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Astro safari: Africa’s best night skies for stargazing

When you live in a big city, you tend to forget that there’s a whole universe of galaxies out there beyond the glow of the city lights. Getting far away from the city and out into nature is a real treat at night, when you can again look up into a star-studded sky and marvel at the countless planets and stars out there. Africa offers up some fantastic places to go stargazing, far away from any light pollution. Next time you go on an African safari, choose one of these places to get your star fix after you’ve had your wildlife fix during the day! Here are Africa’s best night skies for stargazing.

NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

The International Dark-Sky Association (a group that recognises places for their sky quality) awarded its first Gold Tier status – its highest award – to the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia, which lies on the edge of the Namib-Naukluft Park in the oldest desert in the world – the Namib. In this extremely dry and remote place, the nearest town is 140 kilometres away, so there is almost no impact from light pollution.

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Sutherland, South Africa

On a hill just outside of the small Karoo town of Sutherland is the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) – the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. The Sutherland location was chosen for SALT because of its remoteness (370 kilometres from Cape Town) which makes for extremely low light pollution, and cold, clear, cloudless skies (80% of the year sees completely cloud-free nights). Visitors can book a guided tour of SALT to see some of the research telescopes situated on a plateau, and you can do a star gazing session at the visitor centre to see the night sky through two telescopes just for visitors.

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Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Once you step away from the campfire at your bush camp in the Ngorongoro Crater, you’ll be treated to an amazing show put on by the heavens above East Africa. Tanzania’s position just below the equator affords a superb view of the Milky Way – just remember to download the Star Walk app onto your phone so you can work out the names of all the constellations you see.

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Tankwa Karoo National Park, South Africa

The semi-desert Karoo is sparsely populated, extremely dry and has many nights of no clouds, making it a superb stargazing destination overall, but one of the best spots is the Tankwa Karoo National Park, which is 200 kilometres from the nearest town and has pure air and some of the darkest night skies in the country.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the largest, most remote reserve in southern Africa and the perfect place to do stargazing during the dry season from May to October. The reserve is so vast and untouched that you’ll feel like you couldn’t be further away from civilization, and you’re unlikely to see many other visitors to share those luminous star studded night skies with.

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Cederberg, South Africa

The night sky over the Cederberg wilderness area, a few hours’ drive north of Cape Town, has little light pollution and mostly cloudless skies (especially in summer), making it a great place for stargazing. Camp in one of the fantastic campsites in the area, such as Beaverlac or Algeria, and sleep under the stars for a real-time planetarium show, or visit the Cederberg Observatory, where you can do two-hour guided tours every night.

About Sarah Duff

Documentary filmmaker/ travel writer/ photographer - www.sarahduff.com
Article by: Sarah Duff
on February 23, 2016
Filed under  Africa Blog 
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