Total solar eclipse thrills Cairns & Far North Queensland as region plunges into darkness
Spectacular: The clouds parted long enough at Palm Cove for keen umbraphiles to witness a total solar eclipse this morning. On the Cairns Esplanade HMAS Cairns' Steve Swanson with son Billy, 1, strained to catch a glimpse of the eclipse.
LOCALS and travellers from around the world were united in awe this morning across Far North Queensland as the region experienced a spectacular total eclipse of the sun.
For two minutes time stood still as an eerie, unearthly glow - the colour of indigo - fell over the tropical coast.
"It was breathtaking," said tourist Ann Lucey, a nurse in her mid-fifities from Florida in the United States.
"I felt my heart skip a few beats, felt myself clapping, I was just breathless in awe."
Huge dark storm clouds taunted onlookers as patches of light played across the Coral Sea, giving odd scant glimpses of a red crescent sun in the partial eclipse phase.
"That big cloud hung about like a bad smell," said Swiss eclipse chaser Barbara Vonarburg, 56, a television science program presenter, on Trinity Beach.
"It was like someone said, "No, I'm not going to show it to you"," she said.
Many of the heavily equipped amateur astronomers, out to get that trademark shot of the "Eye of God" with pink geysers of nuclear fire visible in the corona surrounding the black disc of the moon, felt disappointed.
"When the light of the sun did come back to Earth, I felt tears of thanks in my eye," said the Swiss.
"Imagine if it didn't?"
Light spilled back to Earth, visible as illuminated fingers in the cloud, as the camera flashes of an estimated 60,000 tourists and locals rippled along the coastline in a 170km-wide band of moon shadow.
Ten hot air balloons filled the sky over the Atherton Tablelands and a flotilla of sailboats, superyachts, runabouts and four cruise liners dotted the waters of the inner Great Barrier Reef.
"It is like everyone had come down to watch the End of the World," said Dr Natalie Dillon, a scientist in Mareeba.
"When it goes dark and the temperature drops, you get a sense of the fragility of life.
"I just feel in awe. It is like the Moon has wiped a cloth over the face of the Sun and we can start afresh.
She said the moment of totality was a glimpse into the start of the Ice Age.
"It shows how the Sun is the reason life exists on earth. Too much closer and we'd burn. Too much further away and we'd freeze.
"For a moment, you get a sense of what it felt like when the dinosaurs went extinct as the cloud of a meteorite storm obscured the sun and plunged Earth into an Ice Age."
Japanese tourist Hiroaki Kondo, 28, was one onboard four charter flights out of Japan to come to Cairns for the total solar eclipse.
"I feel so excited," he said.
"Everything was so surreal."
On the northern end of the Cairns Esplanade, thousands gathered to catch a glimpse of the eclipse through low cloud.
Brinsmead’s couple Steve and Katie Swanson said the roles were reversed when they woke their 11-month-old son Billy at 5am to watch the eclipse from the Esplanade.
“I had to work so I couldn’t plan on going anywhere,’’ the Navy sailor said.
“(Billy) is more interested in the birds and mud.”
Brisbane’s Michael Nixon made the trek north for his first eclipse, but will be leaving for Townsville on a bus tonight.
“I wouldn’t say I was disappointed. Everything went black still which was cool,’’ he said.
The 24-year-old said he initially wanted to go to the Eclipse 2012 Festival but couldn’t afford the $400 ticket.
“I’ve just been cruising the Esplanade, it’s crazy to see how many people are here.
“I hope to see another one – As long as I live until I’m 100.”
David Mills, of Brinsmead, his wife Sachiko and six-year-old daughter Chelsey Mills, was just happy to see a glance of their first total solar eclipse.
“There was a little tiny window there – we’re grateful for that.”
An estimated 5000 people have gathered across beaches north and south of Cairns, with reports of clear views from Babinda in the south and Palmer River west of Cooktown, where more than 10000 people have gathered for the Eclipse2012 Festival.
Brisbane couple Michael and Deb Harris, along with four-year-old son Cameron chose to watch the show from the Esplanade Lagoon where clouds concealed all of totality.
“We were in the wrong spot!” Michael joked.
“No, you could see the effect and that’s half the fun.
“We were just in a hotel up the road so we were always going to watch it here.”
Mrs Harris added: “We got the experience of it. We’ll have to watch it on TV later, but it was a good experience.”
Police have reported the Kuranda and Gillies ranges - the main routes from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands - were not experiencing congestion this morning. Crowds have also been largely well behaved.
For two hours this morning from 5:44am the sun, moon and our planet align to create one of the most spectacular sights on Earth.
Umbraphiles from around Australia the world have travelled to Far North Queensland to witness the spectacle, which will plunge the region into darkness for two full minutes as the phenomena reaches "totality".
Eclipse chasers have nervously monitored Bureau of Meteorology reports in the lead-up to this morning's eclipse in the hope that the forecast scattered cloud and showers would dissipate, while others took no chances and ventured west beyond the Atherton Tableland and south to Townsville, where a partial eclipse will be seen without meteorological obstruction.