Johannesburg South Africa Travel
Caves, fossils and stargazing in the Cradle of Humankind
March 10, 2015
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Cradle of Humankind 

There are so many cool daytrips to do from Joburg.  One of  the most fascinating is a visit to the Cradle of Humankind, one of eight South African World Heritage Sites and the only one in Gauteng. The Cradle is a collection of sites that lie in a green valley, just an hour from Jozi and set amongst indigenous bush. Joburg’s earliest residents lived here over 3-million years ago.

View from the deck, Maropeng Hotel

View  from the deck, Maropeng Hotel (Image: FlowComms)

The Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle is famous for being the world’s richest hominid site, home to around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils, and stretches over 53 000 hectares. The area is also home to a diversity of birds, animals and plants.

Though I’ve been to the Cradle a few times before, I was recently invited as a host of Maropeng. We spent the afternoon visting the Sterkfontein Caves and stayed overnight at the lovely Maropeng boutique hotel. The next morning we got a tour of the Maropeng visitor centre.

Maropeng Visitor Centre (Image: Patrick Turek)

Maropeng Visitor Centre (Image: Patrick Turek)

Sterkfontein Caves

We took a tour of Sterkfontein, the biggest and best-known of the caves, where over 500 hominid fossils and thousands of stone tools have been found. Our guide told us of the two major finds at Sterkfontein that, that changed modern paleontology:

·       The fossilized skull of Australopithecus africanusMrs Ples, believed to be 2,5 million years old, was found by Dr Robert Broom in 1947.

·       Little Foot, an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton that could be just over 4 million years old, the first pieces(foot bones), of which were found by Ronald Clarke and Phillip Tobias in 1995.


Silly selfie at the museum at Sterkfontein caves

Silly selfie at the museum at Sterkfontein caves

Kate and I with bust of the legendary Dr Robert Broom (Image: FlowComms)

Mrs Ples - Maropeng

Mrs Ples (Image: FlowComms)

We learnt that Austrolopithicus had an ape-like appearance with human characteristics like standing and moving on two legs, while retaining their climbing ability. This was advantageous in their struggle for survival, allowing them to live in both forest and on the open savannahs. Fascinating! maropeng

Sterkfontein -

Skulls of our ancestors (Image: Meraj Chhaaya)

Sterkfontein, Maropeng

Our group at the entrance to the Sterkfontein Caves (Image: FlowComms)

cradle of humankind, maropeng

Inside the caves. If you are claustrophobic, beware! (Image: Maropeng)

Maropeng Visitor Centre

Maropeng means ‘returning to the place of origin’ in Setswana. The Visitor Centre at Maropeng is a high-tech museum with interesting multimedia displays for kids and adults alike.


Our guide, Zodwa Mtshali

The tour starts with a symbolic boat ride that starts at the present time, going back in time through the most important stages of the Earth creation. The interactive exhibits tell the story of the Big Bang, the origins of earth, evolution, and what being human means. With it’s fun and educational exhibits, the visitor centre is great for families and school groups.

Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng

Learning about evolution at Maropeng

Maropeng mascot - Harry the Homonid - You can even follow him on Twitter!

Maropeng mascot, Harry the Homonid. You can even follow him on Twitter! (Image: FlowComms)

Stargazing at the Maropeng Hotel

After a busy afternoon, I was excited to check out the Maropeng Hotel, just adjacent to the visitor centre. We were greeted by friendly staff, cold chardonnay and panoramic vistas.  The hotel’s gorgeous pool deck, with it’s bush and mountains view was the perfect sundonwers spot.
Sunset vibes at the Maropeng Hotel

Sunset vibes at the Maropeng Hotel! (Image: FlowComms)

That evening our group was treated to the ‘star-gazing dinner‘, a monthly event at the hotel. We feasted on a  3 course gastronomic dinner, followed by stargazing  with resident astronomer, Vincent Nettmann. There was also a 45 minute presentation on astronomy. I must admit that though it was interesting, I did find it rather long-winded after the heavy meal.
Fancy food!

The food didn’t just look pretty…

Maropeng hotel stargazing

Stargazing with the epic Kate Turkington and the rest of the crew (Image: FlowComms)

We were lucky enough to have decent weather, so we enjoyed views of the moon, and even Jupiter and its moons! Looking at the stars close up, I felt really small. I wondered what Mrs Ples thought when looking at the same skies 300 million years ago?
This is how we saw the moom  through  the telescope!

This is how we saw the moon through the telescope! (Image: FlowComms)

The 4-star graded Maropeng Hotel is elegant with an African flavour. From my room I had stunning views of the Magaliesberg mountains. It is well suited for a romantic weekend break away from the city but also has conference facilities available.
Waking up to this view from my room at the Maropeng hotel.

Waking up to this view from my room at the Maropeng hotel.

As a Gauteng resident, I don’t have far to go to learn about our ancient heritage.  There is so much to explore right on our doorstep.  Discover more of the amazing #GeePeeShotLeft experiences in Gauteng on their dedicated website





Note that this post is sponsored by Gauteng Tourism. MzansiGirl maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.


About author

Meruschka Govender

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There are 4 comments

  • Enjoyed reading this post! I visited South Africa and Cradle of Humankind in December 2014, and remember feeling overwhelmed by the tremendous shared history all of us share. That star-gazing dinner sounds amazing, and the sunset pic of yours at Maropeng Hotel is gorgeous! 🙂

    • Meruschka Govender says:

      Thanks for the comment Ami. I’ve visited The Cradle a few times now, and am always learning things. The views from the Maropeng Hotel are gorgeous, and I can think of little better than stargazing on a clear night!

  • Jessica Otto says:

    Never been to the Cradle of Humankind. Enjoyed the photos and your blog.. will have to visit soon!

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