The Sterland Caravan Park, on the right hand side as you enter the small town of Sutherland, is one of my favourite campsites in the Karoo.
I say this for a number of reasons. Firstly the owners Jurg and Rita Wagener, who in their words “farm with stars”, make you welcome from the moment you arrive at the small, well-run campsite. Entering the property you get the first intimation of what the Sterland experience is all about. What are those five strange white doodads on your right? It looks like a tribe of R2-D2 robots. Then the penny drops: they’re celestial telescopes; six extremely powerful eyes looking into the night sky.
You quickly learn that the Milky Way, stars, planets and night sky are Jurg’s passion. For 28 nights of the month, Jurg runs stargazing sessions. He will tell you “don’t forget to dress for the occasion”, meaning dress warmly, because Sutherland at 1 550meters above sea level is one of the coldest places in the country. Good advice generally if you intend visiting Sutherland. Take warm clothes and an extra blanket for your caravan.
Just outside Sutherland is the South African Astronomical Observatory, home of SALT, short for South African Large Telescope. There is a good reason why the observatory is situated on a large hill just outside the historic town of Sutherland. This area with no city light contamination and average of 80% cloudless days in the year, offers some of the best stargazing in the world.
The SAAO is a world-renowned facility for fundamental research in astronomy and astrophysics. There are daily guided tours to the Observatory, which is some 18 kilometres out of town. The display at the visitor’s centre will keep you occupied for hours. The guides are well informed and a visit to the SALT telescope is something I will never tire of.
Sterland Caravan Park is a comfortable home base to explore this of the Roggeveld Karoo. The seven neat stands measure roughly 11 x11 metres, and are separated for privacy by Chinese Poplars and Soutbos. The stand surface is gravel due to the heavy frost in winter, but proved easy to knock in tents pegs. Each stand has a brick braai area, and the electrical points take normal three point plugs.
There is a separate men’s and ladies facilities were immaculately clean with no shortage of piping hot water at all times.
I also loved Sterland’s four-legged friends. There was a magic little Jack Russell called Trompie, and two sheepdogs Karlien and Kandas.
Running the Stargazing sessions was a ginger cat called Lady Catherine. She accompanies Jurg every night on his sessions. She’s not alone in the mog department though. Adding to the feline brigade is Bittergal, Vinkie and a pitch-black chap called Claude. I felt right at home.
Sutherland was established way back in 1855 with the Dutch Reformed church being the central focus. I love walking around the village with tree-lined streets. Many of the houses made of dressed sandstone date back to the turn of the century. Paulsen’s butchery stocks some of the finest lamb I have ever tasted. In the wide main street that would easily accommodate three ox wagons abreast is the OK Mini Market. They have one of the best selections of goodies I’ve seen in a little dorp winkel. And there service was great.
I also have a thing about farmer’s co-ops. And it was the guys at the Ko-Operasie that told me about Paulsen’s butchery.
Oh, and if you are tied of braaing, I discovered The White House Inn on the main road. Run by Ian and Cathy Roussouw have a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinners. Try one of their hamburgers – man, oh man, you are in for a treat.
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By Richard van Ryneveld