Sutherland….. Look Up!

Founded in 1723 as a church and market town, the town was built around the large Dutch Reformed Church and served the local sheep farmers.


Today its main economic activities include tourism and sheep farming.  The nearby South African Astronomical Observatory drives much of the tourism to the area and with the perfect climate and location (1450 metres or 4 760 feet above sea level), its no wonder!  Sutherland’s night skies are among the world’s clearest and darkest.  The telescopes of the SAAO are nearby and include the famous SALT telescope (Southern African Large Telescope) – the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.  If you’ve ever been fascinated by the stars, Sutherland is prime star-gazing destination.

The observatory (SAAO) is based on the design of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas.  It consists of a primary, hexagonal mirror 11 metres wide, made up of 91 individual hexagonal mirrors, each, one metre wide and weighing about 100 kilograms!


‘This great eye probing the universe is sensitive enough to pick up the light of a single candle on the moon – but its main job is to scan deep space, witnessing the birth and death of planets, gazing into distant galaxies and recording the scale and age of the universe, stars, galaxies and quasars billions of light years away. 

The telescope cost about US$30 million, of which South Africa contributed a third and international partners the balance.

Amateur star-gazers can set up their own telescopes at the nearby visitors’ centre.’



Fully guided day and night tours are available to the public from Monday to Saturday but visitors cannot visit any of the research telescopes at night, not even SALT.  Astronomy is a light sensitive science and no lights are allowed up on the plateau in the evenings making it impossible to see anything at all.

Linda Pampallis (CEO Thompsons Africa) recently visited Sutherland and described it as ‘simply stunning!!’.

While there, Linda stayed at Skitterland Guesthouse and explored the town of Sutherland which she describes as ‘simply stunning!’.

Skitterland Guesthouse houses five luxury suites (Sagittarius, Aries, Libra, Taurus and Hibernia) which are equipped with plasma screen satellite television (except Sagittarius and Libra), heaters, under floor heating and coffee facilities.  In each suite there are electric blankets, down duvets and woollen blankets.

The first four suites pay homage to the item that put Sutherland on the world map, namely SALT or Southern African Large Telescope.  The latter is called Hibernia in honour of the original name of the building.


Contact a Thompsons Africa Travel Expert for more information.


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