On The Road
Where To Sleep Under The Stars
Six of the best spots to rest your head with nothing but the night sky for a ceiling
Clayoquot Cloud Camp, Vancouver Island, Canada
Sleeping under the stars is all about knowing where to go – far from the light pollution and travelling at a time of year when clouds won’t interfere with the nocturnal panorama. Get it right and there is no experience more primal than the sense of infinity arching overhead, whether it be Scorpio’s sting in the southern hemisphere or the spectral greens of the northern lights in the Arctic winter. There is also no bed more romantic, so long as the sheets are Belgian linen and the bugs are kept at bay with elegant folds of net. To be clear: sleeping under the stars is one thing, but sleeping rough this is not. The art of the bush bed was first finessed in Africa, where Mr Ernest Hemingway made a fashion of it on his hunt for kudu antelope through Kenya’s iconic green hills in the mid-1930s. Almost a century later, you will now find star beds all over the world with nothing but sky for a ceiling. The trend has spread from Africa to Indonesia, and – weather willing – to the land of the frozen north. I have been fortunate enough to sleep under the stars all over the world and in my experience, these six spots are the most memorable.
NIHIWATU RESORT, SUMBA, INDONESIA
Nihiwatu, on the wild island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia (a one-hour flight from Bali) has one of the best left-hand surf breaks in the world. Since American retail entrepreneur Mr Chris Burch invested millions of dollars as the resort’s new owner, this old-school surf camp has acquired mega-villas to compete with that litmus of Asian luxury: an Aman Resort. Unique to Nihiwatu’s Marranga villas are open-sided thatch-roofed “bales” overlooking Sumba’s iconic wave, where guests can sleep under the stars with a kerosene lamp. New at the end of this year, a private house at Nihi Oka on the curl of beach just next door. With a bamboo terrace cantilevered over the cliff edge, it provides a place to sleep below the Milky Way while perched above Sumba’s foaming surf.
What to take Surf wax.
What to look out for The sound of galloping horses, which are brought to the sea’s edge each day by the tribal Sumbanese people.
What to wear
AURORA SAFARI CAMP, LAPLAND
Above the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, where there is no artificial light for miles, you will find Aurora Safari Camp. Here, five semi-translucent “lavvus” – temporary dwellings used by the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia – are kept warm by wood heaters inside, even when it’s -37°C outside. Sited by the Råne River, with the rapids semi-frozen in winter, you will experience the Northern Lights – a cinematic show that makes you feel as though the gods are dancing just above your head. For a clearer view, but with more visitors, Kakslauttanen resort in Finland has constructed glass igloos for stargazing in comfort.
What to take Snowboots.
What to look out for Moose — Sweden’s most dangerous animal if caught by surprise.
What to wear
LOST ISLAND OF BAOBABS, BOTSWANA
Deep into the bleached-out desert reaches of Botswana’s Kalahari game reserve, you can sleep out under the rocks on the deliciously named Lost Island of Baobabs – a grove of wide-trunked trees that cast their shade on a granite “island” in the middle of an ancient, dried-up lake. This is the highlight of a safari devised by Mr Ralph Bousfield, who is among the most elegant of Africa’s adventurer-guides. You sleep without a tent on cloud-soft bedrolls, with a few lanterns in the fading light providing a magical sight. Then the real light show begins: a million stars above a desert sky. Getting here is as much of an adventure as the night itself — by quad bike over the Kalahari’s moon-white pans of salt.
What to take The star-gazing app SkyView, to identify the constellations up above.
What to look out for The Southern Cross constellation, which the Tswana people see as two giraffes.
What to wear
CLAYOQUOT CLOUD CAMP, VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA
This spot is only accessible by helicopter, but what a ride it is – all 10 minutes of it – rising up from Clayoquot Sound, deep into the heart of a Unesco-protected fjord on Vancouver Island’s northwest coast, to a new Cloud Camp located 4,500ft above the Pacific. Comprised of three tents built beside a lake, it is the wild idea of Clayoquot’s owner, Mr John Caton, who left the world of rock’n’roll in the 1980s to “go bush”. The food on offer includes butterflied sockeye salmon, cooked over an open fire. Mr Caton will even fly in a therapist from the main lodge, Clayoquot, for a massage while the clouds skim your body.
What to take A rod for heli-fishing.
What to look out for Bears, who fish the salmon runs.
What to wear
NYIRAGONGO VOLCANO, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Sleeping at 3,740m above sea level brings you closer to the stars, as well as to the heart of earth in a new camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A series of huts have recently opened for visitors on the lip of Nyiragongo volcano in Virunga National Park, a region famous for its endangered mountain gorillas. This crater lake of lava – the largest in the world – bubbles and spits. It is a bewitching thing to watch this devil’s Jacuzzi boil beneath you at night while up above the Congo sky sparkles with silver pinpricks. This is not a bed for the fainthearted or for anxious sleepers: Mount Nyiragongo last blew on 17 January 2002, producing a river of lava some 1,000m wide.
What to take A Thermos filled with hot toddy.
What to look out for Altitude sickness. You’re sleeping high in the sky, so altitude sickness may set in. Drink plenty of water and get lots of rest.
What to wear
ULTIMA THULE, ALASKA
Wrangell-St Elias National Park covers a protected area of 13.2 million acres – that’s one-and-a-half times the size of Switzerland and seven times the size of Yellowstone in the US. From June to September, bush pilots working for Ultima Thule, a remote lodge 100 miles from where the nearest paved road ends, will fly guests up to wild camping spots in nimble Super Cub monoplanes, landing wherever catches your eye. On request, Ultima Thule’s staff will prepare the camp with pop-up tents, a dog and guide with a gun (to keep away the bears, obviously).
What to take An eye mask to sleep in, because in summer it never gets completely dark.
What to look out for Crevasses in the glaciers while you’re hiking.
What to wear