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Cradle Of Humankind

The malapa site at the Cradle of Humankind is the site of discovery of the early hominin species Australopithecus sediba  © Profberger, License

Cradle Of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site first named by UNESCO in 1999. You will find this gem about 50km northwest of Johannesburg. The name was given to this area because of the fact that the site has produced a large number of some of the oldest hominin fossils ever found – some dating back to 3.5 million years ago.

The site currently occupies 47,000 hectares and this is where you will find a plethora of limestone caves. One of the caves found here is the Sterkfontein Caves and another popular one is the Wonder Cave. In 1947 a 2.3 million year old fossil (called Australopithecus africanus) was found by Dr. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson. In 1924, the “Taung Child” was discovered by Raymond Dart – the Taung Child is a juvenile Australopithecus africanus skull.

There is no shortage of activities to keep you occupied – you could choose to release the adrenaline junkie inside and go caving at Sterkfontein Caves or The Wonder Cave. The Sterkfontein Caves are deep and consist of some narrow pathways, the tours run every half hour, seven days a week. Unfortunately the caves are not wheelchair-accessible. After each tour of the caves, visitors to Sterkfontein are given the opportunity to stroll along the wooden walkways with views of the Cradle of Humankind, and the excavation site where Wits scientists still work.

The Wonder Cave is definitely a must-see! Be prepared to be amazed as you enter this magnificent wonder of nature. To enter the caves, you are required to trek down 87 stairs at a 45 degree angle, which takes you 22 metres below the earth's surface. You then get to hop on to an elevator, which drops you a further 18 metres into the cave. The cave is dimly lit with a cool atmosphere and the temperature averages around 18 degrees. Whilst touring around the caves, you will come across about 14 stalactites and stalagmite formations, with the largest reaching as high as 15 metres and weighing 50 tons. Even after 5 - 10 million years, 85% of the formations in this huge limestone cavern are still growing.

If you’re more interested in seeing some of South Africa’s wildlife up close and personal, then you can head off to the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve. Here, you can interact with the babies of the park – lion, cheetah and tiger cubs. You can also organise a 4x4 trail, go abseiling, or venture on a game drive.

When people think of The Cradle of Humankind, they often think it just consists of the Maropeng Visitor Centre; but the centre is an attraction in its own sense and has won multiple awards over the years. The centre is a place that will help visitors journey back in time from the start of our universe, some 14-billion years ago, to the present and beyond. As you approach the centre you will be confronted by a unique structure which resembles an ancient burial mound, known as a tumulus. Stepping inside takes you to a place beyond time, where your tour starts with a boat ride on an artificial lake before entering the exhibition area. The tour then leads visitors through highlights of human's evolutionary journey; it's a place where the displays tackle questions among many others about how our brains developed, where language came from, when we first used fire and what the risks are for us as a species in the future. The interactive displays often keep visitors occupied for an entire morning and some even a whole day. Maropeng provides visitors with a rare opportunity to view original hominid and dinosaur fossils that hold many secrets to how life on Earth existed millions of years ago. These exhibits are housed in the fossil display room and the collections on display change throughout the year. When you exit at the rear of the Tumulus, you are greeted by one of the best views possible in Gauteng, the views over the rolling hills towards the Magaliesberg. But even more intriguing than the view in front of you, is the view of the Tumulus you just walked out of. The ancient Burial Mound that you entered, through your journey through time, has transformed into a futuristic building of glass and steel, a symbol of how far humans have come as a species.

If you’re more of an arty being, then you should definitely spoil yourself and pop in to the Ngwenya Gallery. Here, you will be transported into a world of sheer talent as you witness the art of glass blowing. The factory receives about one ton of recycled glass every day. The glass is collected by members of the community and bought by the factory, thus providing income for the disadvantaged, while at the same time cleaning up the environment. The glass is crushed and melted down overnight, and then the following day this molten glass is drawn and blown into extraordinary works of art. The general public is welcome to visit the factory and watch the glassblowers transform the molten glass into beautiful vases, ornaments, and figurines. Free demonstrations take place every weekday and also on the last weekend of the month. Many of these glass objects are for sale, and you can also order custom made glassworks.

For the artistic souls, there is also The Crocodile Ramble, which includes many attractions and sprawls through Honeydew, Muldersdrift, past Lanseria Airport and to the Broederstroom area as well. All these areas offer visitors so many attractions such as game farms, adventure activities, lodges and arts and craft markets with spectacular hand crafted items by the locals. There is so much to see and do and these areas have it all from relaxing by the pool, enjoying a horse trail through the game reserve, white water farting, macro-lighting or enjoying an early morning hot air balloon flight, there is something for every one of all ages. The Crocodile Ramble is regarded as one of the most popular of all the craft routes in South Africa. Be sure not to miss out when you are in the area. You won't be disappointed.

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