Up close and personal with the stars


There is a San story that says the Milky Way owes its origins to a young girl who threw ashes from a fire into the sky to make a visible path. She flung bits of edible roots in between the old pieces creating red stars and the fresh pieces creating white stars. This is one of the many pieces of folklore told by stargazing guides at Olifants Camp to wide-eyed visitors exploring the mysteries of space.

The look-out point, close to Olifants Camp and overlooking the Olifants River, provides a perfect backdrop for sundowners and snacks before navigating the constellations such as the Southern Cross, Orion and Scorpio with stops at Alpha Centauri, Canopus, Sirius and Antares. The journey is just not complete without a brief visit to the planets.

Turning the 8-inch telescope to yet another sparkling speck in the dark sky reveals the famous rings of Saturn or the moons of Jupiter or the red planet Mars, each in its own spectacular splendour.

Back on earth nightfall has set the scene for predators on prowl for prey that is doing its best to survive another night.

The mercury dropped enough for the hippo, lion and hyena to signal the next 12 hours of nocturnal dance. It also adds to the marvel of this joint venture between Sanparks and Astronomy South Africa.

"Over the last years we have been researching the concept of offering Africa's magnificent skies in the tourism sector," says Astronomy Africa director Eckhardt Piprek.

"We established a natural link between daytime sightings of Kruger's impressive biodiversity and night time viewing of perfect, unspoiled skies and now we've combined them, offering a perfect night sky in the unspoiled wilderness."

Patrick Charlot, a professional astronomer from France, and his wife were on their way to Olifants Camp when they stopped at the viewpoint.

The stargazing team was setting up for the night and on seeing the telescope, Charlot's interest heightened. They were invited to join the group. "All of this was of great interest (I did not know much of the Southern sky) and really enjoyable for my wife and myself."

"This experience can also be brought to you at any venue, wherever there is a demand," says Juanita, operations manager Astronomy Africa, who can be contacted at 013 735 5512 or 072 530 5297. For reservations for this exciting experience that is only available inside Kruger at Olifants Camp, contact the camp on 013 735 6606 / 7 or SANParks central reservations 012 428 9991.



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