about 10AM local time on Sunday, November 11. But the journey wasn't over. We headed to baggage claim to collect our bags, went through customs, and got on our 1200-mile flight to Cairns. After a total of about 20 hours of planes and airports, we arrived at our studio apartment in Cairns (checking in around 6PM local time).

Monday, November 12th: We got up bright and early to sail to Green Island, and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef.

Tuesday, November 13th: Day before the eclipse. We spent the day scouting the area for spots from which to view the eclipse. We drove up and down the coast, into the hills, and beyond. Cloud conditions are difficult to predict in the tropics, especially with the precision needed to gauge eclipse visibility from a particular location. Clouds can form anywhere and out of nowhere in the humid conditions. The forecast for the general area was partly cloudy with chances of rain later in the day. It was the same forecast for 20 miles of coast and even inland. Not helpful. We were going to have to wait and gauge conditions on the fly.

Wednesday, November 14th: Eclipse day! In the early morning, about 1AM, we left our apartment and headed out to check the sky and stake a spot. We settled on the coast about halfway between Port Douglas and Cairns (see a map of the spot here), near Wangetti Beach and Rex Lookout. Clouds were present at morning twilight but they were low to the horizon and it was looking promising. As the morning progressed and the sun rose, prospects started to worsen as the clouds swelled and made their way directly between us and the Sun and Moon. Not good.

We caught glimpses of the eclipse throughout the partial phases preceding 2nd contact. Although we couldn't see the eclipse directly, the sky continued to darken and bird activity became noticeably pronounced. It then became very dark and stars were visible overhead where there were no clouds. We knew totality had arrived but our prospects of witnessing it were looking grim. Then, suddenly and briefly, a hole formed in the clouds! We caught the last few seconds of totality and enjoyed a beautiful appearance of the diamond ring effect. Success!

On the same day as the eclipse, we departed Cairns for Sydney. We checked into our hotel in Sydney, rested a bit, then walked down to the Sydney Opera House to watch Ben Harper put on an acoustic show. It was excellent, and we were tired! We stayed in Sydney for four more days to see the sites.

We thoroughly enjoyed our first trip to Oz. What struck us about Australia is that it seems to be a mix European and American cultures while also being unique and not exactly like either. I already have an urge to go back and explore further.

For more photos from the whole trip, click here.