Text Luise Hoffmann
Astro-photographs such as these are within your reach if you visit the Tivoli Southern Sky Guest Farm. You may already be a hobby astronomer or perhaps you would like to find out more about this fascinating pursuit? Then Tivoli Southern Sky Guest Farm is the place to go, especially if you hail from the northern hemisphere. The sight of the star-studded southern skies, even when viewed with the naked eye, will overwhelm you.
Tivoli has been the home of the Schreiber family since 1963, and an astro-farm since 1986. As you approach it, all you see is a flat horizon with a tiny bump on it, which turns out to be the trees that shade the homestead. There are no mountains to obscure your view, and no other homesteads anywhere in sight.
Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara and Tivoli lies 1 362 metres above sea level. As a result, you can expect very low humidity and clear skies with excellent visibility almost every night during the dry season from May to September. Moreover, with the exception of Mongolia, Namibia is the least densely populated country on earth. More than half of Namibia’s roughly two million people are concentrated along the two perennial rivers that form its northern border. Tivoli Southern Sky Guest Farm is situated about 800 kilometres to the south, 180 kilometres south of Namibia’s capital Windhoek.
As there are no large settlements in the vicinity of Tivoli, there is neither air nor light pollution. Since the farm is dedicated to astronomy, no other activities are practised that might cause light interference. And Tivoli caters for astronomers only, so you are sure to find like-minded people to share your experiences and talk shop with.
The best time of the year to visit Tivoli is from May to September. However, even during the rest of the year, the skies will mostly be cloudless. When planning your visit, you should naturally consider the phases of the moon – one week before to one week after new moon is best. You will find detailed information about this on Tivoli’s highly informative website: www.tivoli-astrofarm.de
Tivoli is an ideal spot for newcomers to astronomy, since they need not buy expensive equipment before having had some experience of what stargazing really entails
Tivoli offers a wide range of telescopes for hire, so you can leave your bulky and expensive ones at home. The larger telescopes are housed in 3×3-metre observatories with their floors raised one metre above the ground. A number of simpler yet sturdy open piers and several different telescopes are also available. While you’re welcome to bring your own instruments along, all you really need to carry is your astro-photographic equipment, your eyepiece accessories and your laptop. Tivoli is an ideal spot for newcomers to astronomy, since they need not buy expensive equipment before having had some experience of what stargazing really entails. Owner of Tivoli, Reinhold Schreiber, is always ready to assist, should you have any problems.
At least five piers are within easy reach of your accommodation and the telescopes need not be dismantled at the end of an observation session. The ultimate observation tool at Tivoli is a 20-inch Dobsonian for deep-sky observation. The light-gathering power of this instrument combined with the desert conditions provides fabulous views of the deep skies. For technical details, terms and conditions to use this equipment, see Tivoli’s website: www.tivoli-astrofarm.de, where you will also find details on the astronomy library equipped with books, CDs and DVDs on this subject, as well as thrillers and books on other topics.
Remember to bring warm clothing, as winter nights are chilly, with temperatures often dropping below zero. Daytime temperatures in winter vary from 15 to 20°C. By popular request, Tivoli now also accepts bookings for the summer months. Then, of course, you can practise astronomy wearing a T-shirt and sandals, as summer temperatures vary from 20 to 38°C.
Accommodation at Tivoli is spacious and comfortable in separate bungalows named after the famous astronomers Galileo, Kopernikus, Herschel, and so on. All have bathrooms en suite, a kitchen and an insect-free veranda. Meals are geared to the astronomer’s lifestyle. A hearty breakfast or brunch is served at a time that suits you, while a substantial supper late in the afternoon will fortify you for the night. The fridge in the communal kitchen is well stocked with bread, butter, cold meats, cheese, jam and so on for in-between snacks and for those who wish to take sandwiches along to their observation posts, or who want to come inside for a quick warm-up. Thermos flasks with hot drinks are available throughout the night.
When requested, Reinhold undertakes scenic microlight flights over his farm with spectacular views of the Kalahari landscape
There are also activities for partners and family members in your company. Tivoli is a working karakul farm, producing excellent pelts for the furrier trade, and also raising cattle for beef. Guests are welcome to join Reinhold on his inspection tours and experience some of the day-to-day details of farming in Namibia. Game can be observed from a hide, so guests are advised to bring binoculars along, which can double up for birding, another rewarding pastime at Tivoli.
Sundowners are offered as time and circumstances allow. Sunsets in Namibia are more often than not spectacular and it is a wonderful experience to sit on top of a soft red dune with a cold drink in hand, watching the gleaming disc disappear below the horizon in a blaze of colour, listening to the evening songs of various birds, and perhaps even the howling of a jackal as the first stars make their appearance.
On Tivoli you are sure to have the personal attention of Reinhold and his wife Kirsten. In addition to being a farmer and experienced hobby astronomer, Reinhold is a microlight pilot. When requested, he undertakes scenic microlight flights over his farm with spectacular views of the Kalahari landscape – deep-red longitudinal dunes snaking their way from south-east to north-west, dotted with trees and tufts of grass, separated by yellowish broad sandy valleys.
Reinhold and Kirsten share mealtimes with their guests and Reinhold, as an experienced hobby/amateur astronomer, is always ready to assist, should you experience any technical difficulties.
Tel (+264 62) 58 1405
Coordinates: 23° 27’ 40” south; 18° 01’ 01” east
This article appeared in the Oct'11 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.