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Forget Hollywood – the real stars are in South Africa.

South Africa is fast gaining the reputation as one of the best stargazing travel destinations in the world. And the reason for this is quite simple: according to astronomer Vincent Nettmann, there are two thirds more stars in the Southern than in the Northern Hemisphere.

Milky Way, galaxy

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, as seen from Earth.
Image from http://bit.ly/1Pc594K

It’s more than that. South Africa is a great self-drive destination for anyone because there’s so much else to discover during daylight hours. Our people are friendly and welcoming and our country’s natural beauty and variety of plants and animals are truly astounding.

For professional and hobbyist astronomers in particular, aside from two thirds more stars than our northern neighbours, South Africa boasts a host of spots ideal for stargazing – spots close enough to creature comforts, but far away from artificial light. The impressive Drakensberg region epitomises the ideal stargazing location…

The Northern and Central Drakensberg area has some of the most beautiful scenery that can be imagined. The area falls into four valleys, beginning with the Champagne Valley in the Central Berg, through the Cathedral Peak and Didima Valley, then the Royal Natal National Park and Amphitheatre Valley, and finally the Middledale Pass Valley in the Northern Berg. Each of the four valleys has its own kind of beauty and character; all have magnificent mountain views. And, at night time, all have unsurpassed views of the sprawling African sky – and its inhabitants.

You don’t need to know your Alpha Centauri from Uranus to enjoy the sparkles above. Anyone can enjoy the sight of millions of planets, moons, stars and galaxies slowly rotating in an endlessly deep, dark sky. But we’ve got a few tips to help you along.

Mentalfloss.com suggest investing in a red flashlight:

If you need some kind of light so you don’t fumble in the darkness […], get a flashlight with a red filter. “Red light does not have the same effect on eyes as does blue or white light,” says Kendall [William Paterson University astronomer Jason Kendall]. You can create your own red flashlight by covering your cell phone with red cellophane or paper.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows hundreds of thousands of stars crowded into the swirling core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy. Image from http://bit.ly/25tAzI3

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows hundreds of thousands of stars crowded into the swirling core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy.
Image from http://bit.ly/25tAzI3

They also have a handy hint for differentiating between planets and stars. “If a bright light in the sky sparkles, it’s a star. If it doesn’t and appears stationary, it’s a planet. If an object is much brighter than those around it, there’s a good chance it’s a planet.”

Stargazing is time and season specific (meaning that you won’t see the same star in the same spot, from the same spot, every night of the year). But South African summer evenings bring the possibility of spotting Jupiter and the Galilean moons– some of the biggest astral bodies in our solar system.

And don’t forget about technology. Aside from recording your favourite TV show it offers a number of ways to make life more interesting and fun. Like apps designed to improve your stargazing experience! We like Google’s Sky Map. It’s like Google Maps, but for the stars. And we also like the NASA App, available for iOS and Android.

But the biggest stargazing tip we can give you, is to let us work with you to organise your self-drive trip to the Drakensberg. We’ll take the worry out of all the arrangements so the only thing you need to look out for, are the stars.

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