Beautiful one day, in shade the next

<em>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</em>
Illustration: michaelmucci.com 

Accommodation in Cairns and Port Douglas, and places in between, is already filling up with visitors wanting to watch the coming eclipse.

WHEN dawn breaks across tropical north Queensland on November 14, about 40,000 visitors are expected to be there ready to witness a total solar eclipse.

It is rare for a total eclipse to be visible from land and this one, which can only be fully appreciated from the region around Cairns, is attracting a lot of attention from travellers around the world.

The eclipse will last just a couple of minutes but the celebrations will run for days, with events including a solar eclipse marathon, a music festival and a street carnival.

Berths on many cruise ships have already sold out and hotel rooms are filling fast as awareness of the event grows.

The chief executive of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, Rob Giason, says the region has had a taskforce working for more than 12 months on arrangements for the expected 40,000 visitors.

To watch safely, viewers will need eye protection.

The visitor estimate is based on the region's capacity and past events - more than 30,000 people travelled to Ceduna in South Australia for a similar event in 2002.

"We have been bombarded with requests from scientists, amateur astronomers and holidaymakers who want to be here to see the eclipse," Giason says.

"Viewing an eclipse from [the land] is highly appealing and when you add in the appeal of the Great Barrier Reef, we expect a significant turnout."

The executive officer of Tourism Port Douglas & Daintree, Doug Ryan, estimates between 10,000 and 11,000 people will head to Port Douglas alone, making it "a little squeezy" given the region's total capacity of 10,500 beds.

"The town is gearing up for a big five days," Ryan says.

"It appears at the moment that we will have three cruise ships anchored off Port Douglas and accommodation bookings are coming in rapidly."

Coral Princess Cruises is operating two cruises for the solar eclipse and says both were sold out by November last year, 12 months ahead of the event.

"It's been so popular I wish we could schedule one every year," says the sales and marketing manager for the company, Andrew Castles.

"We have a waitlist going in the event we receive any cancellations but that is unlikely."

P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises are also offering solar eclipse itineraries and say they have sold "extremely well". Some berths are still available and the companies advise travellers to book now if they want to be on board.

Figures produced by the accommodation group Mantra also point to the need for travellers to get organised if they want to be in the region for the eclipse.

The company says its Mantra and Peppers-branded properties in Palm Cove, Port Douglas and Cairns are already more than 50 per cent booked - six months in advance of the event.

These numbers, which are strong for the time of year, are mainly made up of international travellers, with domestic travellers yet to be added into the mix.

For those who want to go and have not yet booked, camping is also an option, although this will be limited to designated camping grounds and planning ahead is still necessary.

According to the official tourism website, eclipse2012.org.au, any beach in the region should afford a reasonably good view, as long as there are no headlands or other structures in the way.

The eclipse should be visible from a 200-kilometre-wide band across north Queensland, from south of Cairns to just north of the Daintree and from wide open spaces on the Atherton Tablelands and other inland areas.

Islands on the Great Barrier Reef are also expected to be popular places for viewing the eclipse.

At Four Mile Beach at Port Douglas, the partial eclipse will start at 5.44am and end at 7.39am, while the total eclipse will last about two minutes from 6.38am.

To watch the eclipse safely, viewers will need eye protection such as welders' goggles.

The Solar Eclipse Marathon, which is being touted as a once-in-a-lifetime race, will take place on the morning of the eclipse: 2000 runners will meet on the beach before sunrise and start their 42-kilometre run as soon as the corona (the faint halo that can be seen during the total eclipse) is broken by the sun re-emerging from behind the moon.

 

What to expect

According to the official tourism website for the event (eclipse2012.org.au), the moon's shadow will appear as a "small bite" out of the sun that gradually increases in size.

Watch for Baily's Beads, where the sun shines through the rugged surface of the moon to create points of light, then the final point of light appears as "a shiny ring with an enormous sparkling diamond".

The darkness that comes when the moon covers the sun completely will last anywhere from 10 seconds to two minutes, depending on the viewer's location.

jane@janeefraser.com.au

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