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Exploring the Night Sky near Kruger National Park: Uncovering the Legends of the Southern Skies

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

As a newcomer to the Southern Hemisphere, the night sky above South Africa was so different from what I was used to. The stars were brighter and more vivid, and the constellations more intricate. I was initially intimidated by its complexity, but eventually I came to find it comforting. It was a reminder that, despite being so far away from home, I was connected to something greater than myself.

4 min read

What the Night Sky near Kruger Looks Like

Looking through a large and powerful telescope, a Bushwise trainer identifies a specific constellation to show is students.

The night sky near the Kruger National Park is incredibly vivid. In the winter months, it’s filled with a blanket of stars that stretch across the horizon. The Milky Way is clearly visible, a blanket of bright stars twinkling against the dark sky. 

During the summer months, the sky is still filled with stars, though they appear to be a bit more scattered. The Milky Way is still visible, but the stars appear more concentrated in the middle of the sky.

Constellations seen in the southern hemisphere

The constellations you can find in the southern hemisphere include: 

  1. Crux (Southern Cross) 

  2. Orion 

  3. Centaurus 

  4. Scorpius 

  5. Canis Major

Why am I so interested in the night sky? Because I’m on a 6-month field guide training course with Bushwise, and one of our modules is astronomy! We’ve learnt about the stars and I’ve been amazed by all the stories I’ve heard about the constellations. I want to share a few of my favourites with you here.

Exploring local folklore

The telescopes and other equipment used in this part of the Bushwise course are quite advanced, allowing you to see what you can’t with just the naked eye.

The Zulu people have a story about the seven stars of the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. According to their legend, the stars were seven sisters who were so beautiful that their father put them in the night sky so that everyone could admire them. They are said to represent the spirits of the deceased who are looking after the living. To this day, people still look to the stars for guidance and comfort.

I’ve been especially intrigued by the stories behind the constellations of Orion and Centaurus. According to ancient Greek mythology, Orion was a giant hunter who was placed in the night sky after his death. Centaurus, on the other hand, is a constellation of two stars, Alpha and Beta Centaurus, and is said to represent a centaur from Greek mythology. 

I’ve also heard the Sepedi story of the Milky Way. There was once a young woman whose beloved was stolen away by the gods. She was so heartbroken that she wept and her tears created the Milky Way. This is just a small fragment of the myths around stars and constellations here in the southern hemisphere. 

I’ve found there’s so much depth and beauty in these beliefs! It makes going on a night safari that much more fascinating. It’s also really fun to use one of those red light pointers to scan the sky and discuss constellations.

The night sky and navigation

A group of Bushwise students underneath a seemingly endless blanket of stars.

People living around the Kruger National Park have been using the night sky to navigate for centuries. They used the stars to help them identify their location and direction, and to find their way in the dark. This skill was passed down through generations and is still used by locals today. 

Another thing about navigation that’s totally fascinating is the way dung beetles use the night sky. Scientists have found that these little creatures use the light of the Milky Way to orient themselves when they are rolling their balls of dung. It’s amazing to think that something so small can use starlight in this way. 

The wonders of the night sky 

Bushwise students look up into a neverending landscape of stars. They’re using special equipment to view stars and galaxies.

I’m amazed by the night sky here in the bush. No matter how many times I look up, I’m always blown away by its beauty and complexity. I’m in awe of how the stars have served as a source of inspiration and comfort to so many cultures, and how they still hold powerful meaning today. 

It’s incredible to think that the stars I see in the night sky near the Kruger National Park have been seen by generations before me. As I look up, I feel connected to the past and the future, to the stories of those who have gone before, and to the generations yet to come. I am filled with a sense of wonder and awe, knowing that I am part of something so much greater than myself.

Learning about the stars with Bushwise has been a rewarding experience. The instructors make the material easy to understand, and listening to them is always enjoyable. I’m always engaged and interested in the material, and it’s been a great way to discover more about the night sky near the Kruger National Park and to connect with the stories that we’ll carry on.

Are you curious to learn more about the southern sky? Join Bushwise to gain a deeper understanding of the stories behind the stars and constellations.

Words by Bushwise writer, images by Louise Pavid

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