10 of South Africa’s most beautiful spots to stargaze – including a quiver tree forest and dark-sky reserve
- It isn’t always easy to appreciate the beauty of the night sky from the city. Light and air pollution makes seeing the night sky challenging from most people’s backyards.
- Luckily for South Africans, many people are just a few hours’ drive away from places to escape the smog.
- Business Insider have put together a list of some of the best spots for stargazing.
- For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
It isn’t always easy to appreciate the full beauty of the night sky, with light and air pollution making things hazy. Luckily for South Africans, many people are relatively short drives away from spectacular spots free of the smog and light, and where clear nights can provide breathtaking star scapes, from the Kruger Park to the Cederberg mountains.
Our clear skies also are one of the reasons why we have attracted scientists to building the likes of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, and MeerKAT which will eventually become part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope.
South Africa also a deep ancient connection with the night sky. According to Peter Alcock’s Venus Rising: South African Astronomical Beliefs, Customs and Observations and the Astronomical Society of South Africa (ASSA), one of the most prominent star constellations in our southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross (Crux) and its two bright Pointers (alpha and beta Centuari) feature prominently in African lore.
These are some of the most beautiful spots in South Africa to stargaze.
Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga.
Far from the influence of city lights, the Kruger National Park is an ideal spot to watch the skies come to life to the cries of hyena, jackal, and lion.
The further north you go and the better the viewing gets. The Kruger’s Punda Maria Camp, up on the northern fringes of the reserve, is a well-known favourite for star gazers.
There are also private lodges in the area, like The Outpost, which offers star gazing in luxury and is currently running a 65% lockdown discount.
Cederberg Mountain Conservancy, Western Cape.
Just a little over two hours out of Cape Town lies the Cederberg Mountain range with some of the most impressive craggy mountainscapes in the country.
The Cederberg Wilderness Area is famous for its spectacular rock formations which has been sculpted by wind and water over many millions of years.
Amphitheatre Central, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal.
For the more adventurous hikers, the Drakensberg’s Amphitheatre is one of Royal Natal National Park’s best hiking trails to see the stars. It wraps around the eastern border of Lesotho, in the northern Drakensberg.
If camping isn’t your style, far below this majestic escarpment lies its Thendele camp, which looks back up the Amphitheatre from every chalet.
Lions Head, Cape Town, Western Cape.
Popular for full moon hikes and shooting star trails, Lions Head, in the Table Mountain National Park, is one of the most accessible locations for Capetonians to see the stars, if not exactly immune from city lights.
It’s an hour and a half’s hike with a moderate rocks scramble to get to the top. Standing at 669 meters above sea level, it is just high enough to get above the haze and look back onto Table Mountain for a spectacular night show, especially during winter when it is crisp and cold.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State
Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State, Golden Gate is famous for its striking sandstone cliffs.
It’s located within a four hours drive of Johannesburg, Durban, or Bloemfontein. Grabbing a spot in one of their Highlands Mountain Retreat would be a real treat for night-time viewing right from the veranda.
Many stargazers will also book out a B&B in the surrounding town of Clarens, for a less secluded experience.
Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site, Limpopo.
Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site is situated in Musina, in the far north of Limpopo. It is found at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers, bordering Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Over 700 years ago this was home to a powerful tribe that flourished on trading with Eastern powers in what China and India around. Some of the most significant artefacts to have been recovered here include a magnificent gold rhino statue.
A night’s stay in Leokwe Camp will see you see get in touch not only with the stars but a land steeped in ancient history.
Hole in the Wall, Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape.
The night sky at Hole in The Wall in Eastern Cape Province can be out of this world. Found in Coffee Bay, the huge detached cliff has a giant opening carved through its centre by the waves. The locals call this place "izi Khaleni", which means "place of thunder".
Hole in the Wall is situated roughly in the centre of the 300 km stretch of Wild Coast, mid-way between Port Edward in the north, and East London in the south.
Ancient quiver Tree Forest, Nieuwoudville, Northern Cape.
On the border of the Gannabos Protected Area, between Nieuwoudtville and Loeriesfontein in the Northern Cape, lies the largest quiver tree forest in the southern hemisphere.
Eerily quiet in the dead of night, this location leaves you with nothing but the wind for company. It is estimated that the quiver trees can be 150 and 250 years old, and more than 380 years for the giant variant.
Quiver Trees are large succulents that can be found in the Northern Cape’s Succulent Karoo desert, part of a biome that stretches from parts of the Northern Cape all the way into Namibia and the world’s only plant hotspot that is entirely arid.
SALT, Sutherland, Northern Cape.
The tiny town of Sutherland is home to the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere - the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). You’ll almost be guaranteed to have a cloudless evening as weather permits unobstructed views of a surreal and magical night sky for 80% of the year.
By far the most splendid spot is the! Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park, in the Kglalagadi Transfrontier Park in Northern Cape.
When night falls in this park, it really does fall. So much so that it was dark enough to be declared an International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) site, in 2019. The IDA recognises it as one of the world’s darkest places and best areas for viewing pristine night skies. It is virtually totally free from pollution – including light pollution, natural atmospheric pollution and man-made pollution.
You can stay in this remote reserve in the !Xaus Lodge, where the nearest artificial light is 50 kilometres away.
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