Blackout … 2010 eclipse. Photo: AFP
DURING two minutes of daytime darkness on the normally sun-drenched beaches of far north Queensland, thousands of eyes will be turned to the heavens.
When a total solar eclipse casts a shadow over a 150-kilometre-wide strip of land at 6.39am on Wednesday, the tourist towns of Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas will have a front-row seat.
It is the first full solar eclipse to occur in Australia since the same eerie darkness fell on Ceduna in South Australia 10 years ago.
Psychologist and avid ''eclipse chaser'' Dr Kate Russo was there that day, and now devotes a lot of her time to studying - and experiencing - the effects of the phenomena.
The former far-north Queenslander will be in Palm Cove on Wednesday, gazing at the sky, before interviewing fellow spectators for their reactions.
Dr Russo says she has been addicted to experiencing eclipses since 1999, when she travelled to France in 1999 ''out of curiosity''.
''When you get hooked on it, it's something you try to see for the rest of your life,'' she said.
''As it started to progress over time, the more I noticed about the environment - the light started dimming, the birds started flying home to roost, I was picking up this terrible fear, which us eclipse chasers call primal fear.
''And then it just unfolded - the beauty of the eclipse was just stunning.
Up to 60,000 people are expected to visit Cairns for the eclipse, while another 15,000 are set to go to Port Douglas.
Port Douglas Chamber of Commerce representative and newspaper editor Greg McLean says he expects the town to be busier than it is at the height of its peak tourist season.
He says all of the region's campsites have been booked out, and overflow areas at sporting fields have had to be set up.
Like most towns, Port Douglas has come up with some novel ways of celebrating its time out of the sun.
A marathon will begin just as the sun re-emerges from behind the moon, and the town will host the first-ever game of ''fooket'' - which involves simultaneous games of Aussie rules and cricket on the same oval.
Meanwhile, in a nod to the far north's hippy past, an eclectic mix of DJs, techno and folk acts will perform at the week-long Eclipse Festival, near the remote Palmer River Roadhouse.
Queensland Rail will send a chartered train to scenic Red Bluff, near Kuranda, giving 100 passengers a different perspective of the celestial dance.
But the thousands hoping to glimpse the eclipse should cross their fingers, as the eclipse falls within the far north's wet season and could be obscured by cloud cover and rain.
If it is a washout, they'll have to wait until Sydney goes dark in 2028 for the next total solar eclipse visible from Australia.
Eclipse watchers should wear safety goggles or view the event through simple projection devices, which can be made of cardboard.
Correction: The original version of this story said that the eclipse was on Friday.