A stellar exploration of South Africa’s starry heavens which kicks off in the city of Cape Town and ends in the wilds of Kruger.
Guests are collected upon arrival at Cape Town International by their African Sky guide for their 10 Day South African Stargazing Tour. First on the agenda is the Castle of Good Hope, historically significant in that it is South Africa's oldest building. It served as both a prison and administrative headquarters to successive colonial rulers. After the castle, we visit the Company's Gardens, established in early 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck as a vegetable garden. It is now a large public park and botanical garden that draws many visitors looking to unwind in the heart of Cape Town. During the afternoon, guests are transferred to their overnight accommodation where time is spent freshening up before heading up Table Mountain for a truly remarkable sunset experience. Though the city lights may hinder the appearance of stars, the dramatic scene is sure to set a celestial tone for the days to come.
After breakfast, the tour heads to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for a taste of ‘nature in the city’. The gardens were established in 1913 to preserve the region’s unique flora. Today they flourish over 528 hectares on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, abounding with spectacular proteas and indigenous fynbos. The recently installed Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, also known as ‘the Boomslang’, offers a unique view of the gardens, touching the forest floor twice and raising visitors to 12m above the ground at other points. The afternoon is spent at leisure, for tonight, after an early dinner, we head to the South African Astronomical Observatory Headquarters - the original site of the Royal Observatory. Your cosmic experience begins with a 45 minute presentation in the auditorium (topics vary on a bi-monthly basis) and is followed by an introduction to the historic McClean telescope and the observatory museum. If luck prevails, a clear night will enable visitors to take a peek through the McClean telescope at the starry heavens above.
The tour departs shortly after breakfast for the vast, open spaces of the Great Karoo. The road may be long, but tonight’s otherworldly spoils make every mile worth it. The route is a handsome one. After passing through the Huguenot Tunnel that trundles its way through the heart of the Du Toitskloof mountains, the road winds and bows through breathtaking mountain passes, scattered with waterfalls and greenery after the wet months and occasionally dusted with snow in winter. After De Doorns, the mountains appear to melt away and the landscape stretches out arid and flat as far as the eye can see. Lunch is enjoyed in the historic hamlet of Matjiesfontein - our last stop on the National Highway. Entering Matjiesfontein often feels like entering a time capsule, as the town seems to cling to a colonial reverie. It owes its existence to the Cape Government Railways, which established a small station there in 1878.After stretching our legs in Matjiesfontein, our route turns north toward Sutherland, heading into the loneliest and most isolated stretch of the Karoo. With no major towns or cities for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers in any direction, it quickly becomes evident why Sutherland is the astronomy capital of South Africa. The sleepy town’s decisively arid and remote location 1 450 meters (4 760 foot) above sea level makes its night skies among the clearest and darkest in the world, enjoying 80% cloudless nights throughout a year. After check-in at your overnight accommodation, explore the town on foot. Stroll past the striking old Dutch Reformed Church which the town owes its existence to, or one of the many historic Anglo-Boer War sites.
Today we visit the famous SALT - The Southern African Large Telescope. SALT is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world. It has a hexagonal primary mirror array 11 meters across, comprising 91 individual 1m hexagonal mirrors. Your tour begins with a walk-through of the SAAO Visitors Center and is followed by a guided tour of selected research telescopes - including SALT. The afternoon is spent at leisure. Tonight we head out to the Sterland Farm a kilometer outside of town for a more personal, in-depth stargazing experience. Following an indoor presentation on a three meter big screen, your group will head out to the Muisbos Amphitheater, where visitors will be able to observe the spectacular night sky through Celestron Go-To telescopes. Remember to dress warmly - Sutherland also happens to be the coldest town in South Africa!
Following breakfast, the tour departs Sutherland for the picturesque town of Prince Albert at the foot of the Swartberg Pass. We arrive just in time for lunch, and with so many quaint cafes, wholesome farms stalls and charming restaurants to choose from, visitors will be spoiled for choice. We then head to the overnight accommodation at the Dennehof Karoo Guest House - a converted Cape Dutch farmhouse built in 1835. The rooms are elegant with authentic farm accents, contributing to a warm countryside atmosphere. Cool off with a dip in the old reservoir or relax on the patio taking in the dramatic landscape with a refreshing sundowner.
Today we embark on a day trip to the enigmatic Gamkaskloof, also known as ‘Die Hel’ (the Hell). The isolated valley is home to a lost community that settled in the area in the 1830’s, only ever reaching a maximum of around 160 individuals. When a road was built into the valley in 1962, the population gradually diminished as young and old alike abandoned it for more modern prospects. Enjoy a historic talk, meet the remaining residents and relish a scrumptious lunch before heading back to Dennehof. Tonight is once again devoted to the heavens. We head into town at sunset for a star lecture, dinner and stargazing through powerful telescopes with experienced local astronomers.
After a last early breakfast in the magical Karoo, we head to George via Oudtshoorn for a flight to Johannesburg. Guests are collected at O R Tambo International by an African Sky guide, after which we travel north toward the Leobo Private Reserve in the Limpopo province. We arrive at Leobo in the late afternoon, just in time for the African sunset to toss its colors across the majestic Waterberg Mountains and enjoy a drink on the villa’s upper viewing deck. Tonight, dine under the stars enjoying the gourmet spoils of the Observatory Villa’s resident chef.
After a last early breakfast in the magical Karoo, we head to George via Oudtshoorn for a flight to Johannesburg. From O R Tambo International, guests board a connecting flight to Skukuza Airport in the Kruger National Park. The moment you step off the plane, your Big Five game viewing experience begins. Guests are met at Skukuza and transferred to Jock Safari Lodge, navigating the public roads of the park and encountering all walks of wildlife en route. Jock is located on a 6 000 hectare concession within the park and enjoys exclusive riverbed traversing rights in the area. Tonight you will embark on a sunset game drive in this world-renowned wilderness.
Booking the Observatory Villa at Leobo means that, during your stay, you can enjoy exclusive access to all the reserve’s facilities - game drives at your leisure, private use of the infinity pool and Jacuzzi, butler services, extensive living areas and sumptuous lodgings. Complimentary activities on offer also include quad bike or Polaris buggy safaris, clay pigeon shooting, hiking, horse riding, fishing, target shooting, rock art viewing, clifftop camping, kayaking and hippo cage diving.The observatory dome houses a fully automated 20-inch telescope available for guests’ personal use. Due to the reserve’s remote location, the sky is extraordinarily clear. For the more experienced user, the villa also hosts a selection of state-of-the-art astrophotography equipment for deep sky imaging. Additionally, guests may book local astronomer Dr Phil Calcot for a more in-depth ‘starlit safari’ at Leobo.
Your morning begins with an early wake-up call before heading out into the bush in a modified open-air 4x4. The company of an experienced ranger ensures that you will encounter a wealth of wildlife, possibly even the famous Big Five - lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. Once back at the lodge, guests have the option of joining a guide for a walking safari, venturing out to admire the rock art sites or relaxing in their plush suites - complete with private plunge pools for those hot summer days. Following your evening game drive, engage in a captivating stargazing experience with the resident rangers as they share their knowledge of the skies and the interrelated myths and legends of local cultures. This unforgettable experience is duly enhanced by the sounds of the bush and the crackle of the log fire.
Today guests enjoy Leobo Private Reserve at their leisure. Opt for one of the complimentary activities mentioned above or venture further out for surplus magic. Activities that can be booked as extras include Big Five safaris in the nearby Koloko Game Reserve, spa treatments, elephant-back safaris, tandem paragliding and more.
The day is once again devoted to exploring the wilderness and meeting the curious creatures that inhabit it, beginning with another early morning safari. This is a magical time in the park, as dawn brings fresh sights, smells and sounds to this ever-changing landscape. The Kruger National Park hosts almost 150 species of mammal and hundreds of different bird species, ensuring a wild kaleidoscope of sightings. Your afternoon is spent at leisure before your second outing at dusk.
After breakfast, guests are transferred back to O R Tambo International or any location of their choice in Johannesburg or Pretoria after a stellar experience discovering South Africa’s extraordinary night skies.
Following a final safari in Kruger and another fine breakfast, guests bid farewell to the African wilderness. Your transfer back to Skukuza Airport is followed by a flight to Johannesburg, where this stellar stargazing tour of South Africa’s extraordinary night skies comes to an end.
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