February 19, 2012

Back to the Cradle

I've been wanting to tell you about the Cradle of Humankind for ages. Considering that we visited it for the first time in early 2010, almost two years ago. The cradle of our South Africa adventure, if you will.

It was May of 2010 when we set off for one of our first outings in South Africa, a balloon safari. More on that later. Johannesburg was gripped by World Cup fever and I remember this because we lost one of our Germany flags when Impatience opened the window while we were driving. Big drama.

Noisette, the kids, and our World-Cup-ready car; can't believe this was almost 2 years ago!

Our first stop was the Maropeng Visitor Centre, about an hour away from Johannesburg towards the Northwest. It doesn't look like all that much when you approach it, sitting there in the middle of nowhere or so it seems. Just a large mound of dirt.

Somehow reminds me of the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk

But from its backside, it turns out to be an impressive building of a rather interesting architecture.

Not sure what it reminds me of from this side

It's a bit hard to explain what exactly Maropeng is, so you best look at the pictures below to get an impression. I'd say it most closely resembles a hands-on museum (don't expect too much) or  maybe a mini (emphasis on mini) Epcot Center. That's because you get to ride through the history of the world, in a boat of sorts, past icebergs and fires.

Boat ride through the bowels of Maropeng Visitor  Centre

The boat ride doesn't last terribly long and that's the end of Epcot-esque educational rides at Maropeng. From then on out you're on foot, exploring and looking at displays at your own pace (I'd say a total of two hours is about adequate if you're planning your visit).

Lots of information about the different hominids (I hope that's the right term -
as you can see, I'm just throwing words around; I always have trouble actually
remembering stuff I learn in museums; should probably ask my kids)

Reminds you of "Night at the Museum," doesn't it?

My favorite part of Maropeng was the terrace in the back where one can sit and sip cappuccinos while taking in the most magnificent view in Gauteng.

One of my favorite pictures of the kids and me, taken at Maropeng in 2010

Not far from Maropeng you will find the Sterkfontein Caves, site of one of the greatest finds in the history of excavation, the near complete skull of one of our human ancestors, Mrs. Ples, as she has since become known. I find it mind-boggling that that skull is over 2 million years old. And that they actually have a way of measuring that.

The caves are quite spectacular in their own right, with plenty of stalactites and stalagmites (don't ask me which one is which). The whole area is called the Cradle of Humankind because it's one of the richest sites in the world in terms of early hominid finds.

Sterkfontain Caves
Statue of Dr. Robert Broom

While you're already out there, it's definitely worth visiting the caves as well as the visitor centre, and you get a discount when purchasing a combo ticket. Just make sure you break it up with a nice big lunch on the Maropeng terrace, or otherwise you will saddle yourself with some whiny kids.

So much for the educational side of our trip. Stay tuned for the fun part, our balloon safari over that beautiful landscape above, which we embarked on the following day.

This article is part of Joburg Expat's What To Do in Joburg series.


Anonymous said...

Idiot rule:
A mite is a small creepy crawley on the floor, therefore a stalagmite rises from the floor, and then the rest is easy.
A bit like saying "left hand is where the thumb is on the right", but it has served me well for a lifetime.
Best regards...

Maria said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Sine. That's worth a trip to South Africa all by itself! And the way I was taught to remember the difference between stalagmites and stalactites is to think of the G in stalagmite as meaning "ground" and the C in stalactite as "ceiling,"

Sine said...

See what the English language can do for you! Now that I was actually put on the mnemonic track by you, I do remember that in German it's called Stalaktiten, and Titten is also the slang word for your boobs. Which (at least at our age) hang down. Just another way to remember...

W. A. Jeffrey said...

The views from the terrace and the scenic beauty sounds like fun but I would have to pass on the evolution silliness.

Stephanie Decker said...

We just moved to Joburg from CT. My children are 4 (almost 5) and 2 and a half. I want to visit the Cradle. Would you recommend the adventure for our young children? We will be here for three years, and I'm wondering if we should visit towards the end of our stay.

Sine said...

Hi Stephanie - apologies for the late reply. I think the Cradle is a nice place to visit even for younger kids. There are some displays that are more hands on, some educational parts about extinct animals, and the different pre-hominids (or whatever they're called) should be impressive even for young children. And there is the "ride through time" that I think would be fun for any age. You can walk through the rest of it at your own pace so if children get bored you are not trapped anywhere. There is a nice outside grassy area, a restaurant to eat, and I would think the Sterkfontein caves would also be impressive for small children. I remember being taken to a cave as a small child, and I don't remember that many things from that young age:-) I would think it's even a place you could visit twice so I probably wouldn't wait too long. When in South Africa, you never get to see everything on an expat assignment, so better get things visited while you have the time!