Discover The Wonders Of Southern Africa’s Night Skies With Astro Tourism: Tips, Locations And Gear For The Ultimate Stargazing Adventure

If we could pick one word to describe 2023’s newest astro tourism trend? Stellar! Sorry, that pun may have gone above some of your heads, but we’ll give you a little space to understand… ok, we’ll stop with the puns and star-t with the article now… we know you thought they were pretty bright though.

We’re here to talk about astro tourism, also known as space tourism or astronomy tourism. It’s defined as a type of tourism that involves travelling to observe celestial objects and phenomena, such as stars, planets, galaxies and other astronomical objects. This means anything from visiting observatories, planetariums, or other facilities that specialise in astronomy, or – the way we like to do it at Camp Master – involves adventuring to remote locations to observe the night sky in all its glory.

Astro tourism and stargazing are especially exciting in Southern Africa, and all you really need to access these prime dark sky reserves and the magical skies they boast is your trusty 4×4 packed with your Camp Master camping gear.


Astro tourism: the need-to-knows

Astro tourism has become increasingly popular in recent years, as more people have become interested in astronomy and the night sky. Advances in technology, such as portable telescopes and digital imaging equipment, have also made it easier for amateur astronomers to participate in astro tourism and observe the universe in all its wonder. You no longer need to lug a 100kg telescope up the side of an uncharted mountain to take a look at the milky way. There are however, some tips and tricks we recommend you follow to make the most of your astro tourism trip:

–         Choose the right location: A large part of your trip’s success is contingent on the spot you choose to stargaze! Look for places with minimal light pollution, clear skies and a low chance of cloudy weather. Popular astro tourism destinations include deserts, mountains, and remote areas far from urban centres; ambient light is the enemy.

–         Plan ahead: Make sure to plan your trip well in advance. Check the weather forecast, book your accommodations and plan your itinerary. It’ll be no fun stargazing if all you can see is a cloudy sky! If you plan to visit a popular astro tourism destination during peak season, be sure to book early. As the activity gains popularity in South Africa, we’re seeing more and more venues get fully booked up to a year in advance.

–         Bring the right gear: To fully enjoy your astro tourism experience, you’ll need the right equipment. Consider bringing binoculars, a telescope, a camera, a star chart, and a torch with a red filter. Also (and it probably goes without saying) you’ll need your Camp Master gear setup to ensure ultimate campsite comfort in the outdoors. It’s also a good idea to dress in layers and wear warm clothing, as temperatures can drop quickly at night. It’s challenging to concentrate on constellation spotting when your teeth are chattering!

–         Do some research on the night sky before you embark on your trip: Before you leave home, take some time to learn about the night sky. Familiarise yourself with the constellations, planets, and other celestial objects you may see during your trip, but make sure you’re area specific in your search, as their appearance may vary! You can also download astronomy apps to help you identify objects in the sky. These apps also make actually spotting the celestial bodies you want to see much easier through AR imaging.

–         Follow safety guidelines: Much like any outdoor activity, it’s imperative that you follow a region’s safety guidelines when stargazing. Always carry a first aid kit, stay hydrated, and be aware of your surroundings. If you’re travelling to a remote area, make sure someone knows your itinerary and expected return time. If you’re in an area with wildlife, follow your guide’s instructions carefully. No matter how bright the moon looks, being chomped by a member of the big five just isn’t worth it.

–         Respect the environment: Lastly, it’s crucial to be respectful of the environment and the local community. Avoid littering, stay on designated trails and try your best to leave every place you visit as you found it. Remember that you are a visitor in someone else’s home, and act accordingly. It feels nicer being respectful, anyway!


Best astro tourism spots in South Africa

Not only is our beautiful country a spectacular sight to behold during the sunny daylight hours, but it’s also magical under the cover of darkness. South Africa has some of the most magnificent dark sky reserves and astro tourism spots in the world, and they’re right on your back door!

  1. Sutherland

Located in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, Sutherland is a small town that is home to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Sutherland is known for its clear skies and is a popular destination for stargazing and astrophotography. Spots in Sutherland get booked up way in advance, so make sure to plan ahead if you’d like to take a visit. It’s one of our favourite spots in the Northern Cape and a great road trip, no matter which major city you’re coming from.

  1. Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is located across a couple of provinces in northeastern South Africa and widely regarded as the crown jewel of South African National Parks. It offers visitors the opportunity to experience a unique form of astro tourism known as “astro-safari”. During an astro-safari, visitors can view the night sky through telescopes while camping in the bush, listening to the sounds of nature around them. This is a thrilling experience for anyone who loves fauna, flora AND the night sky.

  1. Table Mountain

Arguably our most iconic geological feature and the highlight of the Cape Town skyline, Table Mountain offers visitors a unique opportunity to view the night sky from one of the most scenic locations in the country. Visitors can take a cable car up to the top of the mountain to view the night sky through telescopes while enjoying breathtaking views of the city below. This is a safe, quick outdoor adventure if you don’t necessarily have much time to prepare but still want to take in cosmic wonder in the fynbos.

  1. KwaZulu-Natal

KZN is known for its clear skies and is home to several private game reserves that offer astro tourism activities, including guided stargazing tours and telescope viewing sessions. If you’re more of a “beachy” person, head down to the coast and spend your days swimming and your nights stargazing, with tropical weather year-round. If you prefer the mountains, the Drakensberg mountain range offers unparalleled hiking, camping and views that feel like you’re adventuring through fantasy novel.

  1. The Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind, settled conveniently close to the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to several important archaeological sites, as well as several caves that are ideal for stargazing. Visitors can take guided tours of the caves and view the night sky through telescopes. The Sterkfontein cave makes for an exciting and surreal day trip before a night of constellation-seeking, and you can easily treat this exciting archaeological hotspot as a pit stop on a grander adventure.


What gear do you need for astro tourism?

If you’re already a Camp Master connoisseur, you know that any outdoor expedition can be made exponentially better when you approach it well-prepared. However, when you’re embarking on a whole new type of outdoor adventure, you might not know where to start with packing. We’ve compiled a few must-haves to keep your trip on track:

– A tent: A good quality tent is essential for an astro tourism camping trip. Choose a tent that is easy to set up and provides adequate protection from the elements, so you can get right down to starry business. We’d recommend a tent from Camp Master! Take a look at the range here.

– A Sleeping bag and mattress: You’ll need a warm and comfortable sleeping bag and some sort of ground barrier to get a good night’s sleep so you can stay up late more nights than one! Choose a sleeping bag that is rated for the temperatures you’ll encounter. This may be slightly more extreme than you’re used to as you’re exploring deserts and high mountains, and a sleeping pad to provide cushioning and insulation from the ground. Take a look at the Camp Master Explorer sleeping bag, which can withstand temperatures of – 15 °C+H1. Then elevate your sleeping experience with our Deluxe Padded Stretcher.

– Binoculars or a telescope: To fully appreciate the night sky, you’ll need binoculars or a telescope. Binoculars are a great option for beginners, as they are portable and easy to use. A telescope will give you a more detailed view of the stars and planets. If you’re not convinced that you love stro tourism just yet, borrow some from a friend for your first trip.

– A red torch:  This may be a surprising addition to this list, but a red flashlight is essential for stargazing because it helps to preserve your night vision. Choose a torch with a red filter or cover to avoid disrupting your eyes’ ability to adjust to low-light conditions. You can improvise one by adding a piece of red cellophane to this Camp Master tactical headlamp!

 Star chart or smartphone app: A star chart or smartphone app can help you identify constellations, stars, and planets. There are several free apps available that can help you navigate the night sky. We recommend Sky Safari ProStellarium and Star Walk.

– A camping stove and cooking supplies: Bring a camping stove and cooking supplies to prepare hot meals and drinks to tide you through the long nights. We recommend bringing tons of tea, hot chocolate and Milo to keep you warm as you look up in wonder. You can set up a convenient yet luxurious outdoor kitchen using Camp Master kitchen supplies!


Now that you’re sold on the merits of stro tourism, we know you’re itching to give it a try. And we don’t blame you! It’s an incredible way to see the magic of space in off-the-beaten-track outdoor locations while learning new things.

The next step is booking your trip and collecting your gear. Though the first part of the process is up to you, Camp Master can help you build a durable yet affordable kit to explore your country AND the night sky! Just head down to your nearest Game, Makro or Builders’ Warehouse to start prepping with Camp Master. We’ll see you under the stars!

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