Stargazing in Sutherland: visit the white dwarves and the red giants
Is your only glimpse of the Milky Way that time your toddler hurled his vanilla shake from Milky Lane all the way to the other side of the food court? Maybe you think Sutherland is a snowy town too far, far away for a getaway. Or maybe you just haven’t had the chance to experience the true beauty of the African sky yet?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, it’s time to stop making excuses, you live in South Africa! People fly from all over the planet just to share in the magical stargazing experience of our perfect night sky ─ and it is truly perfect, you just have to know where to look. It’s time to hit the road to the place where the Milky Way is so close you can almost touch it.
You don’t like driving long distances
Yes, the Karoo is vast and, to a lot of South Africans, a bit far afield, but it is completely worth it. The Karoo, in general, is known for its picturesque starry nights which means Sutherland and its neighbouring towns are perfect spots to view the stellar canvas above. Besides, Alpha Centauri, the nearest star, is 4,22 lightyears from the sun, and still visible from the earth* So, galactically speaking, whether you live in Kuruman or Cape Town, Sutherland is not on your doorstep ─ it is in your living room!
Is SALT the only way to go?
The Southern African Large Telescope is a state of the art facility. If you want to see how astronomy is done in the 21st Century, you should definitely drop by. You don’t peer through an actual telescope, but monitors provide a detailed view of all the white dwarfs, red giants, star clusters, and planets. Note that tours are subject to availability due to lockdown and bookings are essential, no unscheduled tours are permitted. You can find more information about the tours and bookings here.
If, however, you want to put your eye to an actual telescope, book a lecture and stargazing experience at Sterland Boerdery and stay on their premises in one of their quaint and charming houses listed in the grid below. Here the proprietor, Jurg, provides a general overview of the cosmos and does a good job of explaining how our planet is but a pale blue dot in the expanse of the universe. Stargazing sessions can be booked seven days a week (weather permitting) and start at 20:00.
Stay at Sterland Boerdery:
You think Sutherland is a one-horse town with no restaurants
Ever heard of the legendary deliciousness of Karoo lamb? Well, Sutherland is slap-bang in the centre of an endless expanse of the arid country where the sheep outnumber the people a thousand to one. If the countless black-headed Dorper sheep ever think of starting a revolution, the locals are in big trouble. When you perhaps strike a cloudy night (fat chance!) you can book a table at Ou Meule to get a taste of culinary heaven.
Stay near Sutherland:
So before you start learning the words to Starry, Starry Night by Don McLean or looking up the best snow pants on shopping websites, make a date with the cosmos at one of these awesome stays!
Top tips for a stargazing trip to Sutherland:
- The sky is clearest during winter and the stars are better seen on moonless nights.
- Pack warm clothes! Think thermal everything. It’s hard to marvel at the sky if you can’t feel your toes.
- Wake up at the crack of dawn, stroll down the main road and explore its dusty tributaries. Inhale the crisp, fragrant Karoo morning air. There’s no better way to get the smoggy city out of your system.
- The Dutch Reformed Church embodies a rich history and is known as one of the main features of the town. This remarkable building dates from the 1800s with the finishing touches like the Canadian wood against the roof and the original German organ still used today!
Well, it seems like you just ran out of excuses for your date with the universe! Let go of your grudge against the stars, pay them a visit in Sutherland!
(*Disclaimer: Our sun is a star, Alpha Centauri is its closest neighbour.)
Main Image: Provided by Sterland Boerdery
This blog was written in 2017 by Herman Botha and updated in 2021 by Bea Lingenfelder.