Olifants Astronomy Activity

Discuss activities available in the Kruger National Park, and follow all the sighting reports.

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Olifants camp astronomy activity

Unread post by Bushbaby »

Got this article off IOL this morning - it is really written with love by a true convert. You can almost smell the bush in his discriptions.

Very nice piece and worth a mint in publicity.

Tracking the Milky Way from Kruger Park skies

July 25 2005 at 10:10AM

About 15km south of Olifants camp in the Kruger Park, just off the road to Satara, ranger Julius Mkansi parks the 4x4 in a clearing among the reddening, wintry mopane trees.

His assistant, final-year nature conservation student Brenden Pienaar, hops out and removes three mountain bikes from the trailer, one for each of us.

It's 6am, and the low-hanging mist and moisture in the air hint of unseasonal rain. With the slightest chill we set off down the rocky dirt road, immediately to be confronted by a large hippo bull lumbering across the track, on the way back to nearby Olifants River from his nocturnal feed.

An hour later we drop our bikes and make our way down to the river where we are treated to a classic duel: one hippo bull trying to keep another out of his pool.

'With each star of the cross and the two pointers representing the head of a giraffe'
This activity is an example of the manner in which Olifants camp manager Hein Grobler is pushing the park activities envelope. Later on this evening - clear skies and returning hippopotami permitting - I will be taking part in the camp's stargazing activity, which I'm told involves a monster telescope, biltong, snacks and drinks and trained guides to explain our southern skies. Welcome to the 21st-century Kruger Park.

When South African National Parks started renting out limited sections of the Kruger Park to game lodges a few years back, it was followed by the expected howling controversy: how can the government rent out parts of a national treasure meant for the enjoyment of the population?

Irrespective of the fact that the park hadn't been enjoyed by most of the populace since its inception, the argument of traditionalists and conservationists had merit, not least being the concern that a precedent was being set by reserving sections for exclusive use and thus depriving less moneyed visitors of the chance to enjoy their national heritage.

But life continued in the park with not much change: local and foreign visitors driving the roads, seeing game in the south, birds in the north, elephants all over and locked up safe in camp by sunset, forbidden to drive again until sunrise.

The issue of private lodges faded into the background, with guests happy to pay large sums to enjoy sumptuous accommodation, personal attention and game drives in swish 4x4s at all hours (plus the unheard-of Kruger privilege of leaving the vehicle for evening sundowners and morning coffee... with rusks nogal).

Yet, just as the leaves of the mopane tree change to that magnificent red every winter, so the rest of the Kruger slowly caught up. It came to be generally appreciated that considerable income could be generated by offering attractive activities beyond the legendary walking trails.

The ultimate offering today is to be found at Olifants Main Camp in the eastern part of the northern and central sections of the park, an hour's drive from Letaba and about 20km from the Lebombos and the Mozambican border.

Camp manager Hein Grobler has introduced two activities that five years ago would have been unthinkable - morning, afternoon and daylong mountain biking trails with star-gazing snacks and talks.

"The Constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross," says Brenden - the ranger from this morning's ride and tonight's astronomy guide, leaning over the Meade 20cm telescope - "was a main focus for San people in early times, with each star of the cross and the two pointers representing the head of a giraffe".

While I admittedly can't quite work out the head in tracing the constellation, it does serve to remind us that it wasn't only Christopher Columbus who made use of the stars. Yet the enthusiastic young student, one of six rangers at the camp trained to use the telescope, has more local lore to hand.

"When Canopis is rising in the east (at the beginning of summer), it is a sign for the Shangaan boys prepare for initiation."

The rising of the Seven Sisters is a sign to prepare the lands for planting.

"Daar's 'n gat in die wolke", noticing a gap in a thin cloudbank to the north, Brenden tries to focus on a Saturn suddenly revealed, but as quickly as it presented itself it disappears.

All is not lost, for the moon is full tonight and huge on the horizon. While the brightness of the sky does mean the Milky Way galaxy and other more distant stars are invisible to both naked eye and telescopes, the moon is so large it one-third fills the 'scope.

Juanita Grobler, wife of camp manager Hein, markets this nocturnal Kruger "experience" for the private-sector operation - Astronomy Africa - that runs this outfit as a joint venture (it donated the telescopes and trained the rangers) with Olifants Main Camp.

With an assistant, Juanita loads the tables with snacks, candles and drinks, a welcome surprise at the N'wamanzi viewing point overlooking the Olifants River. Hippos grunting, me dressed in shorts, big moon rising and a glass of wine in hand: there's much to be said for winter in the Lowveld.

The same goes for Olifants camp. I just wish my 10-year-old nephew, who really enjoys the stars and has his own telescope, could enjoy it with me.
We (my parents, sister and son and myself) have come down to Olifants for a family farewell, before my sister and my wildlife-crazy nephew head for life in New York City.

But the residents of the bush naturally win over the stars in his book of preferences, and on this, his first visit to a game reserve, I fully understand why he opted for the night-drive with his mom and grandmother.

It was a good decision too, as on returning from the stars I learn that their drive added hyena and Pel's fishing owl to the leopard, honey badger and elephants he'd already seen.

It took me seven years to see my first Pel's (a special on any bird enthusiast's list) and I've yet to see a badger. Then again, I did get to see Jupiter's equatorial belts and learn that Antares, the heart of the Scorpio constellation, is 7 500 times brighter than the Sun.

If you go
Contact: Olifants Camp: Olifants Rest Camp: 013-735-6606/7

Reservations: SANParks Central Reservations: 012-428-9111

Information: For further information about this and other exciting happenings, call Astronomy Africa: Astronomy Africa (Pty) Ltd,
e-mail: [email protected]
tel: 011-312-0116, cell 082-901-3796

Last edited by Bushbaby on Tue Jul 26, 2005 4:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post by Jumbo »

Has any of you done this astronomy activity at Olifants? Wow, it sounds like something not to be missed!
Thanks for the posting Bushbaby.
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Unread post by Jakkalsbessie »

admin wrote:Comment from Olifants' Hospitality Manager Hein Grobler:

"We have had guests that joined us specifically on the Astronomy Experience, and we did organize baby sitters for them for the duration of the activity of 3 hours. For special arrangement, please email me at [email protected]. We will always strive not to only meet and exceed your expectations, we run the extra mile as a way of life!"


For Kruger, Hein Grobler and Olifants!! You guys are GREAT!
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Unread post by Jumbo »

Bushbaby wrote:Most camps have babysitters available; we have arranged previously through the reception.

Did not realize that this type of service is available in Kruger :shock: ok, it is also not something I would request.
However, now that I know it exist, I might consider using it for my SO! :twisted:
Me, myself and I having a quiet and peaceful evening¦... :lol:

Back to the topic: I'm certainly going to make a plan to get to Olifants in the very near future to experience this! I wonder if there will be a difference if it is full or new moon?
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Unread post by Guinea Pig »

Mentioned under Olifants Camp thread too.
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Unread post by Wild@Heart »

Loams mentioned eBucks in the Spotlight thread ...

If you have any ... why not spend it on this ... $$ Click Here $$

eBucks wrote:Astronomy Game Drives Kruger Night Sky eB3 300

Image Experience the spectacular night sky of Kruger National Park on an evening outing into the bush where Sky Rangers set up telescopes and take you on a voyage through the stars,planets and other heavenly bodies. Book with your eBucks travel consultant in conjunction with your Visit to the Kruger National Park. Includes a late afternoon game drive, snacks and sundowners available on cash bar basis during sunset. Learn from Sky Rangers about the southern hemisphere skies and African Star Lore. Telescope viewing on the stars, planets,moon and other heavenly bodies. Terms and conditions apply.

BTW ... 10 eBucks = R1,00
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The star watching

Unread post by PygmyFalcon »


Few years ago my late dad, my mom and i were at letaba and we set up my dads telescope to check out the river bed. the staring i got for our tourists!

I was sitting at Olifants for a early lunch on the 8th of Feb and i saw rangers walk in with boxes and a tube. it was raining so they were forced to set up the 'stuff' indoor and next to my table. :roll:

after watching them for some time i figured what they were setting up the famous telescopes. they were so cool!! :clap:
all i know is once this is really off the gound and all 'hic coughs' are over, i want to go on one of these 'rides'.

Fantasic Kruger! Great thinking! :yaya:

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Unread post by KampRunner »


I gave SO a KNP Night Sky gift voucher for his b/day this year. We had a WONDERFUL time and JUanita Grobler and her team treated us like VIP's even though it was just us two! :clap: We cannot recommend it enough but you must be prepared for a cancellation if the clouds close in ( it was touch and go for us). The activity included a mini night drive & we were lucky to see a puffadder and encounter a pride of young lions on our way back to camp! If you have never seen Saturn and its rings thru a telescope be prepared to be amazed!! We will be back for more..
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Unread post by Hawk »

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,
galaxies .....

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.
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Unread post by arks »

WOW, Hawk!! Thanks for this great report on the Astronomy Experience at Olifants — you've really captured the essence and specialness of this activity. 8) I did it in April, checking to make sure that I was able to book it for the dark of the moon :wink: I recommend this activity highly, Juanita and her team do a great job of making a very complex subject both understandable and fun. I enjoyed the brilliant KNP night skies even more once I knew more about the stars and planets and constellations that I was seeing each night.

Thanks for posting such a comprehensive write-up, Hawk. Your words and pix bring back wonderful memories!!
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Unread post by restio »

I think this is a fantastic activity, it would be great to see it extended not just to other KNP camps, but also to other National Parks. Parks such as the Karoo, Kgalagadi and Augrabies would be wonderful locations for stargazing.
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Unread post by wildtuinman »

Had an awesome sighting of the McNaught comet last night. From Kruger is should be so much better. Have a look for it towards the south west this evening just after sunset up to about 30mins after sunset... Just aove the horison. Truly spectacular. Try this activity or even a sunset drive to see it.

PS: Got some pics of it, but will try and get some better ones tonight. Only folks in the southern hemisphere can see it. You guys up north had your chance last week.

Unread post by Jumbo »

I’m currently in the Garden Route. Last night, for the first time, we were able to see the comet. It was a magnificent sight….looking across the bay, seeing the comet “hovering over Mossel Bay 8) (unfortunately I did not bring my camera along :cry: ).
While looking at the comet, I could not help but think about the view from Olifants Camp. I think that must be one of the best places now to view this phenomenon. I really hope there are some forumites visiting the camp that will be able to share it with us.
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Unread post by Lourens »

:) Dear all,

The astronomy activity is only available in Olifants Rest Camp. I know that before I left Olifants it was put on hold, because there was no one to the hosting. But the guides over there have training from tomorrow for the week and I believe after that the Activity will start going out again.

I always loved it, but luckily the stars are here in Berg en Dal as well. It is definitely an activity to do, highly recommended, but unfortunately it would not be me, ha ha ha.

Good day.

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Unread post by dianne »

Hi Lourens! Great to see you online!

Re the Astronomy activity...I´ve heard it will also be available at the ´new and soon to be proclaimed park´ 8) near Kimberly-Hein Grobler is Hospitality Manager there...which means Juanita is there too...

Dianne Tipping-Woods
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