The South African Night Sky

The Midlands MagazineJanuary 3, 2024

Everyone loves a good sunrise or sunset, watching in awe as the sky changes colours, but have you ever taken a moment to look up at the night sky?


I remember, back in Grade 7, for one of our activities on our excursion camp, we were taken for a walk up to an opening. After the camp leader told us to turn off our torches and look up, the sky lit up with stars. Everyone was in shock as we had never seen that many stars before. We all lay down and our camp leader taught us a few basics about stars, like if you see one that seems to be moving in a straight line, that’s actually a satellite, and if a star seems to be changing colours from blue and red, it means it’s dying out and emitting gas before eventually exploding.


With clearer skies and less light pollution than most places in KZN, Midlands residents are truly lucky to have fantastic opportunities to stargaze. Because there is so much to know about the night sky, I chatted to local outdoor enthusiast Deon Small, who runs Berg Adventures and has spent many nights gazing up at the stars. He gave me some interesting insight about the beauty that is just above our heads.


Deon says that, throughout the ages, mankind has been fascinated by the stars. Each population, from the Greeks (who named constellations after their gods and deities) to the San (who saw the nature around them within the clusters of stars), had their own interpretations of the night skies. Early explorers used the stars to navigate far off lands and even today we use the same stars to aid in navigation. 


“Stargazing is a combination of folklore and stories combined with more practical uses of the stars and a more modern interpretation of the constellations. In recent times, some of the fictional characters from the Marvel Universe have even been given their own constellations in an effort to rejuvenate astrology within a younger generation,” Deon explains.


To get the best viewing of the night skies, Deon suggests downloading a star app to help you find the constellations and other interesting facts about the skies. Although the Midlands is a great place for celestial sights, he says that the best area to stargaze is the Drakensberg, far away from all ambient light. 


If you’re an astrologist newbie and would prefer a guided tour of the Milky Way, there are a few amazing experiences on offer right here in the Midlands! Firstly, Deon himself organises various overnight hikes for outdoor lovers, and if the sky is clear, he will incorporate a stargazing session for the guests to marvel at our skies. 


For a profound cosmic encounter, Antbear Eco Lodge provides a spectacular storytelling session while you relax in a hammock under the stars. As part of the lodge’s tourism responsibility programme to foster entrepreneurial skills within the local community, they run the “Mlindeni’s Stargazing Hammock Camp” initiative, giving people the chance to delve into Africa’s celestial legacy


Mlindeni Sithole, a local villager, provides lodge guests and casual visitors with enchanting traditional tales of constellations and ancient myths experienced beneath the African night sky. This venture, rooted in African culture, transcends typical tourism, creating a genuine connection with nature and heritage, that will get make anyone fall in love with stargazing. 


The best part about spending time looking at the night sky is that it brings people of all ages together, creating a deep connection to the universe and each other. Under the stars, it offers comfort and inspiration, reminding us of our shared wonder.


Words: Kai Coates

Photos: Deon Small and Stargazing Hammock Camp