Day Trip - Maropeng
A short drive from both Johannesburg and Pretoria and only 10 kilometres from the remarkable Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site, a state-of-the-art visitors' facility ha... [continued]
At a Glance
A short drive from both Johannesburg and Pretoria and only 10 kilometres from the remarkable Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site, a state-of-the-art visitors' facility has risen from the red Gauteng dust. Named Maropeng, Setswana for "the place where we once lived", the centre is designed to help tourists, schoolchildren and others explore the rich fossil heritage of the area. The Cradle of Humankind, encompassing the region of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and environs, has one of the world's richest concentrations of hominid fossils, evidence of human evolution over the last 3.5-million years. Found in the provinces of Gauteng and North West, the fossil sites cover an area of 47 000 hectares. The remains of ancient forms of animals, plants and hominids - our early ancestors and their relatives - are captured in a bed of dolomite deposited around 2.5-billion years ago.
Although other sites in south and east Africa have similar remains, the Cradle has produced more than 950 hominid fossil specimens.
Attracting fossil tourists - Lying in the centre of the Cradle area, Maropeng brings to life the history of humankind in an entertaining and educative way. It offers interactive displays, restaurants, a marketplace, an outdoor amphitheatre and, from March 2006, a 24-bedroom five-star hotel.
One of the innovative fossil displays at the Maropeng visitors' centre (Image: Mary Alexander)
The R347-million Cradle of Humankind development is an initiative by Blue IQ and the Gauteng government and the first public-private partnership of its kind in South Africa. The aim is to develop and manage the world heritage site as a premier tourist destination. Other partners include the University of the Witwatersrand, which owns the Sterkfontein Caves and is the major excavator of the Cradle site, while Standard Bank donated 100 hectares of land for Maropeng.
Even before construction was complete, Maropeng had garnered major awards. In early November it won the British Guild of Travel Writers award for the best new tourism project worldwide, and later in November the consortium behind the project was named Best Civil Engineering and Building Contractors and Best Public-Private Partnership at Construction World's premier annual Best Projects Awards event.
From Tumulus to underground lake
Maropeng's interpretation centre enables visitors to explore, by means of zones, the history of the earth and humankind. It lies on the side of a hill, where ancient rocky outcrops will mark the setting of a huge tear-shaped burial mound, referred to as the Tumulus: a partly disguised grassy mound 20m high and 35m