Have you ever wanted to see the stars as they are supposed to be seen, without city lights hiding them from view?
Then make a plan to visit Sutherland, a small town in the Northern Cape that just happens to be one of the best locations to view stars in the world. And while being located in the midst of the vast and arid Karoo, it’s surprisingly accessible from Cape Town.
This blog post will give you a run down of how to get to Sutherland, and how to see the stars.
1. Deciding when to go
If you want to see the stars, the moon has got to go. To see the night sky in all its glory means choosing an evening to go when there won’t be any moon shining. Take a look at moon phases to pick a weekend with no moon.
2. What to bring
Located in the Karoo, Sutherland’s weather ranges from scorching hot during the day to bitterly cold at night. So you’ll need to bring a few things for both weather condition.
- Camera and tripod if you have (for taking photos of the stars)
- Warm clothes (jacket, beanie, long pants)
- Cap, sunblock and sunglasses for during the day
- Food and booze (although Sutherland does have an OK mini-mart)
3. Getting there
It takes around four hours to drive to Sutherland from Cape Town. Take into account delays, getting snacks, and stopping to take photos of the dramatic Karoo scenery and you’ll find yourself arriving in Sutherland around five to six hours after leaving home.
The good news is that you don’t need a 4×4 to make it out to the remote town. The N1 is well maintained, as is the R354 which takes you from Matjiesfontein to Sutherland. However, the roads can be empty and if you break down and need assistance it could be a while before someone stops. So make sure your car doesn’t have any issues before setting off.
4. Once you’re there
We arrived in the town at around five o’clock. Since it was summer when we visited, we had another three hours of sunshine before it got dark. We settled into our accommodation at the Whitehouse Inn and got started with the first of two braais.
At around 19:30 we set off to visit the The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). We had booked a night tour to get a guided ‘tour’ of the stars. It is priced at a very reasonable R80. There’s a fun museum there and we took a look around until it got dark enough for the stars to come out.
We walked from the museum to the tour venue, a small room without a roof. The group was told to turn off all phones, torches and cameras so that our eyes cold adjust to the light. We were then treated to a spectacular view of the night sky. The milky way was clearly visible, as were the constellations and even other galaxies. Our tour guide gave us a great explanation on the various stars, clusters and galaxies we could see in the sky. There was one powerful telescope, through which we were able to see various stars and clusters of stars not visible to the naked eye.
Following the tour, we drove back to our accommodation and had another braai while continuing to admire the night sky.