An expedition to the stars

November 20, 2013


Definition of expedition in English:


Line breaks: ex¦ped|ition

Pronunciation: /ɛkspɪˈdɪʃ(ə)n   /


 A journey undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, research, or war:



This is exactly what Astro Photographer Basie Van Zyl had in mind when he led our group of 10 enthusiasts into the deepest, darkest nights of the Cederberg.


Astro Photography is about planning and patience. It is as much about technical precision as it is about really having the time to appreciate your place in the world around you while you wait for your long exposure to complete it's cycle.


I am not a total novice to photography but my digital technical skills are a little shakey because I started taking photo's many moons ago,in the 'Dark-Room Age' and still feel a little silly if I take more than three pictures of the same subject. So, armed with my new-ish digital camera, I was ready to do battle with the challenges of photographing the stars and their trails. I rather expected to be plunged into a bog of f-stops, shutter speeds and hyper-focal distances, as well as hieroglyphic interpretations of scientific stellar patterns and sky puzzles, and I just hoped that the Cederberg at least, would live up to everything I had heard about it.

Home Base for our weekend expedition was Kromrivier in the Cederberg Conservancy. The Cederberg is located about 250km north of Cape Town and is managed by CapeNature ( Basie selected it specifically because of its accessibility to places with very little or no light. The farmhouse itself, with small restaurant and shop for basic provisions, was managed by a friendly, welcoming team. I was expecting very basic and rustic accommodation and was delighted to be shown into my two bedroom cottage with comfortable beds, a clean kitchen and bathroom, with a wonderful hot shower - all neatly nestled amongst the poplar trees, overlooking a picturesque dam. After settling in, I went for a stroll to explore the whole site along the valley of the Krom Rivier, flanked by the imposing sand-stone mountains. Ancient, rust coloured, craggy, these stone sentries watched me from above.  





It felt as though those mountains were trying to tell me something, perhaps just their rules of engagement, because the impression of wisdom, confidence and certainty they exuded was  almost tangible. They knew that for the next two nights I would be charging all over them, trying to find the perfect angle from which to shoot the sky. I felt an overwhelming need to respect this place and to appreciate its rugged beauty. Looking back, I think that moment is what so many people have described to me as the 'magic' of the Cederberg.


Basie led us for two nights in a row, deep into the conservancy and spent hours with each and every one of his expedition members, patiently explaining the intracacies of capturing star trails. His knowledge of the sky and his passion for the land were what kept all of us happily pinned to our cameras all night. His mantra for Astro Photography is: “Prospecting, Preparation, Planning, Patience, Practice, Persitence and Passion”.

As our long weekend drew to a close and my group of new Astro friends exchanged emails, cell phone numbers and promises, I felt a little bereft. It was as though we had overcome some sort of selection course and now our new-found skills had to be put to the test. Sadly,  unbeknown to us, Basie Van Zyl was already fighting a virulent blood cancer and a few short months later he very suddenly passed away.


I feel so fortunate to have been on that journey, that expedition, with a man of such sincerity and talent and to have been taken into the heartland of celestial appreciation - the Cederberg, the gatekeeper that allows us to experience the lifeblood of our immortatily - space.

If you are inspired to take a trip to the Cederberg and try your hand at photographing the stars, you should consider purchasing a copy of Basie's e-book: ' Star Phototgraphy, The Ultimate Star Shooting E-Guide. (


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