Fascinated by stars but not entirely sure where to go or what to look for? This month Wild draws inspiration from the night sky for the best stargazing destinations in South Africa. You’ll give these five national parks and reserves – perfect for starry night explorations – five stars! By Arnold Ras
We challenge all Wild travellers to grab their Wild Card and make 2017 their wildest year yet. Our #wildadventuregoals challenge is all about heading out into the wilderness and experiencing something new. During the month of April, we set our sights on the wonderful world of stars.
It’s time to discover Wild’s top five stargazing spots!
Known for its peace and quiet, Tankwa Karoo National Park is also a treasure chest for nature lovers. With the nearest centre, Calvinia, 110km away, light pollution will be of no concern. The landscape’s dry air and climate ensure clear skies to marvel at for most of the year. Ask any reputable stargazer where to head for some of South Africa’s most beautiful and impressive galactic scenes… Tankwa will definitely be a favourite. Be sure to also visit the town of Sutherland (140km away) for a look at the southern hemisphere’s largest telescope – quite an impressive experience.
What to look for? The Jewel Box is a cluster of stars close to Beta Centauri, one of the four stars in the Southern Cross. It’s made up of over 100 stars, mostly blue or red, giving it the appearance of a hoard of jewels.
Contact the park: +27 (0)27 341 1927, [email protected]
When the sun sets in the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, get ready to be captivated. The arid landscape, tranquil atmosphere and the park’s iconic halfmens plants (huge human-sized succulents), set a night scene for a stargazing soiree like no other. The park’s campsites have no electricity, making night-time even darker – music to any stargazer’s ears. When taking photos of the mind-blowing Milky Way, make sure to include the park’s hills, boulders and giant quiver trees in your frame. Make your trip unforgettable and book a spot at one of the campsites on the banks of the Orange River.
What to look for? Orion (the hunter) might be a little trickier to spot. This constellation is easily visible between December and April. Start off by searching for the hunter’s belt: three bright stars close to each other almost forming a straight line. Then, see if you can identify the four stars around the belt that form an uneven four-sided box.
Contact the park: +27 (0)27 831 1506, [email protected]
Whenever you get the chance to, take the time to look up and be thankful, be in awe, be insignificant and yet unique in all the universe. Milky Way, shot and edited as per my blog post on the blog. www.lifeofpiluckan.wordpress.com #canon6d #canon16_35mmf4lis #marakelenationalpark #marakele #thabazimbi #milkyway #smallyetalive #incaseyouneededareminder #context #3rdrockfromthesun #eternity #gooutside #odpshutters #ishootwithorms
Do you find stargazing somewhat intimidating? Like always, Wild’s got our amateur stargazers covered! From 26 to 28 May, the SANParks Honorary Rangers are hosting a stargazing weekend at Marakele National Park. The weekend includes two nights’ accommodation, food, non-alcoholic beverages and a bushwalk with SANParks rangers. Guest speakers include Neville Young, author of Astronomy Within Reach. Marakele lies in the heart of the Waterberg and is only three hours’ drive from Johannesburg – perfect for a stargazing weekend escape. Want to marvel at endangered Cape vultures soaring above and be swept away by millions of stars? Click here to find out more about the stargazing weekend.
What to look for? From May to October, the fourth of the big five constellations, Scorpius, is visible. Do you know its pattern? First, focus on the line of the Milky Way, then, follow the line from the Southern Cross. Let your eyes pass the Southern Cross’s pointers all the way to the tail-end of Scorpius. Combined, all Scorpius’ stars form a long, curving line ending in three stars representing the arachnid’s pincers.
Contact the park: +27 (0)53 204 0158, [email protected]
Mapungubwe National Park’s vast open landscapes and rugged rock formations are a winning recipe for stunning star photography. Once the home of the oldest kingdom in South Africa, now Mapungubwe is a place where you can find serenity under the stars. Combine stargazing with wildlife and book a night drive to enjoy the best of both worlds. Be transported to another world with the park’s stately baobabs etched against the sky’s striking canvas. Why not overnight at one of the park’s several campsites, safari tents, chalets or luxury bush lodge? This World Heritage Site will leave your starry eyed.
What to look for? Search for a different kind of lion, Leo, one of the big five constellations. Leo is only visible from February to June and contains a distinctive sickle-shaped asterism and an almost perfect right-angled triangle. Not that easy to identify, but practice makes perfect. A good star guide, like Stargazing from Game Reserves in Southern Africa by Anthony Fairall, will be very handy.
Contact the park: +27 (0)15 534 7923, [email protected]
Situated in the Little Karoo, CapeNature’s remote Anysberg Nature Reserve is another stargazing hotspot. Aside from an incredible canopy of stars, the reserve’s expert stargazing guides are trained to best use binoculars and telescopes to help you make the most of your experience. Anysberg even has its very own stargazing platform. Do sign up for the Planet Trek: walk, cycle or travel on horseback to Tapfontein and explore our solar system through mosaic markers on the way. At this remote camp you can enjoy an outdoor dinner and learn more about the night sky’s many marvels. Sounds so dreamy!
What to look for? The Southern Cross is the definitive constellation in the southern hemisphere – a kite-shaped form consisting of four bright stars. Have a look at the flags of Australia and New Zealand to help you identify it. But look carefully – the true Southern Cross is accompanied by two bright pointer stars.
Contact the reserve: +27 (0)23 551 1922, [email protected]
Wild’s Year of Adventure & Activity
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Source: Stargazing from Game Reserves in Southern Africa by Anthony Fairall. 2006. Struik Nature.