All Eyes on Carnarvon

carn 2
The small beginnings of a very big space-listening project: SKA.

If you want the real scuttlebutt on Carnarvon, you need to be in the vicinity of the front desk of Swanepoel Wind Pump Repair Services during working hours.

The local farmers talk about the weather (or lack of it), the price of things, politics, the finer points of combining two junked wind pump heads into one working unit, those damned jackals and, if there’s a breath left, the Square Kilometre Array. SKA.

This massive, multibillion dollar international project is the biggest thing to hit the science world since the Higg’s Boson was found.

Seven enormous ‘dishes’ – the Karoo Array Telescope, or KAT7 – are already in operation, receiving information about the Universe. South Africa has funded another 64 for the second phase and called it MeerKAT. These are currently being built. All these will help inform the best way to arrange the other 2 800-odd that will be pointed at the sky here and across Southern Africa in the coming decades.

lowcarn0042With another 250 receivers in Australia, they will be picking up ancient radio signals that will help explain the vexing issues that have been dogging astronomy for decades.

SKA has already had some positive impact on the local community in town. Apart from the excitement of such a huge project being launched in the area, the broadband access is now some of the best in South Africa.

The local high school has a state-of-the-art computer lab and SKA is funding a number of study bursaries.

It seems, however, that the local farmers’ main concern is the communications issue, because Telkom lines are down, cell phones near this sensitive site are unwelcome and satellite phones cost the earth.

Is SKA going to buy them all sat-phones and solar chargers, they want to know. They are also beginning to ask questions about SKA expansion plans.

However, not too long from now, there will be plenty of very thoughtful bespectacled folks walking the streets of Carnarvon: world-class geeks and their tech teams. Welcome them to the neighbourhood.


carn 1
The Inner Sanctum of Leon Swanepoel’s windpump workshop in Carnarvon.

Eat, Play & Stay in Carnarvon

  • Visit the Carnarvon Museum, part of which is a reconstructed corbelled house;
  • A great view of Carnarvon can be seen from the old British blockhouse on top of a nearby koppie;
  •  The Appie van Heerden Nature Reserve just outside Carnarvon is worth a drive-through, especially if you want to see spectacular wind pumps at sunset;
  • Stay at the Lord Carnarvon Guest House:

Tel: 053 3823 268

Mobile: 082 720 4209


  • Stay at Stuurmansfontein Corbelled House

Tel: 053 3826 097

Mobile: 082 221 7500  or 072 352 8070

  • Stay at Osfontein Corbelled Guest House

Tel: 0533822 ask for 3513

Mobile: 072 310 7979

  • Eat at De Meerkat Restaurant

Tel: 053 382 4651

  • General Carnarvon Info:


Visit the Karoo Space e-Bookshop for the in-depth stories on the Karoo.




2 thoughts on “All Eyes on Carnarvon

  1. Eric Torr says:

    The issue on the SKA are largely not true. It is now a fact that the development of the SKA is actually ruining this beautiful part of the Karoo. The minister refuses to do an EIA on the project and already the local population is being impoverished with worse to come.
    This project will only benefit the few scientists that will eventually work there leaving large parts of the local population out of work.
    The current unemployment rate is already 32%.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.