350km from Cape Town, on the Roggeveld plateau, one will find Sutherland, the principal astronomical centre of South Africa. SAAO (The South African Astronomical Observatry) is situated just outside the small Karoo town and is considered Sutherland’s main attraction. Home to SALT (Southern African Large Telescope), the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, Sutherland is an astronomer’s delight. Famously clear skies make for awe-inspiring stargazing. It’s no wonder this special little town is called the Gateway to the Universe.
Established in 1855, Sutherland was named in honour of Rev. Henry Sutherland of the Dutch Reformed Church, who travelled to the Roggeveld from faraway Worcester once a year to conduct Church services for the farming community of the region. Sutherland’s solemn Dutch Reformed Church in Piet Retief Street was built in 1900, but only consecrated three years later because the British had commandeered it as a fort and barracks during the Anglo-Boer War.
Today, Sutherland’s main activity is sheep farming, and mutton from the area is considered to be the best in South Africa.
Sutherland CBD is made up of two large shops, one café, one service station, two butcheries and a bank. Sutherland moves at a leisurely pace. All businesses still follow the long practiced tradition of closing for an hour over lunch every day.
Situated in the heart of the Karoo, Sutherland is a great place from which to explore the surrounding desert. To the Southeast lies Saltpeterkop – a 66 million-year-old extinct volcano. Safe to climb, the volcano makes for a great hike up to the Observatory.
Visit the Louw Museum. Sutherland is the birthplace of renowned Afrikaans writer/poet brothers N.P. van Wyk Louw and W.E.G. van Wyk Louw. The Louw house, built in 1861, serves as a literary library today. It also houses several items of historical interest, including the old lykswa (mortuary cart), which was used between 1912 and 1950.
Fun Facts About Sutherland:
- Sutherland is considered to be the coldest town in South Africa, with an annual average minimum temperature of minus 6°C. The coldest day recorded was the 12th June 2003 when the temperature measured minus 16.4°C! It has even been known to snow in Sutherland on Christmas day!
- Farmers in the area usually have two farms – one in the Roggeveld and one in the lower-lying Karoo. At the onset of winter every year, Farmers migrate from the Roggeveld to the Karoo, to spend the colder months in a marginally warmer climate. The migration of family, livestock, pets and possessions can take up to four days to complete, and is repeated again at the end of September when farmers return to higher ground for the summer.
- SALT is a telescope of such fantastic power, that you could see a candle flame burning on the moon!
- In Sutherland, the morning newspaper is only available in the afternoon due to the distance from Cape Town.
- Sutherland is the most southerly place in South Africa where diamonds were discovered. Old diamond diggings can still be seen in the area.
- The ‘sterboom’ (Star Tree), which blossoms in September, is found in the region.
- The region is also home to the endangered Riverine Rabbit.
Stay over in Sutherland and leave with a twinkle in your eye!
Sterland Caravan Park offers Stargazing nightly.
Booking is essential. Contact Jurg: 082 556 9589
SALT runs guided tours daily. Call (023) 571 2436
SAAO Visitors’ Centre
(023) 571 2436
(023) 571 1265