Did you know the African Dung Beetle uses the stars to navigate - something which we humans have also been doing for hundreds of years? Although maps, sat navs and geo-apps have long since replaced the stars for explorers and travelers, our fascination with the night sky remains. Few places promise such clear, vast skies as Southern Africa for budding – and professional – astronomers. In countries such as Namibia and Botswana, sparse populations, minimal urban development and frequent cloudless nights allow spectacular galactic views with no light pollution. South Africa, in particular, has embraced the concept of astronomy tourism, with facilities such as the largest telescope in Africa – S.A.L.T. (Southern African Large Telescope) - near Cape Town and many hotels now providing telescopes for star spotting from the comfort of your room.
However, much can also be enjoyed by the naked eye in the open air under immense skies. You can observe the constellations from your campfire as night falls or perhaps from your star-bed, or maybe combine star-gazing with a night-time game drive. At camps with internet connection you can download an app such as ‘Star Walk’ or ‘SkySafari 4’ to take the guesswork away when identifying stars and constellations.
Our Africa expert, Samantha Gee, has selected a handful of luxury camps in Southern Africa which offer some of the best opportunities for stargazing:
The Observatory, South Africa
This four-bedroom exclusive house set within the Leobo Private Reserve is arguably one of the best stargazing locations in the world. A domed roof set in the tower of The Observatory opens up the sky through a 20-inch telescope. Renowned local astronomer Dr Phil Calcot, can be booked for night sky tours for those fascinated to find out more about the constellations. There are even astronaut outfits for those who wish to fully immerse themselves in the ‘in space’ experience.
Wolwedans Boulders Camp, Namibia
Nestled beside giant granite rocks, Wolwedans Boulder Camp, which comprises just five tents, is located in Namibia’s dramatic NamibRand Nature Reserve. Each tent is beautifully furnished with four-poster beds with amazing views over the Gorassis Mountains. Its tranquil and remote desert location make it the perfect stargazing base.
Samara Mountain Retreat, South Africa
This remote family-friendly five-bedroom former wagon house is located in the Samara Private Game Reserve, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. By day, observe the diverse wildlife, which includes endangered species such as the Cape Mountain Zebra and the Blue Crane. By night, watch for shooting stars by the warm glow of oil lamps. Light pollution in this vast tract of land is minimal ensuring optimal opportunity for star-spotting.
Jack’s Camp, Botswana
This legendary 1940s styled camp, comprising just ten newly refurbished canvas tents, is located in the heart of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Whilst the daytime is a hive of activity – walks with bushmen, quad biking across the Pans, encountering meerkats etc - an awe-inspiring calm descends over the camp at night and the stars seem endless in an infinity of sky. You might also be lucky enough to witness a full moon during your stay and see how the moonlight is reflected by the salt imitating the effect of daylight. During a full moon, you can also watch the sun setting, whilst the moon rises from the middle of the Pans - an unforgettable sight.
Tswalu Motse, South Africa
Tswalu Motse comprises eight air-conditioned suites, constructed from native materials, blending seamlessly into their surroundings in South Africa’s Kalahari Reserve. For the ultimate romantic experience, enjoy a private dinner served on the deck of your suite as sun sets. Telescopes can be provided, and the camp also offers an introductory talk on astronomy for beginners.
Red Savannah’s Africa experts provide a personalized approach to planning your African safari adventure and stargazing is just one of the many experiences they can organize.