The 13th Southern Star Party. The first to be held at Leeuwenboschfontein: Wednesday 22nd of February to Monday 27th February 2017.

The first Southern Star party held at Leeuwenboschfontein was a success. So, any suspicions about unlucky 13 were neatly sidestepped or perhaps the jinx only applies to people who suffer from triskaidekaphobia.

TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.
TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Wednesday the 22nd, downloaded our stuff at Dalzicht and set about getting the shed converted into a lecture area with a display section. Fortunately, their spacious kitchen made organising the coffee area very easy.

And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph.
And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph. Six people could not make it for the group photo.

Who attended:

Jim Adams (speaker), Jonathan Balladon, Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Steyn Botha, Samuel Botha, Dominique Brink, Johan Brink, Nellie Brink, Anja Bruton, Alan Cassells, Rose Cassells, Pamela Cooper, Chris de Coning, Micah de Villiers, Pierre de Villiers, Barry Dumas, Miemie Dumas, Clair Engelbrecht, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Arné Esterhuizen, Iain Finlay, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Louis Fourie, Maureen Helman, Cheyenne Kersting, Christine Kersting, Harald Kersting, Jamie Kersting, Evan Knox-Davies, Dianne Nxumalo-Kohler, Robin Kohler, Bennie Kotze, Paul Kruger, Lia Labuschagne, Eddy Nijeboer, Jannie Nijeboer, Lorenzo Raynard (speaker), Kim Reitz, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Rogan Roth, Johan Roux (Jnr), (Johan Jnr’s wife), (Johan Jnr’s eldest son), (Johan Jnr’s 2nd son), Alecia Roux, Henda Scott, Barry Shipman, Auke Slotegraaf, Corne van Dyk, and Chris Vermeulen, Alex Wright.

Some of the keen people pitched on Thursday and among them were Deon and Ronelle Begeman. Deon had, as promised at the previous SSP in Bonnievale, constructed two magnificent binocular viewing tripods for Auke and myself.  This is really quite an ingenious device with many improvements over what is currently on the market and it is very reasonably priced too when compared to its competitors. I will do a separate post with pictures about it at a later stage.

What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.
What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.

On Thursday evening Paul and I went up Swartberg in his 4×4.  It was a whole lot easier than walking up but also considerably more taxing on one’s nerves and I am not implying that Paul drove recklessly; quite the contrary. It is just that the vehicle adopts a wide variety of very unusual angles during both the ascent and descent and one has to trust the driver a whole lot more than when driving down a normal road.

TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

Arne and Alex had their vehicle expire on the R318 while on the way to the SSP, but they were picked up by Evan and brought to Leeuwenboschfontein. The two seemed pretty laid back about leaving the car at the side of the road until Monday when they would set about sorting it out from Cape Town.

TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.
TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.

The beginner’s session at the telescopes was quite successful on Friday as was the beginners talk on Saturday morning.

TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.
TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.

Jonathan had to leave suddenly on Saturday morning as he was needed to fly a plane somewhere.  He promised he would flash his landing lights if his route took him over Leeuwenboschfontein which it apparently didn’t.

TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.
TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.

During my beginners’ session on Saturday morning, Jim Adams, retired Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA and Anja Bruton Science Engagement Coordinator at the SKA arrived. The problem was that Lorenzo Raynard Communications Manager at the SKA, who was due to give the first talk had not pitched and all efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. Jim, hearing of our predicament, very kindly agreed to give the talk he was scheduled to give that afternoon in Lorenzo’s slot. So we started off with “Spinoff: How investing in astronomy and space science changes life on Earth”. Jim proved to be every bit as good a speaker as Anja had said he was; relaxed, knowledgeable and very good at fielding questions too.

In the meantime, Lynnette and Anja were frantically trying to trace Lorenzo.

Martin Lyons and his wife Pat flew in (literally) especially for the social braai in the lapa at the campsite during lunchtime on Saturday.  They stayed until after lunch and then flew home again. According to Paul and Louis, the takeoff was actually quite tense but Martin, during subsequent discussions, downplayed any suggestion of problems.

Just before the braai the Vito was attacked by a vicious tree and lost its back window.

The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Myself, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Edward, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.

By now Lorenzo had been traced and was on his way but would not make it in time for his time slot. We, or at least Anja, talked Jim into giving a second talk in Lorenzo’s slot. This talk “Robots in Space and Space Exploration; Past, Present and Future” went down very well with the audience.  Lorenzo finally pitched later on Saturday afternoon. As his talk would cut into observing time we decided to rather have him give his talk on Sunday morning.

After Jim’s talk and the lively question session we took the usual group photograph and, as is usual, some people did not pitch up. People who were absent were Jonathan Balladon, Steyn & Samuel Botha, Dominique & Nellie Brink and Lorenzo Raynard.

The group photograph was followed by the Pub Quiz which, this year, was orchestrated the usual degree of malevolence and cunning by Auke.  After several gruelling rounds the overall winner, by a very large margin was Alex.  Well done Alex, you left several past winners staggering around in your slipstream’s dust.

TOP LEFT: Jim Adams and during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.
TOP LEFT: Jim Adams during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.

The number of beginners at the telescopes on Saturday evening was disappointing but I am hoping it was the sudden drop in temperature that convinced them to stay indoors.

Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.
Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.

Lorenzo’s talk on Sunday morning. “The public face of SKA in South Africa” was reasonably well attended and, after some discussion, the great dispersal began and the site emptied fairly rapidly. This year, though, more people stayed on to observe the partial solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon.

TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.
TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.

Dwayne and Claire, who got engaged during the 11th SSP at Night Sky Caravan Farm, missed the 12th SSP because they were getting married. Now, while attending the 13th SSP, Mr and Mrs Engelbrecht announced they were expecting their first child. I suppose it will be too much to expect them to call the baby SSP, but it would be nice if they would.

On Monday morning we packed up and after Calla had very professionally helped close of and dust proof the gaping hole where the Vito’s rear window had been, Lynnette, Snorre and I also left for home.

Visit to Leeuwenboschfontein with Anton, Camilla, Viljé and Birk: Monday 30th of January 2016 to Tuesday 31st January 2017.

Anton, Camilla and Viljé stayed on until early February after the rest of the group left on the 15th of January. They moved from Kolping guest house to our place in Brackenfell.  Initially, we were a bit concerned because Camilla has a rather serious cat allergy. This was a serious for us too because it is, after all, is said and done, also Snorre’s home. Fortunately, Lynnette’s thorough cleaning coupled with a few restrictions on Snorre’s movements resulted in Camilla never experiencing any discomfort.

During the extended stay we visited several more wineries but, for Lynnette and I, the highlight of the visit was being able to take them to Leeuwenboschfontein ) for two days.  Lynnette and I stayed in Bergzicht and Anton, Camilla, Birk and Viljé stayed next door in Dalzicht. Viljé absolutely loved the large lawn, the trampoline and the selection of climbing frames.

At Leeuwenboschfontein the highlight for me was walking up Swartberg to the hut and back with Anton, Camilla and Viljé.  We started early at around 07:00 and the climb along the 4×4 track took just over two hours. The distance to walk is a little over 5.5 km during which one gains 300 metres in altitude.  The road is very steep in sections and on the way down one has to take extra care not to slip and fall.  A crucial point to remember is that there is no water en route and none at the top either.

TOP LEFT: Looking South West on the way to the top of the Swartberg at Leeuwenboschfontein. A section of the road can be seen at the bottom centre and left of the photograph. CENTRE LEFT: The hut on top of Swartberg seen from the southeast on the way up. BOTTOM LEFT: Looking northwest from high up on Swartberg. Touws River can be seen in the distance roughly in the middle of the photograph. TOP RIGHT: Looking northeast from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal on Leeuwenboschfontein at sunset, the dark blue of the earth shadow rests on the distant hills overlaid by the delicate pink of the Venus Girdle. BOTTOM RIGHT: Leeuwenboschfontein has some of the most beautiful sunsets although, like this one seen from the campsite, but the clouds are not welcomed by astronomy minded guests.
TOP LEFT: Looking south-west on the way to the top of the Swartberg at Leeuwenboschfontein. A section of the road can be seen at the bottom centre and left of the photograph. CENTRE LEFT: The hut on top of Swartberg seen from the south-east on the way up. BOTTOM LEFT: Looking north-west from high up on Swartberg. Touws River can be seen in the distance roughly in the middle of the photograph. TOP RIGHT: Looking north-east from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal on Leeuwenboschfontein at sunset, the dark blue of the earth shadow rests on the distant hills overlaid by the delicate pink of the Venus Girdle. BOTTOM RIGHT: Leeuwenboschfontein has some of the most beautiful sunsets although, like this one seen from the campsite, but the clouds are not welcomed by astronomy minded guests.

On the way back we met Johan Roux, the owner of Leeuwenboschfontein, in his pickup taking guests up to the hut.  He seemed as surprised to encounter us as I was to find him there on a weekday. He is, after all, based in Ceres and has a business to run. On the other hand if you are the boss you can pretty much do as you please I suppose.

TOP LEFT: Camilla and Viljé on top of Swartberg. TOP CENTRE: Anton recording the view from the top of Swartberg. TOP RIGHT: The hut on top of the mountain. RIGHT, 2nd FROM TOP: Jaco’s (very) old rucksack that accompanied us up the mountain. On the next visit Jaco can carry it up himself. RIGHT, 2nd FROM BOTTOM: Zoophycos trace fossils in the Witteberg sediments just below the hut. RIGHT BOTTOM: Ripple traces in the Witteberg sediments. CENTRE BOTTOM: Mud cracks with infilling in the Witteberg sediments. LEFT BOTTOM: Camilla and Viljé on a fairly level stretch on their way down the mountain. CENTRE: Camilla, Anton and Viljé against the backdrop of the hut when we arrived on top of Swartberg.
TOP LEFT: Camilla and Viljé on top of Swartberg. TOP CENTRE: Anton recording the view from the top of Swartberg. TOP RIGHT: The hut on top of the mountain. RIGHT, 2nd FROM TOP: Jaco’s (very) old rucksack that accompanied us up the mountain. On the next visit, Jaco can carry it up himself. RIGHT, 2nd FROM BOTTOM: Zoophycos trace fossils in the Witteberg sediments just below the hut. RIGHT BOTTOM: Ripple traces in the Witteberg sediments. CENTRE BOTTOM: Mud cracks with infilling in the Witteberg sediments. LEFT BOTTOM: Camilla and Viljé on a fairly level stretch on their way down the mountain. CENTRE: Camilla, Anton and Viljé against the backdrop of the hut when we arrived on top of Swartberg.

During the climb up Swartberg Lynnette stayed at the guest house looking after Birk and Snorre. We stayed in contact with each other using our two-way radios just in case the climbing group had some sort of accident or she needed us back in hurry.  The use of the radios was essential because mobile reception is very erratic at Leeuwenboschfontein and we were uncertain if there would be any reception at all while on the mountain.

When the climbing party got back to the guest house at around lunch time, Lynnette and Birk were relaxing on a blanket under one of the trees on the spacious lawn.

TOP LEFT: The waxing crescent moon accompanied by Venus. TOP RIGHT: The Coal Sack Nebula, Crux and a nice section of the surrounding Milky Way. CENTRE: The hut on top of the Swartberg at sunset viewed from the camp. BOTTOM LEFT: Looking northeast Jupiter and Spica are prominent as is the sky glow from Laingsburg 90 km away. BOTTOM RIGHT: To the south west the sky glow from Worcester, De Doorns and, most likely, Cape Town light up the sky.
TOP LEFT: The waxing crescent moon accompanied by Venus. TOP RIGHT: The Coal Sack Nebula, Crux and a nice section of the surrounding Milky Way. CENTRE: The hut on top of the Swartberg at sunset viewed from the camp. BOTTOM LEFT: Looking north-east Jupiter and Spica are prominent as is the sky glow from Laingsburg 90 km away. BOTTOM RIGHT: To the south-west the sky glow from Worcester, De Doorns and, most likely, Cape Town light up the sky.

A slightly negative note in connection with Leeuwenboschfontein was the fact that Joan made us pay full price for Viljé. We subsequently discovered that children under the age of six, which Viljé was at the time, actually stay for free.

Without any further ado here are the pictures to tell the story of a memorable and very pleasant stay.

Stargazing visit to Leeuwenboschfontein: Monday 26th of December 2016 to Sunday 01st January 2017.

The day after Christmas we (Lynnette, Snorre and I) arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein just before lunch. We were followed later in the week by Iain Finlay – Willem stayed at home keeping their cats, Tiger and Aimé, company. Rob Bark with his wife Michelle and daughter Victoria were next in, followed, eventually, by Paul Kruger, with his famous breakfast. Dave, Spiro and Sharon were due to fly in from up north but eventually drove down due to thundery weather over the central parts of the country.  Martin Lyons had plans to fly in as well but gave up on that idea as the altitude, heat and short runway made it unsafe for the plane he was going to use. Auke could not make it either because of last minute complications.

I have to sit here all morning and wait for them to finish so that we can get going and go to Leeuwenboschfontein.
I have to sit here all morning and wait for them to finish so that we can get going and go to Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Earth shadow and Venus’s girdle with one of the nice new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein in the foreground. BOTTOM LEFT: Iain Finlay, Rob Bark and I on the stoep of bungalow no. 5; one of the spanking new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Two single beds pushed together to make a double bed in our bungalow. MIDDLE RIGHT: The bunk-bed and washbasin in our bungalow. BOTTOM RIGHT: Two burner gas stove, fridge and table with two benches in our bungalow.
TOP LEFT: Earth shadow and Venus’s girdle with one of the nice new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein in the foreground. BOTTOM LEFT: Iain Finlay, Rob Bark and I on the stoep of bungalow no. 5; one of the spanking new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Two single beds pushed together to make a double bed in our bungalow. MIDDLE RIGHT: The bunk-bed and washbasin in our bungalow. BOTTOM RIGHT: Two burner gas stove, fridge and table with two benches in our bungalow.
Dalzicht on the left, with bungalows one and two hidden behind the island in the road. They are both equipped with their own bathrooms. Bungalows four to six on the right use the ablution block hidden in the background behind unit three.
Dalzicht on the left, with bungalows one and two hidden behind the island in the road. They are both equipped with their own bathrooms. Bungalows three to six, on the right, use the ablution block hidden in the background behind unit three.

Monday evening was fine, Tuesday evening was completely clouded over and Wednesday evening was very windy in the early evening with a fair amount of cloud that cleared after midnight. Thursday night was a repeat of Wednesday and Friday was more of the same. Saturday was a near-perfect night to round off the weekend.

TOP: Sunset on the 30th of December. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Sunset about 20 minutes later. BOTTOM: The Moon going down for the last time in 2016 over Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP: Sunset on the 30th of December. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Sunset about 20 minutes later. BOTTOM: The Moon going down for the last time in 2016 over Leeuwenboschfontein.

One thing that is a problem at Leeuwenbosch is the lighting along the entrance road and in the garden between the guest houses.  They are all these horrible round white things that distribute light in all directions. Some sort of a cover that prevents light from escaping upward and horizontally, would solve the problem and the use of cooler bulbs would also help. I temporarily solved the problem by taking the bulbs out as soon as it looked as if all the folks in the houses had gone to bed and then replaced them when I was done observing. Johan Roux, however, has shown me where the light switches for these lights are and it is now a case of flicking two switches and seeing conditions around the guest houses and new chalets will improve by at least 200%.

TOP LEFT: Paul taking a break on the way to Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Paul is a firm believer in a hearty breakfast to start his day. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s braai and bottle of wine in preparation for the night’s photography. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s very nice set of star trails taken from Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Paul taking a break on the way to Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Paul is a firm believer in a hearty breakfast to start his day. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s braai and a bottle of wine in preparation for the night’s photography. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s very nice set of star trails taken from Leeuwenboschfontein.

The camp, however, was a bigger problem this time around. Because it was the holiday season and specifically the New Year’s weekend, the camp was full of revellers who switched on all possible lights including that infernal spotlight on the mast in the middle of the camp. Why get tipsy in the dark, after all? The light spill from this lot even affected the seeing down in the telescope area next to the runway, almost a kilometre away.

At least these light pollution problems will not be a problem during the SSP because we have Johan’s permission to switch everything off for that weekend.

On the subject of light pollution, I recorded a set of dark sky readings for those of the readers who might be interested.

MSAS = Magnitudes per Square Arc Second NELM = Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude
MSAS = Magnitudes per Square Arc Second
NELM = Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude

I also recorded some weather data, using Hans van der Merwe’s clever data logger. Here are some results that might interest amateur astronomers.

Graphic representation of some of the weather data from Hans van der Merwe's data logger.
Graphic representation of some of the weather data from Hans van der Merwe’s data logger.

Leeuwenboschfontein with Klaas and Wilma: Wednesday 02nd to Monday 07th March 2016.

Klaas contacted us in May 2015 about the Summer Southern Star Party in 2016 (go here to read more about the event). Unfortunately the dates in February did not fit in with their travel plans so they could not attend and we decided to organize a mini-substitute for them at Leeuwenboschfontein instead.

Lynnette, Snorre and I left for Leeuwenboschfontein (LBF) (click here to read more about LBF or visit their Facebook page here) on Wednesday the 02nd of March and settled in. Iain and Willem arrived the following day, while Auke, Barry & Miemie, Alan & Rose, Louis and Corné & his family, all arrived on the Friday. Klaas & Wilma also arrived on Friday having driven 400km from Olive Grove (go here to read more about Olive Grove), just south of Beaufort West, where they had spent a few days stargazing.

Lynnette and I got in some valuable stargazing time on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings and on the Friday evening we all traipsed down to the stargazing enclosure as there were three non-astronomical groups camping as well, and we could not switch off the lights at the ablution block. Louis set up outside the enclosure because it was easier than carrying everything inside and he is used to working off the back of his pick-up. Inside the enclosure we had our 12”, Alan and Rose had their 12” and Corné had his 8” (all Dobbies). Auke hadn’t brought a telescope and set himself up to do binocular viewing while Klaas had his refractor. Klaas compiled an excellent time lapse of the activity inside the enclosure during the course of the evening.

We will at some stage have to do something about making the access from the runway to the enclosure smoother for transporting the telescopes as it is quite tricky, even with headlamps. The light colour of the vibracrete walls also acts as a reflective surface on the inside of the enclosure and significantly raises the ambient light levels. We will have to consider applying a matt black paint at some stage to solve that problem.

TOP LEFT: An early morning moon rising out of the clouds and sporting a nice Earthshine (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 200mm, ISO 1000, 2s, f/5.6). TOP RIGHT: Dragonfly – This one is a male Red-veined Dropwing (Trithemis arteriosa). MIDDLE: On Saturday afternoon we were treated to a display of rainbows and I was just too late to capture the moment when there were three (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 400, 1/80s, f/8). BOTTOM LEFT: An impressive cloud formation to the west of the camp (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/2s, f/4.5). BOTTOM RIGHT: Lights along the driveway leading to the guesthouse and the reception with just a touch of red on the right from Laingsburg’s lights and the green dot is NOT a UFO (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8).
TOP LEFT: An early morning moon rising out of the clouds and sporting a nice Earthshine (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 200mm, ISO 1000, 2s, f/5.6). TOP RIGHT: Dragonfly – This one is a male Red-veined Dropwing (Trithemis arteriosa). MIDDLE: On Saturday afternoon we were treated to a display of rainbows and I was just too late to capture the moment when there were three (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 400, 1/80s, f/8). BOTTOM LEFT: An impressive cloud formation to the west of the camp (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/2s, f/4.5). BOTTOM RIGHT: Lights along the driveway leading to the guesthouse and the reception with just a touch of red on the right from Laingsburg’s lights and the green dot is NOT a UFO (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8).
Laingsburg is 90 km away as the proverbial crow flies but when there are low clouds over there it makes its presence known by the orange glow of the lights along the N1 through the town. (Nikon D5100, 80mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8)
Laingsburg is 90 km away as the proverbial crow flies but when there are low clouds over there it makes its presence known by the orange glow of the lights along the N1 through the town. (Nikon D5100, 80mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8)
TOP LEFT: The Earth’s shadow and Venus’s girdle across the eastern horizon as seen from the campsite (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/13s, f/6.3). TOP RIGHT: An earlier photograph of the sunlight and shadows to the north-east of Leeuwenboschfontein which also caught some birds in the evening sky. BOTTOM LEFT: Star trails taken from the camp with the camera pointed just west of the south celestial pole (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 10s, f/1.5; 249 exposures assembled with StarStax-0.71). BOTTOM RIGHT: Crux (the Southern Cross) showing the colour variation in the main stars making up the constellation and also the dark nebula known as the Coal Sack (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 2500, 8s, f/1.8 & enlarged and then cropped with Photoscape).
TOP LEFT: The Earth’s shadow and Venus’s girdle across the eastern horizon as seen from the campsite (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/13s, f/6.3). TOP RIGHT: An earlier photograph of the sunlight and shadows to the north-east of Leeuwenboschfontein which also caught some birds in the evening sky. BOTTOM LEFT: Star trails taken from the camp with the camera pointed just west of the south celestial pole (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 10s, f/1.5; 249 exposures assembled with StarStax-0.71). BOTTOM RIGHT: Crux (the Southern Cross) showing the colour variation in the main stars making up the constellation and also the dark nebula known as the Coal Sack (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 2500, 8s, f/1.8 & enlarged and then cropped with Photoscape).

On Saturday the weather turned nasty. We had windy conditions with gusts that at times threatened to lift the roof off the shelter over our caravan. Thanks to Willem’s intervention and the quick reaction of the LBF’s staff the roof was nailed down properly before any damage was done. Poor Snorre was very upset, firstly by the clanging of the loose galvanized sheeting in the wind and then by the sound of hammering on the roof. Later on we also had some light rain and that evening we all got together in the lapa for a braai. Klaas was dying to show us his technique for photographing bright planets and stars during the daytime but there was never a long enough break in the weather to do that. At the Star Party in 2017 will be the ideal opportunity Klaas.

TOP: From left to right: Iain Finlay, Willem van Zyl, Alan & Rose Cassells, Lynette and I, Louis Fourie, Klaas van Ditzhuyzen and Barry Dumas. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie. BOTTOM CENTRE: Iain, Rose & Alan and Rose, Alan & myself and Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Miemie & Wilma in the foreground.
TOP: From left to right: Iain Finlay, Willem van Zyl, Alan & Rose Cassells, Lynette and I, Louis Fourie, Klaas van Ditzhuyzen and Barry Dumas. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie. BOTTOM CENTRE: Iain, Rose & Alan and Rose, Alan & myself and Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Miemie & Wilma in the foreground.
Our supper, three Kasslertjops and four Pofadders.
Our supper, three Kassler chops and four Pofadders.
TOP LEFT: Klaas van Ditzhuyzen our Dutch visitor. TOP RIGHT: Louis Fourie from Worcester in a pensive mood. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie Dumas visiting our caravan on Sunday evening. BOTTOM RIGHT: Barry, Miemie & Auke and a rare view of Auke’s tongue.
TOP LEFT: Klaas van Ditzhuyzen our Dutch visitor. TOP RIGHT: Louis Fourie from Worcester in a pensive mood. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie Dumas visiting our caravan on Sunday evening. BOTTOM RIGHT: Barry, Miemie & Auke and a rare view of Auke’s tongue.

On Sunday Corné and Alan & Rose departed but the weather remained overcast. It eventually cleared by midnight for a short period till around 03:00 on Monday morning. On Monday everyone except Iain and Willem packed up and left for home.

Klaas and Wilma continued their South African trip and their next stop was Elgin Valley Inn in Grabouw. They had another stop in Tulbagh before departing for the Netherlands again on the 18th of March.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event but a special word of thanks to Klaas and Wilma. It was a pleasure to meet you and to share the night sky with you. Thank you especially Klaas for you astronomy input and we hope to see you at the Southern Star Party early in 2016. You might want to visit here or go here and possibly visit here to see some of the astronomy things Klaas does. His Leeuwenbosch material can be viewed here and he also produced a time-lapse video of the activity during an observing session in the “Sterretjieskraal”, which can be viewed here.

Snorre enjoyed the weekend as usual, except for the banging on the roof on Saturday.

TOP LEFT: Somewhere down there among all that green stuff should be at least one mouse and all I have to do is find it. TOP RIGHT: Out there looks a very promising hunting prospect, but there is a large dry watercourse and a road to cross, so maybe not today. BOTTOM LEFT: Let’s go and investigate the frog situation at the dam. BOTTOM RIGHT: Not nearly dark enough for hunting yet, so I’ll lie down and wait.
TOP LEFT: Somewhere down there among all that green stuff should be at least one mouse and all I have to do is find it. TOP RIGHT: Out there looks a very promising hunting prospect, but there is a large dry watercourse and a road to cross, so maybe not today. BOTTOM LEFT: Let’s go and investigate the frog situation at the dam. BOTTOM RIGHT: All this walking is tiring and it’s not nearly dark enough for hunting yet, so I’ll lie down and wait.

Leeuwenboschfontein Astronomy Weekend: 11 December 2015.

On Wednesday the 09th we set off for Leeuwenboschfontein (visit their website to by clicking here) within minutes of our scheduled departure time. We were quite chuffed, online as we do not often manage to meet our departure deadlines for trips like this. We stopped off at Die Veldskoen Padstal (visit their Facebook page by clicking here) about 4 km north of De Doorns for a light lunch, prescription buying a few bottles of wine and a bag of fresh cherries. For good, friendly service and quality food I can really recommend this place.  We have been stopping off there since 2008 and not been disappointed once. At Leeuwenboschfontein we found that the permanent caravans had been nicely enclosed to afford privacy and protection against the wind which often becomes quite chilly in the evenings.

Willem and Iain were already camped on site, Alan and Rose arrived on Thursday and moved into the second permanent caravan, followed by Barry and Miemie who occupied Dalzicht guest house. Johan, Nellie and Dominique moved into the third caravan on Friday and Auke, Chris, Lenelle and Susan, all camping, also arrived during the course of Friday. Joan, who runs the reception at Leeuwenboschfontein, was kind enough to lend us a deepfreeze for the campers to use over the weekend, which was very useful.

TOP LEFT: Sunrise at Leeuwenboschfontein looking down the Nougaskloof roughly in the direction of the Anysberg which lies to the right but out of the picture. TOP RIGHT: Sunset, but looking east from Leeuwenboschfontein. BOTTOM LEFT: The same sunset as in the previous photograph but looking west from the camping area. BOTTOM RIGHT: The same sunset reflected in the dam in the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Sunrise at Leeuwenboschfontein looking down the Nougaskloof roughly in the direction of the Anysberg which lies to the right but out of the picture. TOP RIGHT: Sunset, but looking east from Leeuwenboschfontein. BOTTOM LEFT: The same sunset as in the previous photograph but looking west from the camping area. BOTTOM RIGHT: The same sunset reflected in the dam in the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: The very neatly and sensibly enclosed permanent caravan sites at Leeuwenboschfontein with the two telescopes under their shiny protective wraps. TOP RIGHT: The handy table with power outlet and light behind the shade cloth screen very nicely extend ones living space from inside the caravan to the space in front and the shade cloth affords on a great deal privacy as well as protection from the prevailing wind. BOTTOM LEFT: The tranquil sunset view across the dam from our caravan. BOTTOM RIGHT: The 12” being prepared for the night’s working session.
TOP LEFT: The very neatly and sensibly enclosed permanent caravan sites at Leeuwenboschfontein with the two telescopes under their shiny protective wraps. TOP RIGHT: The handy table with power outlet and light behind the shade cloth screen very nicely extend ones living space from inside the caravan to the space in front and the shade cloth affords one a great deal privacy as well as protection from the prevailing wind. BOTTOM LEFT: The tranquil sunset view across the dam from our caravan. BOTTOM RIGHT: The 12” being prepared for the night’s working session.

Thursday evening everyone socialized at our caravan but the evening was also very good from an astronomy point of view with excellent seeing conditions. Rose and Lynnette went to bed shortly after midnight but Alan persevered until around 02:00. Barry also put in some time with the telescope and camera and, amongst other things produced a beautiful shot of the Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070 or 30 Doradus). I was up until just before 06:00.

Friday evening saw more socializing in the late afternoon and early evening with the telescope work taking place later on and after midnight. The seeing was very good. Early on Auke and Barry remarked that one could walk away from the group around the fires and, without too much effort and hardly any dark adaptation, see 47 Tucanae (NGC 104), Omega Centauri (NGC 5139), the Jewel Box (NGC 4755), Eta Carinae, the Southern Pleiades (IC 2602) and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31/NGC 224).

Readings were taken with the Unihedron Sky Quality Meter (visit their website by clicking here to find out more) on the 09th, 10th & 11th and the average of 20 readings on each night was 21.70, 21.69 & 21.58 (Magnitudes per Square Arc-Second or MSAS) respectively. This converts NELM (Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude) values of 6.4816, 6.4772 & 6.4168. Using the Loss of the Night application and viewing 30 stars, at the same time as taking the Sky Quality readings, gave a limiting magnitude of >5 ± 0.1 on all three occasions.

Snorre, with his flashing red light. He seems exceptionally at home in the rocky and bushy terrain at Leeuwenboschfontein and tends to disappear at night. With the light we can find him more easily and we think that it not only affords him some protection against predators, but also warns his potential prey of his approach, much to his disgust.
Snorre, with his flashing red light. He seems exceptionally at home in the rocky and bushy terrain at Leeuwenboschfontein and tends to disappear at night. With the light we can find him more easily and we think that it not only affords him some protection against predators, but also warns his potential prey of his approach, much to his disgust.
TOP LEFT: Auke and Chris in a pensive mood. TOP RIGHT: Lynnette, Rose and Alan. BOTTOM LEFT: Lenelle with her back to the camera, Nellie, Auke, Chris and Miemie. BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris, Lenelle, Miemie just visible, Johan with his back to the camera, Barry, Lynnette, Alan sitting on his haunches with his back to the camera and Rose. On the table is the bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate Alan and Rose’s anniversary.
TOP LEFT: Auke and Chris in a pensive mood. TOP RIGHT: Lynnette, Rose and Alan. BOTTOM LEFT: Lenelle with her back to the camera, Nellie, Auke, Chris and Miemie. BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris, Lenelle, Miemie just visible, Johan with his back to the camera, Barry, Lynnette, Alan sitting on his haunches with his back to the camera and Rose. On the table is the bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate Alan and Rose’s anniversary.
TOP: Nellie, Johan again with his back to the camera, Lenell, Chris, Mienie, Barry, Lynnette, Alan and Rose. BOTTOM: Auke, Nellie with her back to the camera, Chris, Miemie, Barry, Lenelle Susan with her posterior to the camera and Lynnette.
TOP: Nellie, Johan again with his back to the camera, Lenelle, Chris, Miemie, Barry, Lynnette, Alan and Rose. BOTTOM: Auke, Nellie with her back to the camera, Chris, Miemie, Barry, Lenelle Susan with her posterior to the camera and Lynnette.

On Saturday the weather closed in and light rain fell so observing was out as was the customary braai under the stars. Fortunately Leeuwenboschfontein has a very nice enclosed central lapa for just such occasions. We spent a pleasant evening there, out of the wind and rain and warmed by the braai-fires. Alan opened a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate he and Rose’s wedding anniversary, which was the following day, so it really was a festive occasion. Later in the evening Snorre managed to attract a lot of attention by climbing a tree that proved difficult to get out of but, once everybody had stopped making a fuss, he did what cats normally do; climbed down on his own.

Supper on the grill on Saturday evening in the boma.
Supper on the grill on Saturday evening in the boma.
LEFT: Auke checking out the weather and contemplating the pile of calendars waiting for him at home. RIGHT: Miemie and Barry.
LEFT: Auke checking out the weather and contemplating the pile of calendars waiting for him at home. RIGHT: Miemie and Barry.

Sunday was overcast too, but most people had planned to leave on Sunday in any case. Chris left early, followed by Johan, Nellie and Dominique and then Lenelle and Susan.  Alan and Rosemary left just after lunch and Auke, who had intended staying until Tuesday, also decided to leave because the weather forecast did not look promising, from an astronomical point of view, for the next two evenings. In any case he had a pile of calendars to pack. Before Auke left we looked over the facilities being prepared in the large shed adjacent to De Oude Opstal guest house and they look very promising indeed. With only Willem, Iain, Lynnette, Snorre and I in the camp and Barry and Miemie in Dalzicht Leeuwenbosch was suddenly very quiet. On Monday Barry, Miemie and the Fosters packed up, said goodbye to Joan and to Leeuwenboschfontein and left the camp to Iain and Willem.

TOP: Crux or the Southern Cross is the smallest of the 88 constellations but other than Orion and Scorpius it is probably one of the most distinctive. Two of the stars in Crux appear to have planets and it also contains the distinctive open cluster known as the Jewel Box (NGC 4755) as well as the extensive dark nebulae known as the Coal Sack. Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 5s – f/1.8, 30 photographs stacked and processed with PhotoScape ® BOTTOM: Star trails in the vicinity of Orion. Legend: M1 to M4 are meteor trails and A is the tremor caused by our illustrious President playing ping-pong with his Finance Ministers. Actually, this is the result of Snorre stretching up against the tripod to play with the flashing green light on the camera. B is the trace of the Orion Nebula (M42/NGC 1976) and C indicates the traces of Orion’s three belt stars (Alnitak, Alnilam & Mintaka) also known as the Three Kings or the Three Sisters. Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 4s – f/1.8, The image was generated from 93 photographs taken at 38 second intervals.& processed with StarStax ®
TOP: Crux or the Southern Cross is the smallest of the 88 constellations but other than Orion and Scorpius it is probably one of the most distinctive. Two of the stars in Crux appear to have planets and it also contains the distinctive open cluster known as the Jewel Box (NGC 4755) as well as the extensive dark nebulae known as the Coal Sack.
Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 5s – f/1.8, 30 photographs stacked and processed with PhotoScape ®
BOTTOM: Star trails in the vicinity of Orion.
Legend: M1 to M4 are meteor trails and A is the tremor caused by our illustrious President playing ping-pong with his Finance Ministers. Actually, this is the result of Snorre stretching up against the tripod to play with the flashing green light on the camera. B is the trace of the Orion Nebula (M42/NGC 1976) and C indicates the traces of Orion’s three belt stars (Alnitak, Alnilam & Mintaka) also known as the Three Kings or the Three Sisters.
Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 4s – f/1.8, The image was generated from 93 photographs taken at 38 second intervals.& processed with StarStax ®
TOP: Orion Nebula (M42/NGC 1976) It is a diffuse nebula situated in Orion’s sword at a distance of about 1340 light years. It is the closest area to the Earth in which there is a large amount of star formation in progress. M42 is about 24 light years wide. BOTTOM: Omega Centauri (? Cen/NGC 5139) The largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. Situated at 15 800 light years from the Earth it has a diameter of about 150 light years it contains an estimated 10 million stars. Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 4s – f/1.8, 20 photographs stacked and processed with PhotoScape ®
TOP: Orion Nebula (M42/NGC 1976) It is a diffuse nebula situated in Orion’s sword at a distance of about 1340 light years. It is the closest area to the Earth in which there is a large amount of star formation in progress. M42 is about 24 light years wide. BOTTOM: Omega Centauri (? Cen/NGC 5139) The largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. Situated at 15 800 light years from the Earth it has a diameter of about 150 light years it contains an estimated 10 million stars.
Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 4s – f/1.8, 20 photographs stacked and processed with PhotoScape ®
Eta Carinae at bottom left is a star grouping that contains two stars with a combined brightness that is several million times that of our Sun, It is situated at about 7 500 light years from the Earth in the constellation Carina. The primary star is expected to explode as a supernova in the not too far distant astronomical future. The Southern Pleiades (IC 2602) is an open cluster in the constellation Carina and contains about 60 stars. This cluster is between 35 and 45 million years old and lies approximately 500 light years away with a diameter of about 15 light years. Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 5s – f/1.8, 15 photographs stacked and processed with PhotoScape ®
Eta Carinae at bottom left is a star grouping that contains two stars with a combined brightness that is several million times that of our Sun, It is situated at about 7 500 light years from the Earth in the constellation Carina. The primary star is expected to explode as a supernova in the not too far distant astronomical future. The Southern Pleiades (IC 2602) is an open cluster in the constellation Carina and contains about 60 stars. This cluster is between 35 and 45 million years old and lies approximately 500 light years away with a diameter of about 15 light years.
Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G, ISO: 1000, Shutter: 5s – f/1.8, 15 photographs stacked and processed with PhotoScape ®

We arrived home safely and started the dreaded unpacking and packing away to wrap up our final visit to Leeuwenboschfontein for 2015, but we will be back in 2016. We did not make use of the stargazing enclosure next to the runway this time because there were very few other people in the camp so we could control the lights. A problem with the water supply has also resulted in the grass dying inside the enclosure so it would have been very sandy and dusty in there. Johan snr has promised the grass will be back in 2016 and so will we, hopefully on a regular basis.

Leeuwenboschfontein, only a pleasure to visit. – 20 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein, health only a pleasure to visit. – 20 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein Guest Farm is situated in the far eastern section of the Little Karoo and their website, which can be visited here, gives a comprehensive overview of all the activities on offer. A visit to their Facebook page, which can be found here, gives more information and a host of informative pictures.

Most non-4×4 enthusiasts will probably be left wandering what they would do there.  There is of course, fishing, hiking, cycling or just plain relaxing, reading a book or chatting around the braai fire and to that you can add taking a snooze in the shade of the magnificent willow trees in the camp site.  If you stay in the guest house there is the pool and another one is under construction next to the camp site. Sports enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy the big screen in the converted barn, so there is something for everyone.

However, I thought it would be good thing to highlight some of the things that do not show up on either the website or the Facebook page, in brief photo-essay. You can also read about our recent trip to Leeuwenboschfontein if you go here. It is important not to go to Leeuwenboschfontein without you camera or your binoculars; you will be regret it if you do. So just browse through the photos that follow and read the captions as I have tried to put more information in there.

Top Left: As kids we used to lie on our backs watching the clouds and trying to see patterns and shapes Top right: The Earth’s shadow in the east as the sun sets. At sunrise this shadow will be in the west. Bottom Left: Sunset and the shadows lengthen down the Nougaskloof valley. Bottom Right: The setting sun colours the clouds various shades of pink and orange and all of this is reflected in the dam.
Top Left: As kids we used to lie on our backs watching the clouds and trying to see patterns and shapes. Top right: The Earth’s shadow in the east as the sun sets. At sunrise this shadow will be in the west. Bottom Left: Sunset and the shadows lengthen down the Nougaskloof valley. Bottom Right: The setting sun colours the clouds various shades of pink and orange and all of this is reflected in the dam.
Top Left: This Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) shuttles between the various dams on the farm and is the Grim Reaper personified for the frogs. Here there is a preening session in progress after the flight from another dam. Top Middle: The preening stops suddenly when something draws his attention. Top right: Neck outstretched to get a closer look and just before pouncing. Bottom Left: Got it! And when the frog kept on wriggling the heron simply pounded it against the side of the bout until it succumbed. Bottom Middle: Now the patient wait for the next careless frog. Bottom Right: The same Heron the next day and I wondered how many frogs had gone down that slender neck since I last saw him.
Top Left: This Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) shuttles between the various dams on the farm and is the Grim Reaper personified for the frogs. Here there is a preening session in progress after the flight from another dam. Top Middle: The preening stops suddenly when something draws his attention. Top right: Neck outstretched to get a closer look just before pouncing. Bottom Left: Got it! And when the frog kept on wriggling the heron simply pounded it against the side of the bout until it succumbed. Bottom Middle: Now the patient wait for the next careless frog. Bottom Right: The same Heron the next day and I wondered how many frogs had gone down that slender neck since I last saw him.
Top Left: A male Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) with a piece of bread that I thought was way too large to swallow but he managed it. Top Middle: A female Masked Weaver much less striking than the male. Top right: The male in a pose that can only be described as cocky! Middle: The weaver birds are very industrious and also quite entertaining. This male Masked Weaver and three females are polishing some crumbs we put out. Bottom Left: When viewed from a little closer the female does have some colour variation and patterning but it is the males that stand out. Bottom Middle: This Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis) was much more sedate but did not let himself be put off in the least by the slightly larger and more numerous weavers. Bottom Right: A rear view of the bunting and he really is a very dapper little bird.
Top Left: A male Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) with a piece of bread that I thought was way too large to swallow but he managed it. Top Middle: A female Masked Weaver much less striking than the male. Top right: The male in a pose that can only be described as cocky! Middle: The weaver birds are very industrious and also quite entertaining. This male Masked Weaver and three females are polishing some crumbs we put out. Bottom Left: When viewed from a little closer the female does have some colour variation and patterning but it is the males that stand out. Bottom Middle: This Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis) was much more sedate but did not let himself be put off in the least by the slightly larger and more numerous weavers. Bottom Right: A rear view of the bunting and he really is a very dapper little bird.
Top Left to Top Right: A male Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis) in various poses and he did not seem in the least put out by the presence of the masked weaver. Middle: The male Cape Weaver and three females but I cannot accurately distinguish between the females of the Cape and the masked weavers. Bottom Left and Bottom Middle: I couldn’t resist two more shots of this very confident an alert little fellow. Bottom Right: More female weavers, but once again I am at a loss to accurately distinguish between the two species.
Top Left to Top Right: A male Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis) in various poses and he did not seem in the least put out by the presence of the masked weaver. Middle: The male Cape Weaver and three females but I cannot accurately distinguish between the females of the Cape and the masked weavers. Bottom Left and Bottom Middle: I couldn’t resist two more shots of this very confident an alert little fellow. Bottom Right: More female weavers, but once again I am at a loss to accurately distinguish between the two species.
Top Left: This chap visited us at breakfast time and is a member of the Gnaphosidae family of arachnids, commonly known as spiders. I think it belongs in the genus Zelotes and is Zelotes fuligineus. They are non-venomous ground dwelling spiders that do not spin webs as such but at best silk sack. Top Middle: This was a bit of a surprise, the track of a Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) I found one set of tracks in soft mud and another in older hardened mud. Top Right: Although spring, the traditional flower time for the Karoo, is over and summer is advancing at a pace the fairly good late rains have extended the flowering period of many of the plants. Unlike Namaqualand and most of the Northern Cape, you have to get out and walk to appreciate the flowers. Especially the geophytes (bulbous plants) are well hidden until you almost fall over them but the effort is really well worth your while. This is Felicia filifolia commonly known as Draaibossie still making a nice show. Middle: This is the sort of tranquil setting one finds at Leeuwenbosch. This one is taken across the dam in the centre of the camp site looking westward at sunset. Bottom Left: A section of the geological map covering the Leeuwenboschfontein area. The age of the rocks spans a period of just over 100 million years and is all marine sediment laid down in a body of water known as the Agulhas Sea. There should be marine fossils if one looks carefully and possibly fish and plant remains in the higher slopes toward the tops of the peaks. Bottom Middle: The rock here is about 400 million years old but the white veins of quartz intruding into it are much younger and could be around 180 million years old or even slightly younger. Bottom Right: Young geology and one can clearly see the different composition of the semi-horizontal layers. The pebble laden sections indicate high volume flow and the sections in between slower, sediment laden flow. This material is thousands and not millions of years old.
Top Left: This chap visited us at breakfast time and is a member of the Gnaphosidae family of arachnids, commonly known as spiders. I think it belongs in the genus Zelotes and is Zelotes fuligineus. They are non-venomous ground dwelling spiders that do not spin webs as such but at best silk sack. Top Middle: This was a bit of a surprise, the track of a Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) I found one set of tracks in soft mud and another in older hardened mud. Top Right: Although spring, the traditional flower time for the Karoo, is over and summer is advancing at a pace the fairly good late rains have extended the flowering period of many of the plants. Unlike Namaqualand and most of the Northern Cape, you have to get out and walk to appreciate the flowers. Especially the geophytes (bulbous plants) are well hidden until you almost fall over them but the effort is really well worth your while. This is Felicia filifolia commonly known as Draaibossie still making a nice show. Middle: This is the sort of tranquil setting one finds at Leeuwenbosch. This one is taken across the dam in the centre of the camp site looking westward at sunset. Bottom Left: A section of the geological map covering the Leeuwenboschfontein area. The age of the rocks spans a period of just over 100 million years and is all marine sediment laid down in a body of water known as the Agulhas Sea. There should be marine fossils if one looks carefully and possibly fish and plant remains in the higher slopes toward the tops of the peaks. Bottom Middle: The rock here is about 400 million years old but the white veins of quartz intruding into it are much younger and could be around 180 million years old or even slightly younger. Bottom Right: Young geology and one can clearly see the different composition of the semi-horizontal layers. The pebble laden sections indicate high volume flow and the sections in between slower, sediment laden flow. This material is thousands and not millions of years old.
Top: This is a photograph of the sky in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic cloud. The lighter misty patch at rust left of centre to the left is the Large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: This is time lapse taken of the area just to the left of the South Celestial pole. The apparent tracks the stars make which seem to indicate movement are actually tracks caused by the Earth rotating and, of course, us with it.
Top: This is a photograph of the sky in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic cloud. The lighter misty patch at rust left of centre to the left is the Large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: This is time lapse taken of the area just to the left of the South Celestial pole. The apparent tracks the stars make which seem to indicate movement are actually tracks caused by the Earth rotating and, of course, us with it.

 

I trust you enjoyed this brief photographic visit to Leeuwenboschfontein and hope to see you there at some time and to have the opportunity to introduce you to the wonders of the night sky.

Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

The main objective of the weekend was to try out the enclosure the owner of Leeuwenbosch, Johan Roux, had built for the use of astronomers visiting the farm. Barry Dumas had been there during the Solar eclipse in September and found it to be very satisfactory. We had invited the members of the Cape Centre as well as Auke, Martin, Leslie, Iain, Willem and Wendy along but only Leslie, Willem, Iain, Jennifer and Wendy could eventually make it.

Our trip got off to a good start in the sense that we did not spend the entire night packing, as we often do. We were also finished and ready to go about 20 minutes before our planned departure time of 10:00 on Friday. Then disaster struck because Snorre was nowhere to be found. So we waited and notified Joan at Leeuwenboschfontein and all other parties that we were delayed. We looked everywhere, then we looked everywhere for a second, third and eventually umpteenth time, but Snorre was missing and the clock was ticking. Should we leave without Snorre and let Lynnette’s sister, Petro, feed him until we returned after the weekend? Should we cancel the trip unload everything and continue searching for him? Should we unload all the perishables, put them back in the fridge and freezer and just wait until Snorre pitched up? We decided on the last course of action. So 12:00 came and went, followed by 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00 and with each passing hour the tension mounted. Finally at about 15:30 His Nibs, Woolly Britches appeared from heaven knows where, stretching and yawning as if nothing was wrong!

Action stations! Snorre was shoved, rather unceremoniously, into his carry cage to prevent him doing another duck and Lynnette and I got everything we had unloaded back into the Vito, phoned everyone to notify them that Snorre had been found and hit the road at 16:30; a mere six and a half hours late. By the time we exited the Huguenot tunnel Leslie was already at the first stop-and-go of the road works in the Hex River-valley. The rest of our trip went very smoothly and we arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein around 18:50 to find Leslie already set up. Jennifer, who had taken the scenic route via Robertson, Ashton, Montagu, the Keisie and the Koo to Leeuwenboschfontein, had also arrived and settled in. Iain and Willem were expected the following day on their way back from Victoria West and Wendy was only due to arrive on the Sunday.

Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O'clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left : Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O’clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left: Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in Du Toit's Kloof. Top Right: Into the Brede River Vally with mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs of the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in the northern section of Du Toit’s Kloof pass. Top Right: Into the Breede River Valley with the mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs in the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.

We unpacked, had supper and set up as fast as we could. It was dark but lights from the two ablution blocks were a problem especially for Leslie’s astrophotography. As fast as Leslie switched them off somebody would switch them on again! We did not see our way open to driving down to the enclosed astronomy area about a kilometre away in the dark and, as there was no power down there, the move would have been entirely counterproductive for Leslie. One camping family came along to see what we were up to so I did a basic what’s up tonight with them. They were, however, such nice people that I really did not mind spending the time doing that. It was dark, very, very much darker than at any site in or near Cape Town, but the seeing was not very good because of the windy conditions and corresponding turbulence in the atmosphere.

The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lense: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 10s - f/1.8 Tripod mounted
The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 & 10s – f/1.8 – Tripod mounted

By midnight I was having problems with dew despite the fact that the wind had freshened quite considerably so Lynnette and I decided to call it a night and go to bed, leaving Leslie to brave the elements. Before going to bed I took a set of dark sky readings and also used the new Loss of the Night application on my cell phone as a comparison.

There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.
There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.

On Saturday we had a cold, blustery wind that had developed during the early hours of the morning, and a sky full of large fluffy clouds. Poor Leslie had spent a miserably cold night on his stretcher and his set-up and camp had been so vandalized by the wind that he decided to pack it in and head back to Cape Town. No amount of persuasion, offers of more and warmer bedding or the lure of better conditions later in the weekend, could change his mind. He did agree to let me show him the astronomy enclosure but he wasn’t all that impressed because there was no power, so his equipment would not be able to function. Iain and Willem arrived later in the day and by then the wind had abated considerably and the clouds had become a lot smaller with much, much larger gaps between them too. By Saturday evening the wind had all but died down, but the wandering clouds made constructive observing very difficult even though we had eventually convinced the remaining campers that the lights in the ablution blocks did not have to be on continuously.

Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom left hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.
Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom right hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.

On Sunday the weather was much better and by the time Wendy arrived it was looking very promising for the evening’s observing. We decided to try out the observing enclosure and found, to our satisfaction, that the Guest Farm’s lights were only visible if one stood right up against the eastern wall and looked west. The 1,8 m vibracrete walls also provided ample protection from the wind. The headlights of cars passing on the road, about one km away did catch the top slabs of the western wall. Although night traffic is infrequent this problem will be discussed with the Johan Roux’s (snr. & jnr.). Despite the very dark skies the seeing was at best fair to good but not excellent or exceptional, probably due to instability in the upper atmosphere caused by the approaching front. Wendy, Iain and Willem left at about 23:00 and Lynnette and I packed up just after midnight, when the dew got the better of us. We left our telescope, well wrapped, to keep Wendy’s company for the rest of the night. Being able to leave ones equipment in safety is another advantage of having the enclosure.

Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door measures gives an indication of the wind speed.
Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door gives an indication of the wind direction and speed.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south and standing on the airstrip. Bottom: the team applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south while standing on the airstrip. Bottom: The work detail applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.

Wendy headed home on Monday and as the camp was now empty, other than for Lynnette, myself, Ian and Willem we decided to observe from the camp as it would be possible to switch off all lights. When Lynnette and I went to fetch our telescope we found that the staff was applying liberal amounts of very smelly chicken manure to the grass in the enclosure in order to speed up its growth. Observing there would have been a very smelly activity. That evening Johan Roux (snr.) joined us for some star gazing. I was astounded when he admitted that he had never spent time outside at night to specifically look at the stars. He, on the other hand, was very surprised to see what a negative effect the exposed outside lights around the homestead and guest house had on ones night vision. We will in future be allowed to switch them off when doing stargazing at Leeuwenboschfontein. Shortly after Johan left us to go to bed a sheet of thin, high cloud rolled in and put an end to our stargazing. I got up after 01:00 to answer a call of nature and found that the clouds had departed, but I was too bloody lazy to get dressed and set up the telescope again.

No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper.
No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper on his telescope.

On Tuesday the weather was beautiful but in the afternoon the clouds came in again and stayed. Lynnette and I decided to stick it out until Wednesday, hoping the weather would clear but it actually got worse and by 21:00 on Wednesday night it was raining steadily with some distant thunder as appropriate background music. We both had our doubts about getting the Vito through the few sticky patches on the gravel road between Leeuwenboschfontein and the R318 but it did not rain enough to adversely affect the road and by Thursday morning it was clearing nicely.

Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.
Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.

As a precautionary measure Mr Wanderlust was put into his harness and his leash tied to a pole where one of us could always keep an eye on him. While I went of to wash the breakfast dishes Snorre attempted to pull off one of his Houdini-style escapes from the harness but Lynnette was too quick for him, I then shoved him into his carry cage. Needless to say, Snorre was not a happy cat having his freedom of movement curtailed like that.

Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.
Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.

So, what are the prospects for Leeuwenboschfontein as a stargazing venue? I think it has definite potential and here is my list of positives, in no particular order.

  1. The owners are very positive about hosting astronomers.
  2. The average annual rainfall is much lower than that in and around Cape Town.
  3. It is within easy driving distance of Cape Town.
  4. There is fairly priced accommodation available for all tastes.
  5. The availability of an astro-enclosure means that astronomy enthusiasts do not have to fight with campers about the lights in the camp or their smoky braai fires.
  6. Astronomers will not be pestered by campers wanting to look through their telescopes or discuss astronomy down at the astro-enclosure. If anyone feels the need to do outreach they just have stay in the camp and they will be inundated.
  7. We have the concession that the outside lights of the homestead and guest house can be switched off to further reduce any influence they might have on viewing from the enclosure.

Negative aspects are possibly the following:

  1. The horizons are not ideally low in all directions but from the astro-enclosure they are more than acceptable.
  2. For the astrophotographers the non-availability of power at the enclosure is a problem but, at least for the present, a large battery and an inverter will provide a solution.

Please go here to visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website or you may view their Facebook page here.

In my opinion there is no other site that is safe, offers the same amenities and has the same astronomy potential within easy driving distance of Cape Town. Some amateur astronomers might have private access to comparable sites but, for the average amateur in Cape Town, I think Leeuwenboschfontein offers a viable solution to a long standing problem.

Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit's Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit’s Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel wich was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain. Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee the dreaded unpacking and putting away.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel which was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain.
Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee, the dreaded unpacking and putting away.

 

Leeuwenboschfontein: March 2015

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 signposts at the turnoff from the R318
The signposts at the turnoff from the R318

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.

Kopbeenskloof is very well signposted
Kopbeenskloof is very well signposted.
Kopbeenskloof also provides a wide range of activities.
Kopbeenskloof also provides a wide range of activities.

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

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.

Background: The Vito parked at the entrance to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom right: Leeuwenboschfontein's signboard and logo
Background: The Vito parked at the entrance to Leeuwenboschfontein.
Bottom right: Leeuwenboschfontein’s signboard and logo.

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.

Top left: A lovely campsite for two groups situated above and away from the main campsite. Top right: View north over the landing strip from the lawn in front front of the larger of the two guest houses. Bottom left: Another secluded campsite for two groups close to the reception area. Bottom right: The reception area.
Top left: A lovely campsite for two groups situated above and away from the main campsite.
Top right: View north over the landing strip from the lawn in front of the larger of the two guest houses.
Bottom left: Another secluded campsite for two groups close to the reception area.
Bottom right: The reception area.

The following photographs tell the rest of the story about our visit there with Iain Finlay, Willem van Zyl and Snorre.

A panoramic view taken on the road from Touws River. South is looking down the road, past the pole toward the hilles and Nougaspoort in the distance.  Leeuwenboschfontein lies behind those hilles
A panoramic view taken on the road from Touws River. South is looking down the road, past the pole toward the hilles and Nougaspoort in the distance. Leeuwenboschfontein lies behind those hills.
Panoramic view of the main campsite. this is a well equipped, shady campsite with lots of grass.
Panoramic view of the main campsite. this is a well equipped, shady campsite with lots of grass.
Panoramic view taken from the landing strip. West is toward the pointy hills in the middle of the photo and south  is toward the left.
Panoramic view taken from the landing strip. West is toward the pointy hills in the middle of the photo and south is toward the left.
Sunsets are fantastic at Leeuwenboschfontein, as are sunrises.
Sunsets are fantastic at Leeuwenboschfontein, as are sunrises.
Top left: The lawn in front of the larger of the two guest houses. The barn's roof can be seen in the middle and there is a pool just beyond the last pillar.  The landing strip is to the left out of the picture. Top right: The trees at the main camp site. The strucure furthest to the right is Willow Cottage which sleeps four and the other structure is one of two ablution blocks. Bottom left: Sunrise taken from the grassy area west of the main camping area. Bottom right: Sunrise over the dam in the main camping area.
Top left: The lawn in front of the larger of the two guest houses. The barn’s roof can be seen in the middle and there is a pool just beyond the last pillar on the left. The landing strip is to the right out of the picture.
Top right: The trees at the main camp site. The structure furthest to the right is Willow Cottage which sleeps four and the other structure is one of two ablution blocks.
Bottom left: Sunrise taken from the grassy area west of the main camping area.
Bottom right: Sunrise over the dam in the main camping area.
Top left: There is an abundance of bird life. Top right: Lynnette relaxing and doing nothing, for a change. Bottom left: The traditional braai with Willem and Iain. Bottom right: A beautiful sunset which also meant no observing.
Top left: There is an abundance of bird life.
Top right: Lynnette relaxing and doing nothing, for a change.
Bottom left: The traditional braai with Willem and Iain.
Bottom right: A beautiful sunset which also meant no observing that night.
Snorre took  a very dim view of the fact that some campers pitched up with a dog. Ghastly aniomals that leave their poop lying around all over the place.
Snorre took a very dim view of the fact that some campers pitched up with a dog. They are ghastly animals that leave their poop lying around all over the place.

Space Week Outreach at the Makadas Country Festival – 03 to 05 October 2014

Makadas Country Festival 03 to 05 October 2014

Lynnette, treatment Snorre and I got off to a later than planned start and only arrived at Auke’s place at 07:30. We were on the R44 heading for Stellenbosch by just after 08:00 and made good time on the N1, cialis through the Huguenot Tunnel and past Worcester before stopping off at the Veldskoen Farm Stall for a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and coffee and some last minute planning.

In Touws River we reported to Adelaide at the reception desk of the Loganda Karoo Lodge and after being assigned our rooms and unloading gear we would not need we headed for the sports grounds where the Makadas Country Festival was to take place. Once there we quickly located Karin one of the three kingpins around whom most of the organization for the Festival had revolved; the other two being Deon Steyl and Willie Marais. She pointed out the site we had been allocated and we started to set up the gazebo, banners and telescopes.

The Star People stand at the Makadas Country Festival.  Lorenzo fitted with a solar filter on the left
The Star People stand at the Makadas Country Festival. Lorenzo fitted with a solar filter on the left
The big tent where all the performers did their thing
The big tent where all the performers did their thing
Inside the big tent it was country, country and more country
Inside the big tent it was country, country and more country
Country all the way there and back in the big tent
Country all the way there and back in the big tent
The local Supermarket was a big sponsor and made sure everyone noticed that
The local Supermarket was a big sponsor and made sure everyone noticed that

Here is some background to this Country Festival’s rather unusual name for the unenlightened reader. The railway line from Cape Town to Johannesburg traverses relatively flat terrain as far as Worcester and then begins to gain altitude. Initially relatively slowly until it passes De Doorns and then there is a long climb up through the tunnels to the top of the Hex Pass. In the days when trains were pulled by steam engines a long climb like that required lots of steam and to produce that used a lot of water. Touws River originally came into being as a station where the steam locomotives could replenish their water supply before the long haul through the Karoo to Beaufort-West. So the town was in every sense a railway town and even administered by the South African Railways up to a point in the 1950’s. The electrification of the railways and the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives brought the steam era to a close and also reduced the importance of Touws River for the South African Railways and they began a process of staff reduction.

Apart from the main line a rural line also operated from Touws River to Ladismith.  This line was opened in 1925 and was, in many ways a life line for the farming communities along the route; it delivered and collected letters and packages; took cans of milk to the dairy in Ladismith and returned the empty cans; conveyed farm produce and farming equipment and, of course, transported people.  There are many tales of the train stopping, on request, in the middle of nowhere to drop of a passenger or goods of some sort and also of people flagging down the train because they had to go to either Ladismith or Touws River. These slow trains were also known in Afrikaans as “Melktreine” or “Milk Trains” because they quite literally stopped everywhere along the route to pick up cans of milk.

This train became known locally as the Makadas. Obviously this was not a line that was ever going to be electrified and neither was it a line generating a large profit for the Railways so eventual closure was probably unavoidable. Then Mother Nature provided the Railways with a perfectly watertight reason for closing the line; the great flood of January 1981. This flood decimated Laingsburg, Montagu and large sections of the Karoo on either side of the Buffels, Touws and Groot Rivers washing away farms, entire orchards and also about 50 km of the approximately 144 km railway line between Touws River and Ladismith.  Despite protestations and numerous appeals by many people and organizations the Makadas line went to a watery grave never to be resurrected. There are several versions about the origin of the name and none of them are really verifiable so I will give them all here.

A stand with wooden toys featured a Makadas model
A stand with wooden toys featured a Makadas model

The locomotives that exclusively worked the line from 1925 to 1968 were Class  7 locomotives and they had a very distinctive sound which was totally different from their successors, the Class 24’s that made their appearance in 1968 and eventually took over completely in 1972.  Makadas is, according to one source an onomatopoeic word representing the Class 7’s distinctive sound.

The second explanation of the name is linked to the fact that the train regularly carried loads of dry manure which was smelly and gave of a very fine dust. In the early years of its operation the train crews were all English speaking and they apparently referred to it as the “Muck and dust” train because of this specific freight.  Afrikaans speaking people are known for their tendency to mangle words from other languages until they sound vaguely Afrikaans so it would not have been difficult to convert “muck and dust” to Makadas.

The conductor of the Makadas used to walk up and down the platform urging slow moving passengers along by shouting “Make a dash” and this too would have been easy for the Afrikaans ear to convert to Makadas.  The “Make a dash” is also attributed to the fact that passengers waiting for the train would sit under trees, often situated some distance from where the train would stop and, when the approaching train was heard or seen they would “Make a dash” for the siding, halt or station.

We put Lorenzo up and fitted its solar filter and we were soon in business showing interested parties the Sun and the sunspots.  Later in the afternoon we also had the moon to show people and, as the Sun set we set Maphefo up too. Maphefo had not been set up for Solar viewing because I had forgotten the solar filter. By the time it should have been dark we realized that there was no way it was ever going to really be dark because of the floodlights around the sports grounds and the extra lighting that had been erected for the Festival. So we had the Moon, Saturn situated about 10 degrees away from a particularly bright spotlight, the Pointers, Mars, Antares, three of the stars in Crux and a few other objects. By 21:30 the stream of viewers had dwindled to a drop or two here and there so we packed up.  Security at the site was excellent so we left all our banners, tables and chairs on site and headed for the Loganda to get some well-earned rest.

Group photos are the in thing at events like this
Group photos are the in thing at events like this
Viewing the Moon during daytime was a novelty for most people
Viewing the Moon during daytime was a novelty for most people
Lorenzo takes a break from solar viewing
Lorenzo takes a break from solar viewing
Thse guys are part of the cleaning staff that patrolled the grounds and kept everything super clean
These guys are part of the cleaning staff that patrolled the grounds and kept everything super clean
These guys new where the stars were so I must have been pointing something else out
These guys from Drie Kuilen private reserve knew where the stars were so I must have been pointing something else out
Light pollution was really terrible
Light pollution was really terrible
This spotlight was one of several that turned night int day
This spotlight was one of several that turned night into day

On Saturday morning we started the day by setting up Hans van der Merwe’s water rocket and what a hit that was.  Everybody wanted to help refuel, fetch the rocket pull the “firing-string” and in general, get involved.  Lorenzo did duty as a solar scope all day and by the time sunset approached all three of us were quite fed-up with showing the Sun. We were all three “medium-rare” after spending the whole day out in the Sun.  We decided to pack away everything except the two telescopes so that we would not need to do so in the dark when it was time to go home. An important aspect of the Festival was how clean everything was. There were small teams of cleaners doing the rounds on a regular basis.  They picked up every scrap of anything lying around and put it refuse bags they carried with them.  The same applied to the toilets where a team come round on a regular basis and made sure nothing was blocked, thet the tanks were full and that there was enough paper. Ten out of ten for the organizers of the festival on these two counts.

The water rocket was a lot of fun and is very easy to make
The water rocket was a lot of fun and is very easy to make
Everybody wanted to be part of the rocket launching
Everybody wanted to be part of the rocket launching
Auke retreats in expectation of the blast from the lift-off
Auke retreats in expectation of the blast from the lift-off
The yellow cones indicate distances travelled with different amounts of water and different pressures
The yellow cones indicate distances travelled with different amounts of water and different pressures
The rocket on the launch-pad
The rocket on the launch-pad

 

Ear protection was not essential but this young rocket scientist felt he should wear some
Ear protection was not essential but this young rocket scientist felt he should wear some
Some viewers were too short to reach the eyepiece and we had forgotten to bring a stepladder
Some viewers were too short to reach the eyepiece and we had forgotten to bring a stepladder
Finding the Sun with a Dobby is actually quite tricky, believe it or not
Finding the Sun with a Dobby is actually quite tricky, believe it or not

After sunset we had both Lorenzo and Maphefo set up to view the Moon and the few other objects visible under the heavily light polluted conditions. By 21:00 we had run out of viewers and decided to head for the Loganda, supper and sleep. Snorre spent both days sleeping in his carry cage under the tables in the gazebo and only needed one or two excursions to the nearest sandy patch to relieve himself during the day. Our room in the Loganda had a wide windowsill and he spent two very frustrating mornings there watching the pigeons parade up and down on the outside windowsill, totally unperturbed by his whisker twitching presence on the other side of the glass.

The viewers were already gathering as Auke unpacked Maphefo
The viewers were already gathering as Auke unpacked Maphefo
Just check out the Light pollution levels as Auke and Lynnette operate Maphefo and Lorenzo
Just check out the Light pollution levels as Auke and Lynnette operate Maphefo and Lorenzo
Lynnette and Lorenzo actually managed to show people Saturn.  No mean feat if you consider there was a spotlight about 10 degrees away from Saturn
Lynnette and Lorenzo actually managed to show people Saturn. No mean feat if you consider there was a spotlight about 10 degrees away from Saturn
Auke demonstrating to viewers that  Maphefo can view terrestrial objects a well
Auke demonstrating to viewers that Maphefo can view terrestrial objects as well
And this is our next outreach vehicle.
And this is our next outreach vehicle.

After breakfast we returned home to the usual grind of unpacking and packing away and wondering if it was really worth all the trouble. Despite all those doubts we will do it all again.

Kopbeenskloof – May 2014

Exploring the Astronomy Potential at Kopbeenskloof

This report is a bit late.  I thought I had written it and obviously I hadn’t so now I have to write it and look as sheepish as possible about the fact that it’s so late.

In May Lynnette and I went of to investigate a place we’d had our eye ever since we’d visited Leeuwenboschfontein a few kilometres further down the road in 2012. Other than the ominous sounding name it has the added attraction of being situated at over 1200 m above sea level and that, makes it one of the highest farms in the Western Cape Province.  For the astronomers who also hike or walk during daytime, there are lots of trails and hikes and the farm is also ecologically interesting as it straddles the transition from typical Renosterveld to the Cape Mountain Fynbos.

The farm is run by Wouter and Elsabé Stemmet and regularly hosts groups of up to 200 from various youth organizations such as the Voortrekkers and Land Care & Land Services. These groups make use of a number of very basic wooden chalets containing only bunk beds. For the chalets there are adequate ablution facilities and a large, well equipped kitchen as well as an outside braai area. Wouter and Elsabé also cater for large functions and large groups, if asked to do so.

View of the one group of chalets
View of the one group of chalets
View of one of the second group of chalets
View of one of the second group of chalets
The very nice outside braai area for the chalets
The very nice outside braai area for the chalets
Part of the interesting inside braai area
Part of the interesting inside braai area

A separate camping area for tents and caravans that has its own ablution facilities is also available.

There is a rustic cottage for four that has no electricity and one heats the shower water by making a fire, situated about 200 m from the main house and the chalets.

The guest house, that could sleep nine in three en-suite bedrooms with double beds and three single beds in open areas, is situated about two km away from the main house and the chalets. The house has a kitchen with a stove, microwave and fridge and also has a large inside fireplace suitable for having a braai, should the weather turn nasty. All bedding and towels are supplied and further details can be found on their website if you go here.  One last thing is that mobile phone reception is limited to one spot in the garden of the main house and I do not know if one can get a signal for all three service providers there.

To get there one takes the R318 from the N1 and, after 26 km you turn left onto the Nougaspoort gravel road. After six km the turnoff to Kopbeenskloof is on your right and then you just follow the road to the main farm house, the chalets and the rustic cottage, or go past the house, keeping to the left and after two gates, you will be at the guest house.

The reason we went there was to try and evaluate Kopbeenskloof for future astronomy outings.  It might work for a Star Party but the chalets are very basic and the area around the chalets does not really lend itself to placing telescopes and I can also see the astrophotography people experiencing problems with power. I  think the chalets and the camping are too far apart to allow the groups to interact easily. I would, however, not rule the site out for Star Parties, as one could possibly overcome some of the perceived difficulties by negotiating with Wouter and Elsabé.

The rustic cottage could work for a small group with Dobbies, or even equipment that will run off batteries, which I am sure the owners would be more than happy to allow one to re-charge the next day.

The outside amenities at the guest house. Fortunately no longer  in use but the pines on the left lie to the south of the house and those in the background are to the west
The outside amenities at the guest house. Fortunately no longer in use but the pines on the left lie to the south of the house and those in the background are to the west
The back of the guest house as seen from the south east.  The pines to the west of the house can be seen in the background
The back of the guest house as seen from the south east. The pines to the west of the house can be seen in the background
This is Leeuwenboschfontein's "Eagles Nest"  to the North west of Kopbeenskloof. Where I intend spending a clear night with a telescope  some time in 2015.  Line of site distance from the guest house to there is about 10 km.
This is Leeuwenboschfontein’s “Eagles Nest” to the north west of Kopbeenskloof, where Lynnette and I intend spending a clear night with a telescope some time in 2015. Line of site distance from the guest house to there is about 10 km.

The guest house is a suitable site for doing astronomy and astrophotography but obviously only for small groups. There are some limitations as the house has tall pine trees on both the western and southern sides. The trees are about 25 m from the house but the area other side the trees is open so one can put a telescope there. The areas north and east of the house are open but the house then creates a high horizon to either the south or the west. The site is dark but unfortunately when we were there the weather was not good and we had partially cloudy weather on the first two nights and complete overcast on the third night. One aspect of the site that needs mentioning is the very noticeable sky glow from Worcester if there is even the slightest hint of cloud along the western horizon.

Sunset was quite spectacular and here one gets a good idea of how low the horizon on that side is
Sunset was quite spectacular and here one gets a good idea of how low the horizon on that side is
More sunset a little later on
More sunset a little later on
A single shot up at Scorpio
A single shot up at Scorpio
The sky glow from Worcester and De Doorns reflected against the low clouds
The sky glow from Worcester and De Doorns reflected against the low clouds at around 21:30
Venus and the moon in the dawn sky
Venus and the Moon in the dawn sky
Moon and Earth shine before dawn
Moon and Earth shine before dawn

Here are my Sky Quality Meter readings taken at the guest house on Kopbeenskloof.

Place: Kopbeenskloof Guesthouse
Locality & GPS: -33°35’53”, 19°57’27”, 1250m

Date: 26/05/2014
Time (SAST): 00:10
Temp (°C): 11.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.21
StdDev (MSAS): 0.034705
NELM (V mags): 6.2298

Date: 26/05/2014
Time (SAST): 00:50
Temp (°C): 11.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.17
StdDev (MSAS): 0.013333
NELM (V mags): 6.2102

Date: 27/05/2014
Time (SAST): 23:20
Temp (°C): 08.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.37
StdDev (MSAS): 0.051034
NELM (V mags): 6.3152

Date: 27/05/2014
Time (SAST): 23:50
Temp (°C): 08.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.42
StdDev (MSAS): 0.008498
NELM (V mags): 6.3408

I think one needs to get a group together, stay at the guest house, do some astronomy there and then take a decision on how suitable the site is. A summer visit might be our best bet.