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Tasmania may be a small island, but its clean air and long winter nights create a portal into an infinite universe.

Down here, a lively community of scientists and creatives bubbles away. This hive mind boils over during the Off Season when Beaker Street Festival blends art, science and nature in a melting pot of discovery.

For science communicator and astrophysicist Dr Simin Salarpour, it’s a welcome collision of her favourite things. This winter during Beaker Street Festival (6–13 August), she’s inviting guests on a journey into the cosmos with a tantalising Dark Sky Dinner in a rather unique place: a space observatory in the dreamy Coal River Valley wine region. The experience combines scrumptious seasonal fare and luscious wine at Frogmore Creek Winery with a stargazing tour next door at Mount Pleasant Radio Astronomy Observatory.

"They have the opportunity to enjoy the dinner, a tour around the radio telescope, and [use] the optical telescopes,” Dr Salarpour says. “It's one complete set for having a wonderful evening in Tasmania."

A field of grapevines extends into the distance, where white satellite dishes can be seen standing amongst trees.
Radio telescopes behind Frogmore Creek Winery
Tourism Tasmania

Southern skygazing

Gazing up from your seat at Frogmore Creek Winery, it’s hard to ignore the striking white radio telescope tilting skyward on the hillside at the observatory. Built by NASA in the 1960s for the Apollo mission, the University of Tasmania now operates this 26m dish, receiving signals from outer space to provide vital data to global space scientists.

“The rest of the world, especially [the] Northern Hemisphere, cannot see the sky that we can see and do the observation from here,” Dr Salarpour says. “It’s quite unique, both from the location perspective and also the facility and development of radio astronomy that we have here.”

This is where Beaker Street Festival’s Dark Sky Dinner really excites: through the lens of an optical telescope observing the island’s star-splashed skies.

When I came here for the first time … I didn’t believe that we can have such [a] beautiful sky.

And in Tasmania, no time’s as fine as the Off Season to go stargazing and aurora chasing.

“We don’t have those very rainy, cold winters compared to the other places,” Dr Salarpour says, “and we have the chance to have … a clear sky to see the Milky Way and the stars.

“People can follow the dreams, or the stories behind the stars. You can enjoy the warm drink, snuggling around the fireplace, listening to the stories and taking some beautiful photos.”

An enormous, white sattelite dish points towards the sky.
NASA-built radio telescope, Mount Pleasant Radio Astronomy Observatory
Tourism Tasmania
A woman wearing a scarf and a puffer jacket pears into a small telescope set up in a clearing in bushland.
Simin Salarpour, Beaker Street Festival 2023
Rosie Hastie

Simin’s story

Far across the planet, on the edge of a desert, Dr Salarpour was raised under a “beautiful sky”. From childhood, her awe for the celestial realm bloomed.

“I always was inspired by what's happening in astronomy in this deep, deep space,” she says. “That was my dream, to be a scientist in [the] space industry.”

Today, she gets to experience wide-eyed wonderment from children and adults alike who visit the observatory and the onsite Grote Reber Museum, named after the “father of radio astronomy”.

“That was another reason that I love astronomy: it's not just the complex maths and physics behind it. You can actually share that passion and spread it around the community, and you receive it back.”

A woman stands next to racks of electronic measuring devices in a computer laboratory.
Astrophysicist Simin Salarpour, Mount Pleasant Radio Astronomy Observatory control room
Tourism Tasmania

Disciplines such as agriculture, disaster management and geodesy benefit from the observations and scientific research undertaken at the Mount Pleasant Observatory, and the Dark Sky Dinner offers a glimpse into the wonders beyond our world.

“The guests have the opportunity to have a look at the very, very important and complex devices and control room and observatory that we have here,” Dr Salarpour says. “I would lead them through the history, present and future of radio astronomy.”

Wild winter skylarking

Feel the fun and fervour of the Off Season with winter offers that illuminate Tasmania’s dark side.

On remote King Island off Tasmania’s north-west coast, Yambacoona House provides telescopes and equipment for countryside stargazing. In the state’s charming midlands, Ross Motel provides winter guests with a detailed guide to photographing the Aurora Australis. Or venture to the east coast to watch little penguins toddle ashore on a guided tour during your stay at Apartments on Fraser.

When a red glow washes over Hobart during the Dark Mofo winter festival (13–23 June), catch the waterfront magic from your kayak on a dark paddle with Southern Sea Ventures. Or head along the city’s Rivulet Track with Dr Lisa Gershwin on a Glow Show Tasmania tour, revealing the fascinating nocturnal world of glow-in-the-dark animals, mushrooms and more.

3 people float in small canoes on the water at a port, wearing beanies and sipping at hot drinks in cups.
Southern Sea Ventures, Dark Paddle Hobart
Stu Gibson

For Dr Salarpour, a special memory of a trip to the wombat-speckled wonderland of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park takes the cake.

“We went for a walk on a trail around Dove Lake and then [returned] to one of those beautiful cottages in the bush. At the same time, we were walking with wombats.”

Winter is Dr Salarpour’s favourite time to visit this alpine paradise.

The calmness and the quiet space that you can have for yourself, it’s unbelievable.

“I love spending some nights in a cottage in the bushland, being next to my family and friends and enjoying a cup of tea and listening to music and sometimes sharing stories,” she says. “So that’s kind of a dream for a lot of people … we are living it in Tassie.”

A couple of people huddle together at the edge of water flowing across rocks that is glowing in the dark.
Glow Show Tasmania
Dearna Bond

Her advice on becoming a winter person and embracing nature? For starters, move your body.

“Being active, you are not feeling cold at all,” she says.

The next step is to heat up from the inside-out, be it with a hot chocolate or hot toddy, mulled cider or mulled wine.

And Dr Salarpour’s essential winter tip? Layer up with the right Off Season gear, including a snuggly beanie and the legendary ‘Tassie Tuxedo’.

“A puffer jacket, definitely,” she laughs. “It’s a must.”

 

Off Season frequently asked questions

When is Tasmania’s aurora season?

The Aurora Australis can pop up above the island at any time of year, with droves of local ‘aurora chasers’ giving their camera gear a solid nighttime workout across all seasons. But thanks to longer nocturnal hours and generally clear conditions, the Off Season is the best time to witness the Southern Lights twirling and twisting in the Tasmanian sky. And on nights with a darker moon phase, your chances of spotting an aurora are even higher. Here are seven top spots to see the Southern Lights.

Things to do in Tasmania in winter

With hundreds of Off Season offers and events, you won’t be short of things to do this winter in Tasmania. Plan a winter escape with the family, seek luxurious tours through the sea or sky, rejuvenate at a wellness retreat or discover memorable accommodation and experiences for couples. From seasonal foodie adventures to warming winter tastings, creative workshops, woolly walks through history and heart-pumping action, don’t shy away from the cold. Start planning your Off Season.

Where are the best places to see the night sky in Tasmania?

From Hobart’s towering kunanyi / Mount Wellington to the rugged southern Cape Bruny Lighthouse, stray further from civilisation, and closer to the sky, to see a remarkably detailed Milky Way in Tasmania. Other top Tasmanian destinations for skygazing include east-coast town Coles Bay near Freycinet National Park, far-north-west fishing village Stanley and the raw Turrakana / Tasman Peninsula in the salty south east.

Need more night-owl inspo? Here’s how to spend your winter nights in Tasmania.

Stay in the know

A flurry of unmissable Off Season offers and events has blown in for the winter. Subscribe for curated Off Season updates and handy tips.

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