The NamibRand Nature Reserve in southwestern Namibia is arguably the finest spot for astronomy in Africa. Out in the desert, not far from the Nubib Mountains, the reserve was established to protect the area’s unique ecology and wildlife. 15% of the reserve is untouched wilderness, without a single human settlement, and the International Dark Sky Association has awarded NamibRand with its coveted status as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve. It was only the second place in the world to receive the Gold Tier, and it is the first such reserve in Africa.
The reserve imposes a strict limit of one bed per 1,000 hectares, so the accommodation options tend to be small and exclusive. Our favourite is the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, surrounded by mountain peaks and sand dunes. By day you can float across the reserve by hot air balloon, do a dune safari by 4x4 or motorbike, and visit ancient San rock paintings, but the real highlight is when darkness falls and you head up to the state of the art astronomic observatory. The lodge’s resident astronomer will teach you to use the telescopes another equipment, and explain what it is you’re looking at. On those nights when you’d rather recline on your verandah to watch the stars, there’s plenty to see with the naked eye.
If you are travelling instead to Kenya, you can star gaze from the comfort of your bed. At Loisaba Lodge, which is overlooked by Mount Kenya, they’ve built two star beds — raised wooden platforms with full size beds and showers — in the most scenic parts of the reserve. You can look straight up at the stars, with only a mosquito net between you and the universe. And the sight of the rising sun across the mountains is quite extraordinary, too. Ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya’s 275,000-acre Mbirikani Group Ranch has a similar option, as each of the lodge’s 10 very large suites also comes with a rooftop star bed. Take a glass (or bottle) of Champagne to bed with you — Ol Donyo has a superb wine cellar — and soak up what must be one of the most romantic star gazing options on earth.
South Africa boasts plenty of stunning opportunities for a celestial safari as well. Three of the top spots include the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) near Sutherland, which has a night time visitors centre with professional equipment for astronomy; the excellent Iziko Planetarium in Cape Town; and the Karoo National Park, a tranquil spot for naked eye star gazing.
If we have whetted your appetite for nocturnal activities, and you’re inspired to see the universe in unprecedented detail, call Africa Exclusive today.