Sutherland: coldest town in South Africa. Eat your hearts out Bethlehem, Rhodes and all you other non-contenders. Sutherland: home to SALT, the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. And situated away from “civilisation” in our beloved Karoo. Why had Sheila and I never been there before?
Well by April this year we did manage to put a small party of 4 friends together and, most importantly, also found accommodation for the six of us at Middelfontein, about 1.3 km out of the small town itself. Amongst these friends was John Richards, a science journalist of note with special interest and deep knowledge of Astronomy. Not only did he come but he brought his own telescope along to entertain and inform us on the cold Sutherland nights. He is the tall fellow on the far left of the group. Unfortunately I was taking the picture and Sheila was sleeping, but we do make a brief appearance eventually.
Well to step back a bit we left in convoy of two vehicles quite early on 25 April. We had been having some glorious April sunrises as shown below:
With a lot of luggage re-arranging and general settling down we departed along the N1. The first half of trip out was for the most part uninspiring. The day was dullish and an unpleasant haze had settled in the normally spectacular valleys beyond the Hex River mountains, apparently a legacy of some recent fires in the area. John, luckily, was an absolute fund of information on the railroad which could be seen from the road and on the Karoo in general.
By lunch we had reached Touws River for a pitstop.
Not a bad meal at all which may account for the fact that many massive articulated trucks also made use of the service station and the diner attached. I managed to snap one on its way out.
Not long after we took the still fully tarred turnoff onto Route 354 and we were now in the Karoo. The air cleared and the vistas expanded with the typical long hills of this portion of the Karoo. We stopped for a photo opportunity since we were now on holiday and needed to break the typical time-dominated routines of urban life.
The road stretched out ahead to a line of blue hills on the horizon we were to climb before reaching the plateau on which Sutherland was perched.
At a distance the Karoo fynbos was a dour. uniform brown but closer up it revealed a rich diversity. Our spirits were high. Sutherland was about an hour away the the spaces and clean beauty of the karoo was beginning to work its magic.
NOTE: by right clicking on images you can open full resolution image version in separate tab. The story continues in the next installment.