The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is one of the biggest attractions on the Gauteng map. It's just a 40-minute drive from Johannesburg, which is far enough to escape the bright city lights that make viewing stars difficult. Maropeng, the official visitor’s centre for the cradle region, offers stargazing evenings with local astronomy expert Vincent Nettmann who will point out all the most significant constellations and nebulae.
These monthly ‘astro-dinner dates’ are planned well in advance and bookings are recommended, however they're definitely among the best things to do in Gauteng. Evenings begin with sundowners at the Maropeng Hotel, where you can marvel at the impressive sunset views over the rolling hills of the protected Cradle of Humankind region. Then it’s time for dinner followed by a stargazing talk led by Nettman who has his own style of ‘edutainment’ which mixes facts about the night skies with entertaining stories from African folklore.
According to the passionate stargazer Nettman, the southern hemisphere’s astronomical wealth if far richer than the north’s. He explains, “in the southern hemisphere there are two thirds more stars than in the northern hemisphere – it’s just the way nature is. Then if you look at light pollution in the big cities in Europe and America, there’s so much of it compared to down here.”
Maropeng’s monthly stargazing events will have you examining stellar nurseries, pondering how the universe began and what fate awaits it, viewing Hubble Space Telescope images and mapping out the Milky Way. Subject to weather conditions, you will be able to observe sky objects and the moon through a range of large aperture telescopes.
Booking is essential. Tickets can be booked via the Maropeng website’s online shop.