Billionaires may be racing into space, but savouring the stars from remote locations right here on Earth can be just as enlightening. It’s simply a case of looking up and learning
Words: Estella Shardlow
Night falls over the Baa Atoll. That iconic Maldivian palette – turquoise water, pearly sand – disappears and an entirely different, equally mesmerising view unfurls: a diamond-studded black velvet canopy that stretches overhead. One of the more superior lookouts is aboard Soneva Fushi’s yacht, which drifts on calm waters through the balmy evening. The soft sound of the in-house astronomer’s voice gently explains that the isolated Indian Ocean islands are blessedly free from light pollution. The stars shine brighter here, so it’s easier to navigate the sea by the different sparkling clusters, like so many explorers have done before.
What’s more, the resort’s location close to the equator means you can observe both the northern and southern constellations. This brings with it a deep connection between stargazing and soul-searching, and in the autumn, Soneva Fushi is hosting a wellness-centric SOUL Festival on the moonlit sands, to allow you to contemplate your path in this world and beyond.
To look at the stars, to chart their movements, to retell ancient stories about them is to become part of a galactic network that has inspired and guided civilisations for millennia. Early records of the constellations date as far back as 3,000 BC, when they were carved into ancient Mesopotamian clay writing tablets.
Today, designated Dark Sky Reserves can be found in remote corners of the globe – if you know where to look. These otherworldly ethers support our desire to escape stressful, digitally connected lifestyles by quite literally turning attention to higher things. Thinking in light years rather than minutes and seconds, deep time instead of deadlines, feels like a rare luxury. Some of history’s greatest thinkers and creative minds have celebrated the concept of solitude and its benefits, but in our everyday, ever connected world, it’s become much harder to truly achieve.
In such places, cosmic curiosities are also sated with immersive stargazing, brought to your eyes with clever room design, high-tech equipment and in-house experts. The Namibian wilderness retreat Little Kulala is embedded in the ethereal sand dunes of NamibRand Nature Reserve – one of the world’s darkest locations, over 60 miles from the nearest settlement. A roll-out bed on each room’s private deck beckons anyone who’s ever longed to drift to sleep beneath Ursa Major, letting inky skies and silence envelope the senses.
Another smart choice in Namibia is &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. Peering through a state-of-theart Celestron computerised telescope at the in-house observatory reveals distant planets in dazzling detail, from Jupiter’s moons to the rings of Saturn. A resident astronomer unravels the mysteries of the southern constellations – like how the evocatively named Jewel Box cluster got its name from the 18th century English polymath John Herschel, who described it as a “casket of variously coloured precious stones”. Back in your suite, retractable skylights allow stargazing to continue from the comfort of bed.
Astronomy gives us not only the chance to see planets up close, but indigenous cultures, too. They have interpreted the night skies into their own origin stories and folklore. At The Lindis, a luxury lodge in New Zealand’s remote, glacier-carved Ahuriri Conservation Park, Māori beliefs are brought to life on a private stargazing expedition into the valley. The glittering nocturnal panorama becomes even more magnetic as tales of warring gods and celestial navigation fill the crisp, clear night air. Take the silvery banner of the Milky Way: a shark, so legend goes, placed there by demi-god Māui, to swim eternally through the vast black ocean of the sky.
Space exploration is often chalked up as an exercise of ego or nationalistic pride, from the Space Race of the 60s to Elon Musk’s latest endeavours. But standing beneath the stars on a tropical island, African desert or remote mountaintop, such worldly matters – jostling for prestige or politics – seem to shrink away entirely and one instead feels absorbed in something bigger, borderless, beyond.