Stellar Stargazing sites in SA and beyond

Cape Town - One of the things we love about winter in SA - the dry night skies that give us those brilliantly clear (and cold) evenings. Perfect for many things - like camp fires, red wine, rich coffee, snuggling up under layers of blankets.. and ah, yes, one of my favourites - stargazing. 

A recent trip to icy Sutherland (-4°C at the time) opened my eyes to the science that is astronomy and I spotted the unfathomable from a telescope for the first time. The Skittle-sized Saturn surrounded by its Fruit Loop-like ring system convinced me of how real it all is. An amazing experience for young and old, whether you are into astronomy or not. If you're not - you will leave way more than curious about it though.

ALSO SEE: Snow, stars, serenity, Sutherland

Well-known for its beautiful Karoo landscapes, freezing temperatures (the coldest in SA) and snow, Sutherland will also school you on all there is to know about our magnificent solar system. From tours and talks at SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) to intimate lessons and telescope explorations with Jurg at Sterland, stargazing is the talk of the town.

A photo posted by a n j a (@somecallmeanja) on

But Sutherland is not the only stargazing hotspot in SA and various stargazing festivals abroad are also on the avid star-watcher's to-gaze list.

Here are a few of our favourite local spots:

1. Eastern Cape Highlands

The remote mountain passes and unspoiled surroundings of the Eastern Cape Highlands make for terrific stargazing conditions. This is the perfect location to spot the Southern Cross.

2. Karoo National Park, Western Cape

The open plains of the Karoo are a stargazer's dream! Karoo National Park is perfect for guided night tours or solo missions.

Entabeni Private Game Reserve, Waterberg, Limpopo

You will quickly notice the effect of pollution on stargazing when you feast your eyes on the crystal clear night skies of the Waterberg. In the day, enjoy the beautiful grassland and mountain scenery and spot the Big 5.

4. Maropeng Visitor Centre, Cradle of Humankind

Frequent stargazing events give the public a perfect opportunity to experience the starry night sky at Maropeng. Escape the city light and pollution for an intro to astronomy with resident astronomer Vincent Nettman. Enjoy dinner and drinks before taking on the telescope.

A photo posted by Maropeng (@maropengsa) on

5. Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State

Easily accessed from Bloem, Jozi and Durban, the Golden Gate Highlands provides a sense of space unknown by city dwellers. Take a stargazing weekend trip and embrace the massive, bright Free State night sky.

If you're willing to go the distance, check out Wanderlust Magazine's top 5 stargazing festivals! (On Earth, that is)

1. Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, USA

If you've always wanted to explore Utah, plan your trip for June 2017. The 17th Annual Astronomy Festival, hosted by the Bryce Canyon's Astronomy Rangers and local Astronomical Societies will be held from 21-24 June 2017. You can expect presentations and guided telescope viewings at Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. The high altitude and zero light pollution make stargazing from Bryce Canyon a real treat. 

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2. The Southern Star Party, South Africa

From 26 - 21 October, you have only to travel as far as Bonnievale in the Western Cape to see the best of the Milky Way.  Expect informative talks, workshops, guided observing and astro photography. 

3. Winter Star Party, USA

The Florida Keys invite amateur astronomers for 360º stargazing. Miami's Southern Cross Astronomical Society (SCAS)'s Winter Star Party takes place from 20-26 February, 2017. 

A photo posted by Keith Curry-Pochy (@goodcopbearcop) on

4. Uluru Astronomy Weekend, Australia

Head Down Under to see the beauties above. From 26 - 28 August 2016, Ayers Rock Resort welcomes one and all to learn about the structure of the cosmos, astro-photography, Aboriginal astronomy and navigation. The world's leading astronomers will give you an awesome glimpse of the outback's undisturbed night sky.

5. LAS Equinox Sky Camp, UK

From 30 September-2 October 2016, visitors to Norfolk, UK, are in for a stargazing treat. Camping beneath a star studded sky and spoiled to telescope tours? Sounds like a bright idea.

A photo posted by Lewis George (@pratts_photography_) on

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