Did you know?
Alpha Centauri is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus.
Maybe you don't get much opportunity to see stars clearly where you live. Well, prepare yourself for an amazing experience, because when you come stargazing in South Africa you'll see stars like never before.
Stargazing is a fantastic pastime and South Africa's skies are renowned for their splendid stargazing opportunities. If you're out in the bush, in the desert or mountains, look up on a clear night and you'll be dazzled by the brilliance of the night sky.
You'll see some of the northern constellations low on the northern horizon, but it's the southern hemisphere constellations that will excite you.
Look first for the legendary Southern Cross. Ask your guide to point it out, or check it out in your field guide. Once you identify this, you'll always be able to find your way home as it points due south.
Then get more ambitious and try to spot Centaurus A, Tuc47, Hershall's Jewel Box, Omega Centauri, Eta Carinae and, of course, our close neighbor Alpha Centauri.
Then move on to the nebulae such as the great nebula of Orion, the lagoon nebula, eta carina nebula, Triffid nebula, and Tarantula nebula.
You can also see planetary nebulae including the Ghost of Saturn and the Helix nebula and galaxies such as the Sombrero, NGC253, and the great galaxy of Andromeda and Centaurus A.
Many game lodges and reserves now offer stargazing activities as part or their safari packages, with knowledgeable guides who'll navigate you through the crowded heavens and point out the most remarkable sights.
In Kruger Park for example, because there's virtually zero light-pollution, you'll see the heavens as never before.
So next time you think about a safari, remember that there is more to do when the sun goes down than a night game-drive or a few sundowners.
Travel tips & Planning info
Best time to visit
Other than the Western Cape, the winter months of May to September are dry, so the night skies are particularly brilliant.
Tours to do
If you are doing a regular safari with any tour operator, ask about special stargazing activities. Also, when you are at a particular camp or lodge, ask about stargazing. Many camps and lodges offer stargazing as an option and have a specialist guide.
What to pack
A good pair of binoculars and a sense of wonder.