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Astro tour guide will have you seeing stars

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The sky, or rather the universe, is the limit for an astro tour guide in training from Van Wyksvlei, who believes that her future is set in the stars.

Chrislin de Koker, an astro tour guide in training, studies the sky through a telescope. Picture: Soraya Crowie

THE SKY, or rather the universe, is the limit for an astro tour guide in training, Chrislin de Koker from Van Wyksvlei, who believes that her future is set in the stars.

De Koker is part of the first group of six astro tour guides being trained as part of the science engagement programme seed by the Northern Cape Tourism Authority and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

De Koker said her daily training involves studying the stars and planets and relaying folk tales about the universe.

She said she never had any aspirations in choosing a career as an astro guide and that her personal responsibilities pushed her towards the opportunity.

“I studied Business Innovation and Technology in Johannesburg for two years. The college I studied at ran out of funds however and we could not continue with our studies. I tried to search for a job on that side, but was unsuccessful. I had to return home and it was during that time that I discovered that I was pregnant.

“Just a few weeks after I had given birth, I saw the advert for the astro guides training programme. I decided to try my luck and at that stage did not even know what the training would entail. My focus was just on finding a job in order to maintain my baby. There were also not many job opportunities in Van Wyksvlei.

“When we started the programme, I thought we would just merely learn some introductory aspects on astrology and telescopes. I never imagined that we would be taught such in-depth details about the planets, stars and the universe. We were even taught about the old folk tales the Khoi and San people believed about the stars and the universe.

“After learning about the rich history of this area and the universe, I was hooked. Even now I am still so curious about the stars and how the people who roamed the earth years before us used the stars as a guide and predictions for the weather as well as where to hunt for food.”

De Koker said she feels honoured to be part of the founding group to bring the programme to life.

“We are the first six to have successfully been through the selection process. There will be another six candidates who will receive training. We were interviewed in March this year and we received training in business management as well. Through this programme we aim to give people a Carnarvon experience.

“We not only take groups on a tourist tour of the town, but can take a donkey-cart ride to all the tourist attractions, which will end with a night under the stars. As visitors gaze at the stars, the astro tour guides then tell their own story about their elected star or planet to the visitors. One of the guides might relay a tale about Venus or a tale about Mars.

“We set up the telescope and give visitors an opportunity to take a closer look at the stars through the telescope. They can even take a picture while looking through the telescope.

“We want to not only give people an experience by looking at the stars, but leave them with knowledge about the planets and stars afterwards. We do this in a fun and interactive way through the stories we tell.”

She added that they have special tour packages where visitors can book their own tour.

“We have set up a Facebook page that contains details on the different tour packages. We also cater for unique tours for when a visitor might want to incorporate a special event like a wedding proposal. A visitor might request that we place a ring inside the telescope for when they want to propose. We can accommodate and arrange for such occasions as well.”

De Koker advised visitors that though winter might be chilly, it is the most magical time to gaze at the stars.

“In the winter one can see a lot as the sky is so much clearer. Jupiter and Saturn are visible with the naked eye during the winter season. We understand that it might be a bit cold during that time, but we will keep visitors warm with a fire and they can even enjoy some marshmallows or hot chocolate around the fire while looking at the stars.

“The Milky Way is not as bright in summer as it is hot and humid during that time. However, in the winter the sky is clear and one can see each star in its spot clearly.

“One thing that is guaranteed, is that visitors definitely walk away with a warm feeling after such an experience,” De Koker said with a smile.

Chrislin de Koker peers through a telescope. Picture: Soraya Crowie
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