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 is often 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 saltpetre, hence the name.