Winter evenings in South Africa can be chilly, but if you spend all your time inside, you’ll miss out on one of winter’s attractions, namely the night sky. The clear, cold winter nights of the Southern Hemisphere often offer perfect conditions for stargazing.
Shaun Pozyn, Head of Marketing for British Airways suggests the following places to do some amateur astronomy, as well as explore other attractions for each.
Just over three hours’ drive from Port Elizabeth, this small town in the Amatole mountains of the Eastern Cape often has snow in winter and is frequently misty. Because it also enjoys many very clear nights (also there are very few artificial lights) it can offer good stargazing.
Some visitors say Hogsback reminds them of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings books and movies, and the area is said to have inspired the more idyllic, pastoral parts of JRR Tolkien’s epic works. While you’re no more likely to see short people with hairy feet there than anywhere else, it does have many other attractions. Delve into mountain-biking or hiking and later take a well-deserved break at one of the many restaurants on offer.
Star-gazing can be very rewarding with just the naked eye and a flask of something to keep you warm, but if you want some technology on your side, you can head to Sutherland, about four hours’ drive from Cape Town. Sutherland is world-famous for its stars and its SALT (Southern African Large Telescope), one of the biggest optical telescopes in the world.
The Southern African Astronomical Observatory has set up several telescopes for visitors, and the Sterland guest-house, for example, has telescopes for guests’ use. Day-time attractions in the area include hiking and four-by-four trails.
Hakos Astrofarm: info-namibia.com
Namibia’s desert climate has very few clouds, allowing for excellent stargazing. In fact, the country is rated alongside Hawaii and Chile as among the world’s best places to do so. There are many guided tours and a number of guest-houses have telescopes for guests’ use such as Hakos Astrofarm.
ǀAi-ǀAis/RICHTERSVELD TRANSFRONTIER PARK
Straddling the border between South Africa and Namibia, the ǀAi-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park has a starkly beautiful mountain-desert landscape and is essentially uninhabited. This means no pollution of any sort, creating ideal conditions for astronomy. Visitors have also found the lack of cell phone coverage liberating. There are plenty of campsites, but you’ll need a four-by-four vehicle to traverse the park. The Orange River has some excellent fly-fishing.