Gauteng Ambassadors Invade the Cradle of Humankind

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.

Teeth

Teeth.

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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12 Comments

  • Reply Sine January 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    I love that place. I had misgivings the first time we went but ended up loving it. Just the right size museum with the right kind of interaction to keep it interesting. And the location and view from the terrace are glorious.

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2014 at 9:01 pm

      I agree, the whole place is very well-done.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Now, THAT looks like a fun place to visit. Reminds me of our recent visit to the equator museum just north of Quito. I’ll do a post about it, so I’ll say no more.

    Looking forward to more on Lesotho, too.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers January 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

      Looking forward to your holiday posts!

  • Reply roetsuprooted January 6, 2014 at 9:03 am

    So much fun! You guys are great ambassadors! I want to go there right now.

    • Reply 2summers January 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

      Thanks, that’s great to hear. My work here is done then.

  • Reply @SAPassionista January 14, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Just end of November 2013, I assisted to plan a school trip to Maropeng. I’m a Tourism student at an FET and I can appreciate this article because I shared the same experience. I’m all about domestic tourism especially when it’s in your own backyard. We have an amazing WHS open to share it’s discoveries and beauty, off course everyone should take advantange. Thanks for an amazing piece, oh and your photography is priceless. Glad you could share 🙂

    • Reply 2summers January 14, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks so much for the lovely comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the Cradle as much as I did.

  • Reply nellsified101 January 24, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    H!!! I am just feeling all bubbly inside!! I laughed as I read through this. I will never forget that day. As people, we forget certain events in our lives, but the main thing that brings us back to those memories is how those particular events made us feel. It was my 2nd visit at the Cradle of Humankind and my 1st visit at the Sterkfontein Caves. Honestly, it was epic for me to have been there with you guys. As Jon believed in you, saw more in you than you could ever imagine at the time; I feel as though that is what you Igers do for me. Just by being yourselves, doing what you love and being happy. Its beyond an experience of being married to an Iger, its beyond images, its beyond a new sub-culture. To me, its life. At its fullest, at its best and at its most liberal form. I cannot forget because you make me aware, conscious and present in the subtle yet most beautiful thing called life, made up of fantastic moments shared with good hearted people. I love being with you. <3

    • Reply 2summers January 25, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Thanks so much, Nells. That was such a fun day. I love being with you too – you were the star of my photos that day!

  • Reply Rachel Phasa April 9, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    I like you blogs but cant make one myself. keep up good work. sharp sharp.

    • Reply 2summers April 9, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks Rachel, I hope you’re doing well.

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