Before I continue my series on Lesotho and the Eastern Free State, I need to tell you about a fun excursion to the Cradle of Humankind that I took last month as part of the Gauteng Tourism Ambassador program.

I wrote a long post about the Cradle of Humankind — a world heritage site 45 minutes from downtown Joburg where some of the world’s oldest hominid fossils were discovered — a couple of years ago. If you want to learn all about the Cradle of Humankind and what to do there, read that post.

If, on the other hand, you feel like looking at pictures of me and a bunch of other photographers running around the Cradle of Humankind acting silly, then this post is for you.

Heather jumping

This is me, being silly in the Cradle of Humankind. (Photo: Gareth Pon)

I met up with my Gauteng Tourism Ambassador friends — Gareth, Brad, and Ofentse, along with Ofentse’s wife Nells and son Ree — at Maropeng, the official visitors centre for the Cradle of Humankind. (You might recognize the other ambassadors by their Instgram names: @garethpon@btherad, and @unclescrooch.) Maropeng is a museum/hotel/restaurant with a series of interactive exhibits about the history of the earth and humankind.

Maropeng flagpole

The entrance to Maropeng. We visited the day before Nelson Mandela‘s funeral, which is why the flag is flying at half-mast.

I had never been to Maropeng before — I was previously under the impression that it’s a museum for children. However, I was wrong. Maropeng is great for children (one-year-old Ree loved it) but it’s also great for adults. I must warn you though. If you go to Maropeng as an adult, there is a very good chance you will act like a child while you’re there.

Group reflection

Gauteng Tourism Ambassadors clown around in a three-way mirror at Maropeng.



Earth and stars

Nells, Ree, and the world.

Brad flip

Brad performs a back flip in front of a Maropeng exhibit. Why? Because he can, obviously.

Nells and faces

Where’s Nells?

The best exhibit at Maropeng is this crazy tunnel where the lights swirl around in a way that causes everyone who walks through to lose his or her balance. Unfortunately taking photos in the tunnel was impossible because I had to cling to the railings to avoid falling down. But walking through that tunnel, and watching my friends attempt to walk through it, was one of the funniest things I’ve done in a long time.

There is a special exhibit at Maropeng right now. Mrs. Ples, the most famous fossil discovered in the Cradle of Humankind, is currently on loan to Maropeng from Pretoria’s Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, along with several other Cradle of Humankind fossils. This special exhibit runs until 19 January.

Mrs Ples

Mrs. Ples and her friends, on display at Maropeng.

Heather in exhibit room

Look at me, acting all photographer-like. (Photo: Gareth Pon)

Interesting fun fact that we learned from our guide, Kagiso: Mrs. Ples, despite her feminine honorific, was actually a man.

We had a buffet lunch at the Tumulus restaurant on the top floor of Maropeng, which was quite delicious, despite my skepticism. The view from the deck above the restaurant is amazing, too.

Cradle view

Fish-eye Instagram of the Cradle of Humankind, viewed from the futuristic roof of Maropeng.

After lunch we went to visit the Sterkfontein caves. I was confused about this before so let me explain: Maropeng is the official visitors’ centre for the Cradle of Humankind, but there are no actual caves or fossils at Maropeng (except for the temporary exhibit that’s there now). Sterkfontein, which is a ten-minute drive from Maropeng, is the site of the caves where the most famous fossils were excavated. (Sterkfontein is still an active excavation site.) Maropeng and Sterkfontein can be visited separately or together — you can buy a combined admission to both sites at the Maropeng ticket office. The Sterkfontein tour includes a walk through the caves. More details here.

Sterkfontein museum

Sterkfontein also has a small museum about the history of humankind.

Tobias statue

Dr. Phillip Tobias, one of South Africa’s most accomplished palaeoanthropologists, who died in June 2012. (Sorry, no pics from inside the cave. Too dark.)

Nells wants knowledge

Nells and the statue of Dr. Robert Broom, who discovered Mrs. Ples. Sterkfontein visitors are invited to rub either Dr. Broom’s hand or his nose before leaving the caves. Rubbing the hand will bring you knowledge; rubbing the nose will bring you luck. Nells, wisely, went for knowledge. I, for the second time in a row, went for luck.

Heather shooting nose

Shooting Dr. Broom’s nose. (Photo: Gareth Pon)

If you’ve been putting off a visit to the Cradle of Humankind, go now. Mrs. Ples is at Maropeng for another two weeks. I’m pretty sure you’ll have fun, although probably not as much fun as me because I have particularly fun friends. But give it a try anyway.

Mwase family small

Ofentse and Ree. Heart.

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