9-11 June 2016
Winter is upon us – a good time to go to Sutherland. When you star gaze you need the clear skies of winter for the best viewing. Also it is best to go star gazing in the period of the “New Moon” – not wise, obviously, to go in “Full Moon”
Twelve ladies excitedly left the Airport holding bay at 09:30 on Thursday headed to Sutherland. It was a clear day – the day before had been unbelievable weather in Cape Town – lunch time temperature of mid 20’s with a ‘Berg Wind’- this always signifies the coming of cooler weather and predictions were for severe storms for the weekend.
On route to Sutherland we had our first stop at the Karoo 1 Hotel, 25km from De Doorns. This hotel, with their Brasserie restaurant and quirky décor was chosen for our lunch stop. Everyone had pre-chosen lunch and they had a lovely fire burning. The staff were so obliging and very soon everyone was getting to know each other. Of the 12 ladies only 5 had previously travelled with Traveltime! After lunch some time was spent viewing their lovely guest rooms in the hotel; the chapel on the hill; and the ‘artificial’ sheep everywhere!
Very soon we were on-the-road again headed to Sutherland. At Matjiesfontein you leave the busy N1 and head into the blue!! Our arrival in Sutherland was about 15:45 and very soon everyone was settling into their rooms; some chose to walk around town scouting out the shops.
At 19:00 we all arrived at Cluster d ‘Hote restaurant which has been used every time Traveltime visits Sutherland. What exquisite food, lovingly prepared by Anelia and her son who she is training – Johan acts as Maitre ‘D.
Sutherland was surprisingly warm – they had a ‘Berg Wind’ blowing on Thursday – ominous that we had left this weather in Cape Town and now were experiencing it again 350km away! We awoke on Friday with overcast weather – even sunrise was covered in cloud. By the time we had finished breakfast and driven the 18km out of Sutherland to the SALT (South African Large Telescope) on top of the hill, it had started raining. The rain and wind did not let up at all. We did our guided tour of the visitors’ centre – a short video “The Power of One” which shows exactly how small Earth is in the realm of the bigger picture, of the size of the Sun, Pluto and Jupiter. We had some fun playing in the room which housed their computerised photo set-up where you can choose your background – stand on a platform and the computer takes your photo and converts it straight away into an email to your pre-entered home address! A great improvement and the ladies loved this.
It was soon time to return to our vehicle and drive up the hill to the telescopes where very many countries are represented – (most access their equipment remotely remotely) – Our South African Telescope is manned on a 24/7 basis with about 50 employees permanently on site. Many astronomers come in from other countries to help with the work at SALT. What an exciting morning as we got to go inside the oldest telescope as well.
On our return to Sutherland we had lunch at the Whitehouse Inn – tasty food – only pity was that as it was so cold and they would not light a fire (as the wood is too expensive). In Sutherland – the coldest part in South Africa and they wouldn’t light the fire. Really good for business.)
By 14:00 we ‘hit the town and visited the butcher, to place orders for collection on Saturday; Magda’s se Plek – a mixed shop with 2nd hand clothing, fresh fruit, and all sorts of different things! The Sutherland Mall was very exciting and the owner and his wife had huge smiles as their till rang and rang! Everyone loves to take things home, jams; wool; rooibos tea from Clanwilliam; you name it – the ladies found a ‘use’ for it. We dropped 4 ladies off for a guided tour of the NG Church which they said was outstanding and they found the Dominee’s wife to be such a caring lady. Other ladies found another shop “Pa se Engel” where upmarket gifts were purchased. Then everyone headed to the local Pep stores to secure their supply of knee rugs – after all we were scheduled to go star gazing in a few hour’s time.
By 17:30 everyone emerged from guest houses ‘dressed to the nines’ with beanies; hats; scarves; leg warmers; wow we were definitely not going to be cold. The star gazing is held just out of town at Sterland and Jurg Wagener was waiting for us. He ushered us into a cold hall and we waited while other intrepid star gazers kept arriving. There must have eventually have been about 30 of us. We were shown a video explaining the position of the stars and a simple explanation of the familiar stars, plus another video advertising KambroKind and the other properties Jurg and his family now manage in Sutherland. There was over 80% cloud coverage and sadly Jurg finally made the decision that there would be NO star gazing tonight. There was almost a stunned silence. After all this is what you come to Sutherland for! Our dreams were crushed – and there was nothing we could do about it at all. Very frustrating – and perhaps the worst thing was that after we’d later spent about an hour and a half eating dinner, the clouds had dissipated and disappeared – Albeit a slight drizzle was still in the air.
We went to bed knowing that the weather predictions were that there would be snow at 23:00 – must say I woke at about 24:00 and checked out my window – but NO snow.
We woke to heavy frost and icy conditions. In fact, Ashley found the coach iced over and used a bucket of water from his bath (initially the outside tap was found to be frozen) – by the time he took the bucket back inside the coach was, once again, iced over! Temperatures of -6 degrees, driving to breakfast at Kambrokind Guest House.
After breakfast we collected our pre-booked meat from the Butcher and left Sutherland – most very disappointed that our purpose wasn’t fulfilled!
En route to Matjiesfontein we found an interesting Pad-stalletjie – Verlatenkloof where Tol and Jacqui Herbst have opened the Tolhuis. An interesting pub with no natural light and a tiny shop where the ladies supported Jacqui who crochets all sorts of things! Tol had suffered from Asthma in Paarl and has lived near Sutherland for the past 2 years, Asthma free – AND they live totally off-the-grid. We all found Tol so interesting and almost quirky.
A short coffee break at Matjiesfontein where the ladies also discovered the museum ; the lounge where they were expecting the Blue Train passengers that afternoon for High Tea; Johnny, of course, always present and he played the piano and invited everyone to join in a sing-along – but no takers from our group.
Lunch was at the Veldskoen Padstal outside of De Doorns where Jacques Le Roux is the chef extraordinaire – plenty of compliments as to how fresh the food was; how it was plated; what wonderful staff served them; oh the list went on-and-on. Much more gathering and eventually we left at 15:30 to head back to the chaos of Saturday traffic and our drop-off at the airport holding bay, where sad farewells were made – amazing how we started as ‘strangers’ and ended up as ‘friends’ with ladies taking email addresses; phone numbers; and promises of meeting up again!
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.
I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
Robert Louis Stevenson