Sky Rangers ! The words conjure up images of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo patrolling some planetary system in a far of Galaxy, but we're very far from any sort of Star Wars scenario here. We're in the reception office at Olifants Camp in the Kruger Park, reading a beautiful glossy poster advertising a very exciting new adventure. For a very reasonable fee, Kruger Sky Rangers will take us out into the bushveld at night from where we will view the magnificence of the night sky through an 8” telescope.
Well, having always fancied myself as a bit of a Sky Ranger as well, we quickly decide that this is a must. A big part of our Kruger visits has always been enjoying the brilliance of the bushveld night sky. We tell the friendly young receptionist that we're keen but we have a problem. The activity starts at the Olifants camp, but we're staying at Balule. “No problem” she says, the driver will pick us up at Balule at 5.30pm. So we sign up and head back to Bulule to get ready.
It's 5.30 and DB and I and one other enthusiast from Balule are ready and waiting. I gaze a little sadly up at an almost full moon already high in the twilight sky, realising that only the brightest stars are going to be visible, but decide not let that worry me. Her mystical light will add her own magic to the bushveld. The truck soon arrives and Lourens, the young driver and guide introduces himself and we set off.
It's a beautifull warm evening with the earth rising in the west to challenge a tired sun and chase the moon across the night sky. It's a photographic opportunity not to be missed and Lourens stops to allow us a chance to capture the magic. He produces his own camera and joins in.
We continue on along the S91 chatting to Lourens and wondering what our destination will be. In between pointing out game Lourens talks to us with enthusiasm about astronomy and how his love for the subject has developed. We turn onto the H15 and it soon becomes obvious where we are headed. Yes it's the n'Wamanzi Lookout and there we are met by the other two Sky Rangers, Juanita and Chris. The setting is magical; the horizon a bright crimson, the water far below a silvery glint in the last light.
There is a table on one side, bedecked with white linen and an inviting array of drinks and snacks. A neat row of chairs and the beautifully made and sophisticated Meade reflector telescope stand waiting to give us our glimpse into the heavens. Juanita will give the presentation. She is vivacious, and bubbles with enthusiasm for her task. In a wonderfully warm and friendly atmosphere we gather at the table, enjoying a sundowner and chat about astronomy, the Sky Rangers and just how special this is. There are no fences, no electric lights, just the paraffin lamps, the bushveld, and the sky.
Juanita introduces us to a little astronomy enthusiast from the bushveld. He is “Pluto”, a little mouse who she tell us arrives for the lesson each night.
Lourens gives a quick rundown of the technicalities of the telescope and then with drinks over, we take our seats, and with the bushveld bathed in La Luna's silvery light we turn our attention to the stars.
Juanita eases us into the vast scale and complexities of the universe with an introduction to our solar system, the relative sizes of the planets and their positions from the sun, which are gas planets and which are solid. She gives a tip on how to distinguish between planets and stars, which have moons and which have rings, information on our moon and eclipses and lots more. We move on to our old favourite the “Southern Cross”, its stars and their distances from earth. We cover the celestial poles, the ecliptic, the constellations,
In spite of the bright moon light, Jupiter, the Southern Cross, Scorpio and others are clearly visible. Juanita talks of the vast dimensions of the universe, the distances between galaxies, the measurement used for the such immense distances: the “Light Year” and more.
The presentation is relaxed but professional, The obvious passion Juanita and her team have for their subject is infectious. I'm already imagining what DB will say when I pack my old telescope for our next trip.
It's time for a glimpse through the window of the 'time machine'. As Lourens enters the co-ords of Jupiter into the telescope it magically turns and tracks Jupiter. We each in turn peer into the eye piece and find that we are hundreds of thousands of km closer to the planet. Jupiter is no longer just another little “star”, it is now a yellowish white disc with it's little silvery orbs dotted around it. We look at star clusters and other marvels of the universe. But perhaps that's enough from me. Being out in the bushveld studying the heavens is not something one can easily describe in words, it must be experienced. Hopefully Sky Rangers will soon be established in all the Kruger camps for many more visitors to enjoy.
All too soon a wonderful evening has ended and we must leave, but the drive back to Balule with Lourens is special. His ability to spot activity along the road, and his knowledge is enviable..
We are already looking forward to our next trip with the “Sky Rangers”, but we will arrange it for a time when the Lunar Goddess has extinguished her light and is asleep.