Welcome to Week 18 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Tswaing Meteorite Crater.
About 200,000 years ago, a swimming-pool-sized rock crashed into South Africa. The collision created the Tswaing Meteorite Crater. Two thousand centuries later, the Tswaing Crater is a nature reserve in the far northern reaches of Gauteng Province.
The Tswaing Crater is not to be confused with another nearby impact crater, the Vredefort Dome, which is thought to be the largest impact crater in the world and is about 166 times larger than Tswaing. (The Tswaing Crater is 1.8 kilometers, or just over a mile wide, and the Vredefort Crater is an unfathomable 300 kilometers wide.)
Ray and I had been wanting to visit the Tswaing Crater together forever, and I’ve been really excited to feature it on #Gauteng52. Unfortunately our visit didn’t go as smoothly as planned and we didn’t experience the crater as fully as we’d hoped. I have some valuable tips to share that will make your visit to the Tswaing Crater more fantastic than ours was.
The Tswaing Crater, looking way less impressive than it does in real life. The hills in the background form the far rim of the crater. The lake in the middle has very high salinity so nothing lives in there. (Tswaing means “place of salt” in Setswana.)
Visiting the Tswaing Meteorite Crater
The Tswaing Crater is 100 kilometers (62 miles) from central Johannesburg. Ray kept telling me we needed to get going, as it would take at least an hour and a half to get there and the park closes at 4:30. I didn’t believe him. Gauteng is a tiny province with great roads, I thought, and nothing is more than an hour from anything else without traffic. I dilly-dallied, returning home at 10 a.m. after a boxing workout and spending way too much time in the bathtub.
By the time we filled up with gas, stopped for snacks, and finally left town, it was well past noon.
There is no direct route from Joburg to Tswaing. We had to drive through downtown Pretoria, fight traffic, then take winding roads another 25 kilometers from Pretoria to the reserve. Tswaing Crater is adjacent to Soshanguve, a sprawling township of a few hundred thousand people, and we had to drive through Soshanguve to get to the reserve. The roads aren’t great. (Although the scenery in Soshanguve is super interesting — lots of goats and chickens and interestingly displayed filleted fish corpses for sale along the road.) Also Google Maps got us temporarily lost.
We arrived at Tswaing after 2:30, which didn’t leave us enough time for the 7.5-kilometer hike from the crater rim to the lake and back. Nonetheless, we made the best of things.
After paying our R30 ($2) admission at the reception building, we drove a few minutes to the trail head. Despite the dense population outside the reserve, it’s very peaceful inside. We saw a couple of zebras and several pretty birds.
At the trail head, we parked and met Alpheus, our assigned security guard. Security in Tswaing has become an issue over the last few years due to the high levels of poverty in the area, so each group gets a security guard free of charge. (Don’t let this worry you — the guards are personable and good at giving guests a proper amount of a personal space.)
We took the short hike to the rim of the crater and back, which takes about half an hour each way depending on how often you stop.
We thought about attempting the hike down the rim, but this would mean forcing Alpheus to work late and possibly driving home in the dark on sketchy roads. So we skipped the longer hike but still caught a few interesting sites on our way back to the trail head.
(It so happens that my blogger friend Iga visited Tswaing Crater the day after we did, and got there early enough to take the longer hike. I saw her photos on Facebook and they are way more interesting than mine.)
In the early-to-mid 20th century there was a commercial salt extraction plant at Tswaing. As this placard says: For a brief time in the 1960s the salt extraction company attempted (unsuccessfully) to whitewash the salt from its natural brown color to white. I find this such an interesting metaphor for apartheid South Africa.
We had a good time on the walk back, chatting with Alpheus and learning interesting tidbits from Ray, an archeologist who knows a lot about really old rocks.
Alpheus holds a shard of pottery, possibly more than 1300 years old, that Ray picked up along the trail. Ray finds ancient pottery shards like this all over the place. Alpheus didn’t believe him at first.
We got back to the trail head a little after 4:00 p.m., ate our snacks at a picnic table, then began the long drive back to Joburg.
The moral of the story: When visiting the Tswaing Crater from Joburg, leave early in the morning to get there as close to the park’s 7:30 a.m. opening time as possible. This will give you plenty of time to make the drive (allow two hours to be safe), hike down to the crater lake at a leisurely pace, and take beautiful photos of the lake with the sun at your back.
The Tswaing Meteorite Crater is at Plat 149 JR Soutpan, Soshanguve. Call +27-76-945-5911 for more information.