Experience the Northern Cape, South Africa

What comes to mind when you hear “Sutherland”? That cold place? Snow? Stars? None of these are wrong, but there is so much more to this almost mythical town.

Let’s start at the beginning – where is Sutherland? Sutherland can be found in a relatively remote part of the country. Situated in the Northern Cape, this Karoo town is not on any major highway. It is, however, a little more than 100km from the N1 and merely a “sho’t left” at Matjiesfontein. Then simply follow the winding road into the desolate and dramatic landscapes of the Karoo, leading you up, up and up to the little town at the top. Your adventure starts here.

About a four-hour drive from Cape Town, Sutherland is an excellent weekend getaway for romantics, families and off-the-beaten-track travellers. Once in town, it won’t take long to orientate yourself (in fact, there is only one long tarred main road, and a few dusty side branches that seem to melt into the horizon; it would be difficult to get lost). But, as small as the town is, there are about 40 guest houses ready to welcome you, along with five restaurants and three groceries stores in the main road.

Of course, you are not here only to eat and sleep ­– you also want to discover Sutherland. Your first stop will most likely be SALT. The Southern African Large Telescope is the largest single-optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. The actual telescope is made up of a primary hexagonal mirror 11m wide, consisting of 91 individual hexagonal mirrors, each 1m. A day tour will share all the technical information on how the telescope works as you walk through the facility.

Sutherland D
The Southern African Large Telescope is the largest single-optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. (Image: SafariNow)

At nightfall, enjoy some local cuisine (make sure you try some famous Karoo lamb) and then head for the stars – stargazing is a must while you are here. There is more than one option: you can go on night tours at SALT (using visitor telescopes) to view the night sky, or stay in town and join Jurg Wagener or Dave O’Hearns on private tours. If you are staying a little bit out of town, Nicol van der Merwe at Blesfontein can also talk you through the wonders of the universe. Remember to dress warmly in winter as temperatures drop below zero degrees Celsius.

During winter, all guests hope for snow – Sutherland covered in a white snow blanket is a one-of-a-kind experience. And while it does snow in winter, it doesn’t do so every day – in fact, it can be quite eratic. Summers get quite warm, but are always relatively moderate. Spring brings blossoms and flowers along the roads. All seasons are amazing for stargazing, though!

Sutherland is not a young town. In fact, its origins date back to the 1800s and the deep tracks of its history are clearly visible when exploring the town. You can learn more about this history during your stay. A church tour is an absolute must. You can also pass through the Louw House Museum, the house where NP van Wyk Louw was raised long before he became one of the giants of Afrikaans literature.

The silence of the Karoo is probably one of the things you will remembr most, as it is very quiet here. The open spaces and silence form part of the farmers’ existence. We recommend taking some time to experience this life. Visit farms, and learn about the seasonal migration of sheep, sheep shearing and farming in the Karoo.

The list of experiences in Sutherland is endless – it all depends on what you are willing to really discover.

Start planning today. Visit Discover Sutherland