How Kenya’s stargazing safaris offer fresh perspectives for wildlife watching

eyes on the sky

“So many places we visit don’t have anything like this,” says Chu, admiring the panoramic view from the center of an open grassy space above Elewana’s Kifaru House, in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

He tinkers with the portable telescope, a Sky-Watcher Newtonian reflector. It’s a sophisticated piece of kit, with a 12-inch aperture and focal length of 1.5 meters, equipped with a special tracking mount that follows objects across the sky.

As twilight fades into dusk, distant celestial bodies began materializing all around us. Straddling the Equator, Kenya provides a vantage point for a rich tapestry of constellations. From here, everything from the Plow in the high north, down to the Southern Cross in the far south, is visible. It’s also one of those rare places where light pollution, that scourge of the urban astronomer, is at a minimum (although not completely eradicated).

We start by pointing the telescope at the waning crescent moon, a thin sliver of dazzling white, slowly sliding towards the horizon. “Most people on Earth have never looked through one of these, even a small one,” Chu reminds me before we begin. A recognition of our privilege in this experience.

I delicately lean into the eyepiece and the lunar surface bursts into life, immensely sharp. I fought a momentary, utterly insane conviction that I’m right there, 185,000 miles above, orbiting this natural satellite, almost within touching distance.

Chu rotates the telescope towards Orion. Rigel, the left leg of the hunter, looks, with the naked eye, to be just one star. But the telescope reveals it to be twins, Rigel A and Rigel B. The light they project has been hurtling through space for almost 800 years, since the era of Genghis Khan.

Susan takes the laser and begins pointing out other constellations, such as Canis Major, the greater dog, home to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. In her hands, disorganized pinpricks of light magically turn into recognizable shapes, a tribute to her roles as president of the African Planetarium Association, and Africa’s representative board member for the International Planetarium Society.

A deep crimson-orange creeps across the sky, the awakening of our nearest and dearest star. Lewa’s songbirds begin to find their voice. Eventually, our celestial voyeurism is brought to a close. Mouth Kenya is visible to the south, a rare appearance without a ring of clouds decorating her peak. Faint pink light kisses the summit as a new day sets in.

How to do it

Kifaru House starts from US$1,230 (approx. £960) per cottage and includes Full Board Accommodation, all meals and drinks (excluding champagne, private cellar wines and spirits), shared and game drives on dedicated vehicles per reservation/file, guided walking safari , sundowners and transfers to and from their designated airstrips, laundry, service charge and VAT. Return flights from Nairobi to Lewa Downs are approximately US$400.

The Traveling Telescope stargazing experience is US$1,580 (approx £1,215) for a group of up to 20 people at any Elewana property in Kenya. This is per night, and includes a second night reserve policy if there are no stars on the first night. The experience can be booked through Elewana reservations.

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