The small town of Sutherland in the Northern Cape is some four hours' drive from
Cape Town and is 2000m above sea level. Close to the town is the South African Astronomical
Observatory (SAAO), which is the national centre for optical and infrared astronomy
in South Africa. The observatory is placed here because of the almost perfectly
clear skies the town is famous for.
The town is in the heart of the Great Karoo and well off the beaten track.
The nearby Roggeveld Mountains are frequently covered with snow in wintertime, and
the town can be the coldest place in South Africa.
Sutherland is reputedly the most southerly place where a diamond has been found
in South Africa, and old diamond diggings can be seen in the area. Just to the southeast
of the town is an eroded volcano named Salpeterkop, extinct for some 66 million
years and now filled with sedimentary materials including saltpeter, hence the name.