Words Jennifer Stern, pics Jennifer Stern, Kambro Kind Guesthouse
I guess it wasn't too clever driving half way across the country with only one pair of shoes - especially if it's a pair of sandals. Well, actually it was fine until I got to Sutherland. And even Sutherland would have been fine if I had not given in to the temptation to go on a night-time star-watching safari.
Just in case you do not ever watch the weather on TV, Sutherland is the coldest place in South Africa, but it also has the clearest skies and almost no light pollution so it offers better star-watching than a celebrity tour of Sunset Boulevard.
It was pretty chilly when I turned up at Kambro Kind Guesthouse, and the temptation to stay indoors was strong. It was only the knowledge that we regret the great things we don't do even more than the dumb things we do do that got me out of my nice warm room into the chilly, clear night. I wore almost all the clothes I had including one pair of "normal" socks and a pair of polar fleece sockies under my sandals. Glamorous is not the word.
I arrived at the appointed place about a kilometre out of town, and watched a short DVD that gave a pretty good intro to what we could expect. Then we stepped outside to a huge telescope set up about a kilometre out of town. Jurg would explain what he was looking for as he set up the telescope and, once he had the target clearly in sight, would give us each a turn to have a look. I am usually the person who does not feel the cold, but I think that's because I can ignore weather that would qualify as a bit chilly. Yes, I can walk around in a T-shirt when it's 12 or 13 degrees out, but that's because that type of temperature is all in the head. Minus 0.5 is not all in the head - it's all in the frozen toes, the flippin' cold hands and numb blue lips. One of the more warmly dressed people took pity on me, fetched a sleeping bag from her car and draped it over me. It helped. A bit. My toes were still threatening to mutiny.
It was worth it, though. I saw Jupiter, with all its rings - crystal clear and surprisingly colourful. Actually, just like the posters. We saw a couple more stars, but I decided that Jupiter was the highlight - he is numero uno god after all. So, having seen the head honcho of the Roman pantheon, I decided to call it a night - and a very cold one at that.
I scuttled back to the guesthouse, had a hot shower and climbed into bed with the thoughtfully supplied hot water bottle.
I guess I was lucky, considering how badly I had planned for the weather. The very next weekend, Sutherland was snowed in, there was no electricity, and the water had frozen in the pipes so there were no hot showers.
Kambro Kind Guest House and star tours
023 571 1405, 082 556 9589
There’s more to Sutherland than stars
... although stars really are the star attraction. So a visit to SALT – the Southern African Large Telescope will offer you a far more high tech look at the sky (and warmer too). But don’t just turn up, you have to book. Check out www.saao.ac.za.
But, there is more to Sutherland than stars. You can just enjoy the wonderful ambience of a tiny Karoo town, check out the cute houses – either on foot or by donkey cart. You could visit the Tankwa Karoo National Park (www.sanparks.co.za/parks/tankwa), or just explore the surroundings – rugged any time, flower-filled in spring and – oooooh - chilly in winter. Take a drive up the nearby Ouberg Pass or – if you think you’re tough, cycle up it.... although stars really are the star attraction. So a visit to SALT – the Southern African Large Telescope will offer you a far more high tech look at the sky (and warmer too). But don’t just turn up, you have to book. Check out www.saao.ac.za.
Or, hey, do something we South Africans don’t often get a chance to do – make the perfect snowman. You have to time it right but your chances are better in Sutherland than in any other town in SA.