My first visit to the Cradle of Humankind (a UNESCO World Heritage site) was an afternoon at the Maropeng visitors centre about five years ago and I was thrilled by how interactive and enjoyable it was (even though calling a dodo creeped me out a bit). This time around, I got a taste of more than just the visitors centre with a visit to Sterkfonteinn Caves, a night at the Maropeng Boutique hotel, fine dining and stargazing.
The Sterkfontein Caves are a set of limestone caves that have yielded incredible archaeological finds since excavation began in 1935. The tour starts with an exhibition of the highlights and background of the area before we enter the caves armed with a little more context.
Our guide, Lindiwe, was really engaging and kept the conversations at an easy to understand level. She took us through the exhibition and the story of the interesting discoveries such as the story of Mrs. Ples, 2.3-million-year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus; Little Foot, who is an almost complete skeleton more than three million years old; and of course Homo Naledi, the most recent fossil discovery of at least fifteen individual fossils found in the Rising Star Cave system.
The Maropeng Visitors Centre has its usual exhibition that is a lot of fun especially with children (and big people too). They have also introduced a new offering that will ultimately allow visitors to leave a piece of themselves at the heritage. This is based on an ancient custom used in various forms on the continent of leaving piles of rocks as travellers enter or leave a village. the idea is that by spitting on a stone – leaving your DNA – and placing it on a pile of stones (left by other travellers and sojourners), you would remind the villagers of you thus keeping your legacy alive. In isiZulu, the custom is called “isivivane.”
Drawing from this idea, we were invited to leave our names on a stone that will be placed on a rock which will then be on one of the walkers’ trails. When I first read about it, I thought we’d get a khoki and scribble a name and chuck it under a tree. In actuality, it was more thoughtful and organised. The names a printed on each rock before hand and after hearing the inspiration for the idea, you do take a moment to reflect on where you are and the impact the area has and it ends up not so flippant.
Maropeng Boutique Hotel is a stones throw away from the visitors centre and has lovely views of the surrounding mountains. It’s been renovated to created a great place for a lovely weekend away or romantic getaway just 40 – 60 minutes away from Jozi. The gastronomy trained executive chef, Peter Langa created a delicious fine dining dinner experience, which for me was a repeat seller.
After dinner, we had a stargazing session which included a talk and a look through telescopes set up outside. I always enjoy stargazing after the fact, but I always have to think twice going because I hate being cold. The last stargazing session I did was also in winter time in the Cederberg and it too was a love hate situation. Lovely to do but oh my gosh so cold.
Maropeng Visitor Centre
Off the R563 Hekpoort Road,
I was a guest of Maropeng Boutique Hotel. The opinions expressed are my own.