StarPeople and Snorre venture out into the countryside without Auke.
Nathalie from Porterville Tourism had been corresponding with us since late in 2014 after she heard about our activities during National Science Week from Clanwilliam Tourism. Go here to read aboutour activities during National Science Week 2014. After a lot of juggling a date was fixed and we started getting ourselves all fired up but then, at the last moment, Auke had to pull out. Despite this setback Lynnette, Snorre and I packed the Vito and set off for Porterville shortly after nine in the morning.
Once there Nathalie got us organized and sent us off to our guest house, the Rendezvous where we had a light lunch and, as the show was only due to start at 19:00, we figured that an after lunch nap would be just what the doctor ordered.
We pitched at the Golf Club just after 16:00 and were met by Chanelle who lent a very able hand with the unloading and setting up. She even produced a cup of coffee when I needed it most.
The rest of the guests trickled in and we tried to give as many as possible a glimpse of the crescent moon, that was going to dip behind the trees long before it actually set. Shortly after 19:00 the food parcels were handed out and the 50-odd people tucked into their suppers. When they were finished eating I gave a short introductory talk and after that people fetched chairs from somewhere inside the Club and positioned themselves around the telescopes, where I gave them a fairly comprehensive coverage of the visible night sky. Although the sky was not absolutely dark I was pleasantly surprised by how dark it actually was. The Coal Sack was only just visible but with some concentration one could actually make out omega Centauri and the LMC. I think that if we had put of all the lights inside the clubhouse and put out the two street lights just behind the building, we might actually have had a really dark sky.
Most of the people were very enthusiastic and appreciative of the fact that we had come all the way from Brackenfell to entertain them astronomically. Jupiter and its moons got a very warm reception from everyone. Some people were less impressed with the Orion Nebula but somehow the Tarantula tickled their fancy as did eta Carina. Omega Centauri and 47 Tuc weren’t as popular as I thought they would be but the Jewel Box was exciting for most people. The Southern Pleiades didn’t cause much of a stir though. Between Lynette and I we scored a lovely bunch of flowers and two bottles of Porterville’s grapes in liquid form; thank you Porterville. We started packing up around 22:00 and were very thankful for the assistance of Nathalie and her friends and also off Chanelle. Without all that help we would not have made it out of there before midnight.
The next day, after breakfast, we popped round to the Tourism Office to say goodbye to Nathalie and then went off to Houdconstant to buy figs before heading home to Brackenfell. Lynnette and I think the presentation was successful and will certainly take Porterville Tourism up on their invitation to do it again. Next time Auke must come along or Ronel Bakker will boycott us.
A venue with a huge amount of potential for all sorts of things an especially astronomy.
Leeuwenboschfontein is advertised as a 4×4 venue but it is a lot more than that. It has a lovely, well-grassed camping area, provides excellent guest house facilities, has ample space for large groups in a well equipped barn, has lots of walking potential, is a nature lovers paradise, boasts a landing strip and, last but not least, it is dark enough and high enough (just over 1000m) to do some quite decent astronomy, despite non-ideal horizons to the southwest, west and northwest.
The normal way to get there from Cape Town is to turn off the N1 onto the R318 shortly after you have ascended the Hex Pass. Continue for 25 km until you get to the turnoff to Leeuwenboschfontein on your left and leave the tar. The next section can be tricky after heavy rains. At about six km after leaving the R318 you pass the entrance to Kopbeenskloof on your right. Go here to read about our previous visit there. Another six km and Leeuwenboschfontein is on your left. Go here to read more about Leeuwenboschfontein. We were coming from Sutherland and not from Cape Town, so our route took us through Touws River and then onto an unsurfaced road past Njalo-Njalo Safari’s. Go here to read more about their activities. After passing through Nougaspoort about 25 km after leaving Touws River, there is a signposted road for Leeuwenbosch turning off to your right. You pass Drie Kuilen Private Nature Reserve on your left and just over seven km after turning right, Leeuwenbosch is on your right. Go here to read more about Drie Kuilen.
Top left: Entrance to Njalo-Njalo Safari’s.
Top right: View through the fence of Njalo-Njalo’s setup. No entrance unless you have a booking.
Bottom left: Part of Njalo-Njalo’s signage along their front fence.
Bottom right: Personal welcome to expected guests.
Leeuwenboschfontein is owned and run by a father and son team, Johan Roux (snr) and Johan Roux (jnr) from Ceres. On-site management is done by Joan who manages the reception office and her husband John who does the outside stuff.
The following photographs tell the rest of the story about our visit there with Iain Finlay, Willem van Zyl and Snorre.
The visit to SALT was organized primarily to get Alan deep inside the telescope so that he could figure out some stuff he was unable to resolve from the drawings he had. Alan needed to know this minute detail because he is building the best model of SALT the Universe has ever seen for StarPeople’s outreach activities. However, just when everything was organized disaster struck, because Alan’s employer withdrew his leave for complicated “technical” reasons. The rest of us decided to go in any case and give Alan all our photos afterward and then organize a second visit later in the year for his benefit.
As arranged everyone made their own way to Sutherland and all of us pitched up on time at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre, where we paid our dues to Anthony Mietas before he led our convoy up the hill to SALT, where our guide, Chris Coetzee, was waiting. Go here to find out more about the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre. The first thing we learnt was that we all had to be wearing closed shoes otherwise we would not be allowed to enter specific areas. General safety and the need to stay in a group where he could see us all, were stressed by Chris before we went in. Next we were all issued with hard hats and I remember thinking that all we now needed, to really look “official” and have the run of the place, was a white coat and a clipboard.
I am not going to run through the tour step by step, as there is just too much to tell. So you will have to get the story from the photos. Lynnette and Wendy had to dip out when we went up on the catwalk as they both have an extreme reaction to heights.
Later that evening, after dark, Paul, Lucas, Ross, his son and I were taken up the hill again by Chris to take photos. The one and only rule that Chris stressed repeatedly was that we were only to use red lights and very dim ones at that. On the way up we encountered Peter Haarhoff, the photographer’s group. They were spread out across half the road surface right on a bend creating an extremely dangerous situation. Some of the group were using red lights that were definitely not dim ones and one in particular was more like a red spotlight. After the rather chilly photo session Lynnette and I joined Paul, Lucas and René for a very late braai and some red wine, courtesy of Paul, at Sterland.
The unhappy Solar System in Sutherland’s Main Street.
In Sutherland’s Main Street there is a scale model of the Solar System. It consists of stone pillars with the names of the planets attached to the front of the pillar and a brass disc on top of the pillar giving the name of the planet and its distance from the Sun. The model was conceptualized and its construction supervised by a past president of ASSA (Astronomical Society of Southern Africa), Professor Case Rijsdijk, while he was employed by the SAAO in an outreach capacity. What very few people realize is that each disc was also designed for use by visually impaired persons. That is why there is information in Braille on each disc and the planets in the centre were also intended to convey information to the visually impaired more than being an aid to the sighted visitors. At that time there was still a visitor’s centre in the pipeline, which was to have been constructed on the vacant property across the street from the Sutherland Hotel; next to Jupiter’s pillar. The centre unfortunately never materialized.
The brass was a magnet for thieves and at one time an unsightly cage was placed around each pillar and the door to the cage secured with a large brass padlock. Now the padlocks and cages have gone and a tall pole has been planted next to each pillar and on top of each pole there is a structure with four vanes that is supposed to rotate in the wind. It appears that some of them rotate and some don’t and some have already been removed. I could also not quite figure out the significance of the colours of these rotating devices but the poles and their rotating tops are intended to draw the attention of visitors to the planets.
Take a brief tour with me as I walk the Solar System in Sutherland’s Main Street.
Next time you visit Sutherland take a walk through the Solar System even if it is a bit tattered. Walking the Solar System does give one a real feel for the vast distances involved in space travel. Bear in mind as you walk from Earth to Pluto that it has taken New Horizons, the fastest space craft ever launched, from January 2006 to July 2015 to get from Earth to Pluto travelling at a speed of 58 536 km/h.
Perhaps if more visitors paid attention to the model the local Municipality might take better care of it.
High noon in Sutherland’s main street on a Saturday in March.
On a recent visit to Sutherland I was struck by the fact that the town’s main street was all but deserted by lunch time on Saturday. There was very little vehicular traffic and not much more pedestrian activity either. By 15:00 the only place you could buy a cup of coffee was the Sutherland Hotel’s Karoo Kombuis and possibly The Jupiter. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking hard enough, but then places to have coffee shouldn’t be hard for visitors to find. When I asked somebody why there was so little activity (and no coffee), I was told that Sutherland’s “Season” ‘doesn’t really start until late April or early May!
Anyway, I did a quick overview of the Main Street and the town in general with my camera and here are my impressions.
Old cemetery containing several Anglo Boer War (Anglo South African War) graves.
Halley sê Kom Eet is apparently now an extension to the dining room used to serve breakfast for the guests at Kambrokind Guest House and no longer serves coffee or anything else after that. What a pity.
The Tourism Office or Information Centre has moved with the Municipal offices to a small building, just off the Main Street, in Northumberland Street. The previous Tourism Office is now the office for the Independent Electoral Commission and the Municipal Offices now house PEP Stores. It is a pity that the telescope in front of the previous Tourism Office was not moved as well and that it is not better maintained.
There are a few new shops and the townsfolk must be overjoyed that one of them is a hardware store; something that was badly needed in Sutherland.
Andre’s Cafe has been replaced by an OK-franchise and the Old Mill has been beautifully refurbished and now houses a restaurant.
I am sure that all of Sutherland is looking forward to the day when the hospital, which has not functioned for so long, is refurbished and functional again.
I was left almost speechless by the devastation of the beautiful old house that used to be the Magistrates Residence. What an absolute waste and a total disgrace to let it fall into such a state of total disrepair. I did not photograph it as it somehow felt disrespectful to exhibit such a stately structure’s demise to the public at large.
My general impression is that Sutherland, despite valiant efforts from some of its residents and the restoration of some of the buildings, is slowly but surely becoming more and more run down and tattered. I get the feeling that if the stream of visitors, that keeps the guesthouses, the hotel, the eating places and the smaller shops functioning, were to dry up, Sutherland would simply wither away and die. There does not seem to be enough basic economic activity in the town to keep it going without the influx of visitors during weekends and holidays.
I would suggest tarring the road between Sutherland and Fraserburg so that one has a loop from the N1 and back to the N1 again for both north and South bound traffic. That would give easy access to the palaeosurface and good Museum in Fraserburg and include the truly spectacular Theekloof Pass. This step is should increase the tourist traffic to both towns quite considerably.
A farm north of Sutherland with potential for affordable stargazing.
Sutherland is a problem for amateur astronomers because, although it is quite correctly considered to be the astronomy capital of South Africa, there are no facilities in the town for amateur astronomers to indulge in their passion. All the farms around Sutherland are potential observing sites and some farmers, like Nicol van der Merwe on Blesfontein, have already capitalized on this potential.
Albertus Jordaan farms on Matjesfontein about 35 km from Sutherland on the road to Calvinia and Albertus and his wife Ester have also recognized the astronomy potential of their farm. Those of you who visit Sutherland regularly will no doubt have seen Die Trommel also known, tongue in the cheek, as the Sutherland Mall. Go here to see more information about Die Trommel. Ester is the owner of that interesting establishment. Anyway, under the appropriate name of Orion, Ester and Albertus have established a self-catering facility on their farm. It is a large house with three bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen and all the necessary bathroom and toilet facilities, as well as electricity. It will sleep eight comfortably and 10 with a bit of effort. I think going there is well worth the effort if you want to do some serious and undisturbed observing over an extended period.
The property is situated at -33°13’03”, 20°30’46”E & 1317m and interested parties or persons can contact Lynnette at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 084 512 9866. I would be unfair not to point out that fairly long sections of the road to the farm are very corrugated or as the locals say – sinkplaat! Lynnette and I made it there and back in the Vito and the key to survival is to drive slowly, very slowly, over these sections. Slow means less than 20 km per hour. At that speed, you will also have time to admire the magnificent dolerite hills and boulders you pass through. Pack your telescope carefully and it will be fine, proof of which is the fact that we had the 12” Dobby in the Vito on that trip and it survived. On the way back to Sutherland there is a nice, if somewhat distant, view to the east of the SAAO site and SALT’s iconic shape.
How many guest houses in Sutherland use astronomy to lure visitors?
Sutherland has a large number of guest houses. I was informed that there are at least 30, but I am not sure if that also includes those on farms in the surrounding area. Out of sheer curiosity I decided to find out how many have astronomy linked names or advertise astronomy as part of their service to the visiting public.
Sterland, on your right as you approach Sutherland from Cape Town, has a definite astronomy ring to the name, but it is not a guest house. However, there is a camping facility so perhaps we could stretch the guest house concept a bit and include it. Sterland is without doubt the best known establishment in Sutherland that provides an astronomy service to the public on a regular and continuous basis. I was, however, disappointed to find that the well known Halley sê Kom Eet coffee shop attached to the Kambrokind Guest House had closed its doors. Go here to see more details about Kambrokind guest house.
I could only find one other establishment that actually advertised astronomy as part of its services. The Cottage clearly says, on the large notice board next to its front gate, that it has a telescope. My inquiries revealed that it no longer has one or no longer uses it. I wonder if The Cottage still supplies all the motorcycle parts and services that it advertises. Go here to see more details about The Cottage.
The next notice we encounter is for Jupiter and The Jupiter. Go here to see more details about Jupiter. I was assured that the two names definitely refer to the same establishment, as pictures later confirmed. As one is about to exit the town in the direction of Calvinia and Williston we find Andromeda’s signpost on our right. Go here to see more details about Andromeda. A little further on, to our left is a notice board advertising Venus Sisters. Go here to see more details about Venus Sister. However, Venus Sisters is situated way out other side the Observatory so perhaps they shouldn’t be counted here among the establishments based in Sutherland, but their notice board is here and we’ve been lenient in other cases, so let’s include them.
Southern Cross used to be up near the school hostel, but seems to have fallen by the wayside. A fairly new place has popped up on the western edge of town called Starry Night. Go here to see more details about Starry Night. Their name definitely sounds astronomical and also has a distinct ring of Van Gogh to it.
My initial assumption that there would be many guest houses with astronomy related names was incorrect. There are, in fact, only nine, if I include the ones about which I expressed reservations (Sterland, Skitterland, Alpha B&B and Venus Sisters). Apparently only Sterland offers an astronomy experience on a regular basis to visitors.
Klipdrift is situated at the foot of the Verlatenkloof Pass 35 kilometers from Sutherland on the R354. The one Klipdrift (on the right) belongs to Floris and Annami Steenkamp and Floris is developing the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort on that farm. You can go here to read more about that development.
The other Klipdrift belongs to a very friendly retired couple from Kuils River, Hosea and Marie Verster. They came over and introduced themselves while we were visiting Floris and Annami’s place, as the two houses are just a stone’s throw apart. Marie used to be in the nursing profession and Hosea was involved in project development at Kranskop just outside Wellington. On the farm Hosea has focused his skills on farming and his years of experience and not inconsiderable expertise, are very evident in the many projects on the farm.
These two absolutely delightful people overwhelmed us with hospitality and we will definitely be going back to visit them and do some observing from their farm.
Have you always wanted to own a piece of the Karoo? This might just be your tailor made opportunity.
When Lynnette and I first heard about the development, we immediately got in touch with the owner of the farm Klipdrift, Floris Steenkamp. When Floris heard that we were also keen amateur astronomers he and his wife Annami promptly invited us to spend a few days at their home on Klipdrift. That way we could see the properties that were for sale first hand and also get in some stargazing in the dark skies of the Tanqua Karoo.
The 10 properties are situated on a 42 ha tract of the farm Klipdrift. These own title, individual plots form the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort and are being marketed by M2A Investment Properties who can be contacted at 082 446 9950 and 082 372 4690 and asking for Wayne McDuling. They can also be contacted via their website if you click here.
We had a wonderful time at Klipdrift, courtesy of Floris and Annami. It is very dark and presents excellent opportunities for amateur astronomers. It is quite dusty, but that is the nature of the Tanqua Karoo when the wind blows and it was also quite hot, which again is part of the Tanqua’s climate in summer. Generally the wind died down toward midnight leaving us with beautiful clear skies to explore to our heart’s content.
Floris has uncovered and restored an old dipping kraal which must date back to the early 1900’s if not earlier. It is actually an exceptional structure, of which there can only be a few, if any, left in this area. Floris and Annami are keen conservers of the early Karoo farming traditions and if you are interested in participating in a four day trek with sheep along the Flocksberg pass, contact Floris (083 285 3231).
The plots are situated in a variety of landscapes but all command magnificent views of the Karoo landscape and are placed in such a way that one will not be aware of one’s neighbours. Despite this apparent total isolation, the furthest property is probably no more than two kilometers from the R354 and another 35 km from Sutherland up the Verlatenkloof Pass. All the properties are placed in such a way that one will not be aware of the activities on the farm. Peace and quiet and just the place to recharge those run down city batteries.
From Floris and Annami’s home the road to the part of the farm on which the Bobbejaankrans Wilderness Resort is situated, crosses a tributary of the Tanqua River and the crossing probably gave the farm its original name, Klipdrift.