Sutherland, slightly one-horse city within the Nice Karoo was my subsequent weekend escape. It’s identified to expertise the coldest temperatures in South Africa as a consequence of its excessive altitude (1550m ASL) and its open clear skies and in winter one can expertise -20 levels Celsius and plenty of snow and ice. Additionally it is generally known as the “Gateway to the Universe” and is the house to the most important single optical telescope within the southern hemisphere, with a hexagonal mirror stretching 11 metres throughout. SALT (Southern African Giant Telescope) is the place astronomers from everywhere in the world come to review our universe. Gathering greater than 25 instances as a lot mild as any current African telescope, SALT can detect objects as faint as a candle flame on the moon.
A fast 350km on good tar highway from Cape City had me arriving in Sutherland at about 17h00 on Friday. A very stunning drive by the Karoo with big open plains coated with low mendacity scrub vegetation adorned with breathtakingly stunning patches of spring flowers of oranges, purples, whites and yellows. Rolling hills and mountains bared fascinating folded rock formations.
I met my of us at our self-catering guesthouse, Rooikloof, the place we’d spend the weekend collectively, a stunning 3 star guesthouse on a sheep farm simply 2 km outdoors Sutherland. It was clear, very homely and had every little thing we wanted together with electrical blankets for the very chilly nights!
Our foremost purpose for visiting Sutherland was to view SALT (and the opposite smaller observatories, 7 altogether) and to take pleasure in a tour of our universe with knowledgeable astronomer. SALT is located up on a hill about 18km from Sutherland at about 1798m above sea degree. A guided tour of the observatory might be taken Monday to Friday at 10h30 and 14h30 and on Saturday at 11h30 and 14h30 and one should prebook. In the course of the day the observatory is clearly not in use and might be visited however at evening no guests are allowed, as worldwide astronomers are laborious at work gathering scientific details about our universe. There’s a customer’s centre about 1 km away the place one ought to meet to do the tour. The centre depicts some fascinating historical past of Astronomy, some current findings, pictures and illustrations of our universe – the type of issues which might be being learnt by our Astronomers in right this moment’s age with telescopes as superior as SALT.
At 14h30 on Saturday we toured the observatories with one of many astronomers (length 2 hours). He defined what the totally different observatories have been used for and what info could possibly be gathered with every telescope and the way. Within the night at 19h00 we return to the guests centre the place we’d expertise our guided tour of the universe. Having been pre-warned of the acute temperature we’d expertise up on the observatory at evening, we dressed up in our greatest winter woollies, padded thick with winter jackets, beanies and scarves. As we stepped out of our automobile we the place it by this icy wind chill of approx -4 levels Celsius! Apparently the wind is steady all year long up on the hill making a wind chill, which at all times dropped the air temperature radically. An astronomer met with us and walked us to a constructing the place the guests’ telescopes have been housed. Sadly one does not get to see SALT at work, however these smaller telescopes are nonetheless appreciable in dimension and made our viewing fascinating. The buildings roof folded again leaving us enclosed inside 4 partitions and subsequently encumbered by much less wind, which made the chilly slightly extra bearable. By 20h30 we have been dying to get out of the chilly and right into a heat fireplace lit constructing with some sizzling meals in our tummies. We returned to Sutherland to one among solely 3 eating places for dinner. The meals was nothing to rave about. We then returned to our little cottage and after a fast nightcap of outdated brown cherry, we climbed into our cosy heat beds.
Apart from the observatory, Sutherland provides some stunning scenic drives. After breakfast, we packed a tasty lunch basket and departed on a scenic round 140km drive. The colorful spring flowers had us stopping each couple of kilometres to take pictures of their unbelievable show. We travelled to the sting of the escarpment the place the Roggeveld Mountains all of the sudden gave approach to the Karoo valley 1000m beneath and the Ouberg go began its treacherous descent down the steep slope. The perspective was breathtaking!
We continued our drive north in the direction of Calvinia following an excellent gravel highway by sheep farmlands, rolling hills, shrubland and extra stunning flowers. Being avid birders my of us and I relished over the variety of birds species we noticed resembling Black Eagles, Lesser Kestrels, Rock Kestrels, Fish Eagles, Black Breasted Snake Eagle, Pale Chanting Goshawks, Black Harrier, Black Stilts, South African Shelduck and plenty of extra. We’re nonetheless old fashioned on the names of those birds. Numerous them have now had their names modified and I might not be capable of provide the new ones!
Alongside this route there are 2 farms of curiosity to guests, one is Koornlandskloof, a industrial tulip farm and the opposite Fransplaas sheep farm, a dairy farm producing sheeps milk cheese, the one one in South Africa. Neither of them have been open on the Sunday after we handed by so sadly I can’t touch upon them. The scenic drive was properly price it although.
One ought to bear in mind when visiting Sutherland that not one of the outlets, eating places or lodging institution take bank cards and there are not any money withdrawal machines on the town. Most of them do besides cheques as there’s a Normal Financial institution on the town however one ought to bear in mind to take money.
On our return house we stopped on the historic little village of Matjiesfontein simply 110km from Sutherland, for a fast pub lunch of their outdated English pub, The Lairds Arms. Matjiesfontein is a nationwide monument and takes one again to 1889 when it was first declared a village. The primary highway, the one highway, is all of 300m lengthy and is appeared on by slightly espresso store, a publish workplace, The Lairds Arms pub, the three star Lord Milner Lodge and naturally the prepare station. There are additionally 4 museums on the town, which depict its historical past and are fairly attention-grabbing to go to. The Blue Practice, Rovos Rail and the Shosholoza Meyl cease right here for about an hour for company to take pleasure in slightly tour of the village with a “born and bred Matjiesfonteiner” by the identify of John. John is Matjiesfonteins entertainer. Wearing black waistcoat and bowler hat, his jovial methods and Charlie Chapman stroll retains everybody chuckling as he leads them by the village telling his tales earlier than returning them to the prepare.