A visit to Sutherland is something everyone should undertake at least once. Whether you visit in the summer, when the shimmering mirages make one think the end of the earth is just over the horizon or in the winter when temperatures plummet and the ground crunches underfoot, you will not be disappointed by the unspoilt splendour of the Karoo. Since the early 1970s, the major telescopes of the SAAO have operated on a hilltop 1 800 metres above sea level, near the Karoo village of Sutherland, about 370 km inland. The site was chosen for its good weather, semi-desert setting, absence of light and other pollution.
Please note that booking is essential! Unscheduled tours cannot be accommodated and we would not want you to travel all the way to the middle of nowhere, just to be let down.
Day tours can be done as fully guided tours or basic tours.
Fully guided tours
A guided walk through the visitor centre as well as a guided tour of selected research telescopes including SALT.
Monday to Saturday: 10:30 and 14:30
Fee: R60,00 per person
Children 6 – 11: R30
Children under 6: Free
A self-guided tour of visitor centre and a basic guided tour of SALT
Saturdays and public holidays: 08:00 to 15:00 (every hour on the hour). Please note: the last tour ends at 16:00.
Fee: R40,00 per person
Children 6 – 11: R20
Children under 6: Free
Night tours include the viewing of interesting objects in the sky through two dedicated visitor telescopes, a 16″ Meade and 14″ Celestron. Note that visitors cannot visit any of the research telescopes at night, not even SALT. Astronomy is a light sensitive science and no lights are allowed up on the plateau in the evenings making it impossible to see anything at all.
The tour can last about 90 minutes, but may be cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. If the weather is bad, the guide will take you to the visitor centre for a movie in case it clears up later.
Above: An example of what you can expect Saturn to look like through the visitor telescopes.
PLEASE DO NOT DRIVE UP THE ROAD LEADING TO THE DOMES. This is a “NO LIGHTS” research area. International and local astronomers are at work! The visitors’ telescopes are very near the visitor centre and not up on the hill.
The night tours are on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. When booking tours, you will be notified of your tour’s starting time.
Fee: R80,00 per person
Children 6 – 11: R40
Children under 6: Free
|Night Tour : General Starting Times|
Schools may visit on Tuesdays, Thursdays or every third weekend of the month. Bookings must be made three months in advance.
Fee: R50,00 per learner
For bookings and information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
HOW TO GET THERE
Sutherland is situated 360 km from Cape Town along the N1 and R354. The Sutherland road (R354) is opposite the Matjiesfontein turnoff (about 235 km from Cape Town). This road is long and winding, and takes you right into the town of Sutherland.
The turnoff to the SAAO is halfway into the town on the right (Fraserburg Road). About 14 km from Sutherland you will find our main gate. Pass through the gates and follow the road to the visitor centre where you can park and meet the tour guide.
Note that in the town of Sutherland petrol is not available on Sundays (though special arrangements can be made) so you would be advised to fill up in Touws River on your way up if you plan to visit over a weekend. In winter the Sutherland road (R354) can have a layer of snow or ice on the surface, so be careful on this narrow, but good, tarred road. Please drive carefully as there is a lot of wildlife in the area including tortoise, baboon, snakes, bat eared foxes, rabbits, various antelope (there is a small herd resident on the SAAO Sutherland site), black eagles and other raptors and lots of flowers in spring.
VISITING THE TOWN OF SUTHERLAND
Contact the Karoo Hoogland Tourism Office on (023) 571 1265 for information about Sutherland accommodation and local tours. More information can be found at discoversutherland.co.za and experiencenortherncape.com.
The tourism office is on the main road of the town. It has information about the area such as the Tuinplaas Church, Verlatenkloof Pass, Ouberg Pass, Old English and Jewish Cemetery, Louw Museum, Dutch Reformed Church, Salpeterkop and much more. Informal tour guides are also available to take you through the area. (Ask at the tourism office.)
Geographical position of Sutherland: 20°48’38.5″E 32°22’46″S Altitude 1 759 m