April 6th, Bela Bela (Warmbaths, Forever Resorts)

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Seven o’clock in the morning, Saturday 6th April, and we were on the road headed for Bela Bela and the Forever Warmbaths Resort, Limpopo’s version of a mini-Durban in our land-locked Province. This was our second IAU/OAD event for Limpopo Astronomy and the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club.

After a truly cold front passing through two days before, with 70mm of icy rain, we were treated to a gloriously hot day with sunshine and not a breath of wind. By the time we had arrived and started setting up right in front of the main heated pool and at the hub of the activity, the area was filling up with hundreds of holiday makers.

Thankfully we had remembered to pack the gazebo so had a shady place to set up the exhibit, tables, posters and handout material. With the telescope a couple of metres away pointed towards the sun, a steady stream of interested people descended on us and were awed to see close-ups of our nearest star with some clearly visible sunspots, as well as one Earth size one. A huge number of children returned repeatedly, bringing new friends and it was good to see how many of them showed such a keen interest.

After helping with the initial set up, our two boys were allowed to go and sample the fun activities at the resort, including tube rides, super-tubes, wave pool and of course the hot pools. We worked continuously through the remainder of the afternoon, and then as the day visitors started drifting away at 5pm, we packed up the gazebo and brought out the projector and screen for the evening activities. As soon as it was dark enough to distinguish the first bright evening stars (Sirius, Canopus and Rigel), I aligned the telescope and the first object to be viewed was the planet Jupiter. A fairly large crowd of adults and children alike drifted over and I gave a presentation on the planet, after which we turned to Orion and M42 (the Great Orion Nebula), including the four stars that make up the trapezium. Many questions were asked, with particular regard to the SKA, which shows a growing awareness amongst the general public. Various video clips were shown and handout material distributed. Finally packed up after a long day at 8:30pm and went for a well deserved, and thoroughly enjoyed meal at the local Dros, and spent the night in a local B&B, before heading for home Sunday morning.

The number of weekend visitors were not as many as the resort anticipated, but with a total number of 2,500 day visitors and resort guests coming through the gates on Saturday, we had a hugely successful turnout.

A big thank you to Hardus, the entertainment manager at Forever Resort Warmbaths, for his enthusiastic commentary on the sun and sunspots which kept the public informed of our display. We would also like to extend our thanks to the Resort for allowing us to utilise their facilities, and the local press for their continuing support in publishing our events and helping to inform the public of our outreach activities.

Next venue we will visit is Modimolle (Nylstroom) on the 18th May. You will find us outside Checkers during the day and then at the Spur sidewalk from sunset onwards.