One of my favourite things about being in Charleville was the incredible, enveloping darkness that I noticed from the very first moment I pulled up in town. Living in Darwin CBD, I never really experienced the darkness of the outback, I was always surrounded by streetlights and only ever really noticed the darkness when I went running alone at night. But nothing compares to standing out in the street in Charleville alone after dark, there are barely any streetlights and you can't even see your hand in front of your face. I've never experienced a darkness like it. It's unnerving at first, and then you start to adapt, you get used to walking the same paths without any lights, you start to make out familiar shapes. One of my favourite times to be outside was when I would arrive home late, either from a friend's house or the pub, and I would hop out of the car at my place. As they pulled away I would always stop for a second to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, then I would look up at a sight that would always take my breath away. The stars here are the brightest, the clearest, and the easily the most beautiful I have ever seen. I cursed the fact that I didn't have a good enough camera to capture their beauty on several occasions, but was certain that even the best cameras in the world would not do justice to the sight.I was lucky enough to have a great friend - one of many - while I was in town, someone who kept me sane on more than one occasion and made me feel so welcome from the beginning. He loved the stars and had his own telescope, so we went out a few times while I was in town and parked up in a field in the middle of nowhere to get away from the lights and take a closer look. Those nights spent lying in the back of a truck watching as one arm of the Milky Way moved across the night sky were easily my favourite time in the town. Spending nights losing count of all the shooting stars we spotted and zooming in on different constellations - those are the moments I know I'll remember the most from my time in Charleville. Even better, it was great to be with someone who knew about the stars and could tell me about them. I remember the first time we went out and I managed to capture the amazing picture of the moon through the telescope - I couldn't believe how beautiful it looked that night and I'm glad I appreciated it then because another time when we went out at the full moon it was so bright it outshone so many of the stars in the night sky.While I was in Charleville, what was probably one of the most random coincidences I have ever experienced happened. An English friend I met while in Thailand and travelled with through Laos suddenly showed up in town. It turned out the solar power company he worked for sent him all over the country, he had just been in New South Wales the previous week and now he had turned up in my tiny outback town! I couldn't have been more surprised to suddenly hear from him, especially when he dropped the bombshell that he was in town with his friend and colleague, JP. It came at a perfect time - the halfway point through my three months and I was struggling to stay sane in this town. Seeing Paul and getting to catch up with a fellow backpacker was just the tonic I needed to show me why I was here doing this three months - so I could spend another year with people like him. Of course, we had to celebrate being reunited and how better than with steaks and wine?! We had a fantastic weekend together catching up, we went swimming at the river and even squeezed in a visit to the town's Cosmos Centre and Observatory.The three of us went along on our final night together ready for a night of stargazing - we weren't disappointed. After we were shown a short movie about the observatory and how it was created, we headed straight out to a specially-built building with a retractable roof. It was very impressive and obviously had a lot invested into the creation of such a structure, especially considering it was housing several telescopes worth millions. The guides were fantastic - they talked to us throughout, answering any questions and telling us all about what we were seeing and lots of other information that helped us to understand the scale of what we were seeing. We focused on the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius HR 2491 which is also known as the Dog Star, before taking a look at The Great Orion Nebula in the sword of Orion, both beautiful and completely different to look at. We also took a look at open cluster M41, a binary star system called Almaak with orange and blue stars, before finishing with the second largest globular cluster in the night sky - Tuncana 47. Now this won't mean much to most of you - but I can tell you it was a pretty spectacular collection of stars and a real range. They were beautiful. The only thing I was a bit disappointed by was at that point all the planets were below the horizon so we didn't get to see any, sadly they only started to appear as I left so I missed them completely. But to be honest, the stars were just that stunning that I wasn't really that bothered. If you happen to find yourself passing through Charleville, I would definitely recommend a visit to the Observatory - it's truly out of this world.
Where is the best place you've stargazed? Have you randomly bumped into a travelling friend in the middle of nowhere?
One of my least planned days in Sydney was one rainy afternoon where I reached the final straw after staring out at the blackened, stormy skies all morning. I'd already been up since first thing, had been to the gym and washed my clothes, caught up on emails. Now I was bored and needed some fresh air, one of the girls was complaining about the rain stopping her from seeing the city, but being a true English girl, I wasn't about to let a bit of rain dampen my day. I decided to skip the free bus and walk instead for some exercise, down through the CBD to Circular Quay where it was just a short walk to The Rocks and up to Sydney Observatory. The Rocks is a lovely area of the city which is full of food, drink and live music, plus on the weekends the markets are worth a look. I wandered through, following Google Maps on my phone to find the road leading to Observatory Park where an amazing view across the city lay waiting. Even if you have no interest in space or visiting the Observatory, I would really recommend walking up to the park just to check out the view, it's beautiful and a really special way to see the city. A friend from university was actually lucky enough to have her fiancé propose to her there, it's such a romantic place to watch the sunset.The actual Observatory is brilliant - free entry so a great money saver for the backpackers - and it's a really cool building. You are given a little guide to the museum but a lot of it is self-explanatory thanks to signs, but it is also a bit of an interactive experience as you can watch videos, take tours of the telescope and more. Definitely worth a visit, and if you like history, the tours available at The Rocks museum are worth a look - they tell you all about the area's criminal past. I mean, it's up to you whether you're interested in more than just boozing and the obvious sightseeing, but I found these were a great way to spend a rainy day in the city. After a good look round the building, I headed back down towards The Rocks, but followed a different path this time and found myself at the end of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Looking up at the skies which threatened rain at every turn but had yet to actually open, I decided to risk it and finally walk across the bridge.Walking the bridge is a rite of passage for backpackers in Sydney, I can't believe that anyone would come to the city and not want to tick it off their list. Not only do you get to see the city from a different perspective, but you also get a chance to visit Luna Park, a vintage fairground which lies just across the other side. I had definitely planned to do it at some point but never thought it would be today, it just seemed silly not to when I was in the mood for walking and already at one end of the bridge. It didn't take long to get across the bridge, but I took my time and stopped to take photos and chat to people along the way. I definitely didn't wear the right shoes for all the walking I did that day, so if you do decide to do this day of walking, bear in mind it ends up with you covering up to 10k and for that you do need proper shoes. Halfway across the bridge you can get some great photos of the Opera House and city, and when you reach the other side, you can take the steps down, walk under the overpass and find yourself at Milson's Point near the entrance to Luna Park.Luna Park is a restored 1930's amusement park that sits on the banks of Sydney Harbour and is filled to the brim with nostalgia for times gone by, from the carnival favourites of hot dogs, candy floss and ice cream, to rides including the Ferris wheel and giant slides. It is one of the most iconic sights of the city, everyone knows the clown's face and it can be seen from right across the harbour, even at night when it is lit up rather spectacularly. I actually had a bit of a different experience of the park, because when I went over that day it was actually closed to visitors. The gates were still left open however, so I had the very odd experience of walking through what felt like an abandoned 1930's amusement park just as a storm looked like it was about to hit. It was a bit creepy, I won't lie, but a cool experience to see the place without any screaming children or bustling crowds. I would definitely say it is worth a visit, whether you go just to check it out or actually fancy a day on the rides.After a walk round the park, I decided to head back before the storms hit and started walking back across the bridge. By this point I figured I'd walked this far and might as well carry on all the way home, so I ended up walking all the way back to Circular Quay and up through the CBD to my hostel - an app on my phone told me the walk had come to just over 10k altogether and my legs were feeling it! But it was a good way to get out and see the city, and a little exercise never hurt anyone. I was pretty amazed I managed to walk for hours and only felt a few drops of rain the whole time considering how dark the skies were - it was definitely worth the risk.
Have you walked Sydney Harbour Bridge? Do you tend to visit museums and galleries when staying in a city - any you can recommend?