Tswaing Crater and lake

#Gauteng52, Week 18: Tswaing Meteorite Crater

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.

Tswaing Crater and lakeThe 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.

View of Soshanguve from TswaingA distant view of Soshanguve from the Tswaing reserve. 

Ray walking toward Tswaing CraterRay approaches the rim of the crater.

Ray at the craterRay contemplates the crater. It was beautiful, but 3:30 pm. is the worst time to be there. The sun was shining directly toward us, making photography difficult.

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.)

Ray at Tswaing salt-bleaching siteIn 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.

Heather at the old salt processing plant in TswaingWalking through the old salt processing area. (Photo: Ray)

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.

Rocks in TswaingRock in the rim of the crater that shows how the earth buckled and turned downward when the meteorite hit.

Alphas holding pottery piece in Tswaing Crater reserveAlpheus 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.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

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10 Comments

  • Reply autumnashbough May 2, 2017 at 2:21 am

    So can you swim in the crater lake?

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2017 at 6:02 am

      No, apparently it’s waaaaay too salty.

  • Reply mvschulze May 2, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Interesting. One of my media avatars was taken of me on the rim of Arizona’s meteor crater! M:-)

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      Cool! Meteorite craters are always cool 🙂

  • Reply Jaina May 3, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Looks like you both made the most of it, even if you didn’t get as much time as you wanted. Going to head back there, a bit earlier in the day?

    • Reply 2summers May 3, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      Oh yes, definitely.

  • Reply Luke November 12, 2017 at 9:03 am

  • Reply Luke November 12, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for that very interesting blog. Like your comment on the whitewash!! Yes the crater and the lake were very interesting … one hates to gripe when there are so many really serious issues, like the country being sold … but for what it’s worth we went there yesterday and thought …

    1) the signage was terrible. There were signs to Tswaing starting some way north of Pretoria but at the actual gates there was no sign from the road … why not? So easy to erect. Once inside the reserve the signage was almost non-existent, and the maps hilarious.

    2) So many different “gate-keepers” … WHY? At the actual gate you fill in a register and then someone (from “Billy & Son Civil & Security”) directs you to a reception office … where someone else takes your money and then directs you (vaguely) to a third office deep in the reserve. There, the second we arrived another “Billy & Son” guard informed us he would be guiding us around.

    3) I found the guiding most dubious and wondered if we should accept this but my companions thought we should, so we did. The guard/ guide knew nothing. About anything. He wasn’t sure if he was a tourist guide or a game guard or a general security guard. We asked him. He said there had been some poaching (there are animals such as zebra in the reserve) and there had been some fence damage. he said tourists had not been molested.

    4) If I had been alone I would have asked the guard to leave me alone. He was just after a tip. I doubt they get paid much. I don’t need a guide who knows no birds at all, and only vague Afrikaans names of animals, except zebras.

    5) The hiking trail, according to one of the few legible signs, is “sponsored by” the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the City of Tshwane (Pretoria). So, the tourism department does absolutely nothing. Despite this, the trail is poorly marked in some places and well-marked in other places. In one day you could sort out the trail marking and internal signage. In another day you could sort out the tree labels – without a doubt the worst I have seen anywhere … most are just very faded tree numbers. Barely legible. Now, for R15 you can buy excellent tree labels from a woman in Pretoria, with Sotho, Afrikaans and English names. And no doubt from other sources too. For a few hundred rand you could do the whole reserve.

    6) We won’t be back. The crater is nice, though.

    7) PS Why is a security firm in charge of taking tourists around? They should inform you – either, this is for your safety, or, this guy knows a lot about the plants and animals (he didn’t) … or, what? Half way along the trail we met a group of 8 or 9 men walking along, sans guide. What’s the deal? When we arrived back at the office, or whatever it was – completely free of signage- there were around 12 cars parked there. Were all these groups being led around by stray/ bored “Billy & Sons” guides? How many guides are there? One per party? Like everything else in the country, unplanned and left to chance.

    • Reply 2summers November 12, 2017 at 9:40 am

      I can’t disagree about anything you’ve said – it’s definitely a very strange place. And yet I strangely DO want to go back. I’ve thought about it often since my original trip 😂

  • Reply Luke November 12, 2017 at 9:35 am

    PPS There is a “museum” proudly displayed on all the maps you can find of this area. It is next to the second office we visited. The very friendly man (he really was) who took our money told us smilingly that the museum had burned down seven years ago and pointed out the ruins through the window. And indeed, there they were. It looked like the Rhodesian Army had been through there the day before. Blackened, charred walls and heaps of bricks. A very sizeable structure, it had been. Apparently most of the displays had been rescued in time – whereabouts unknown. Dept of Tourism, either provincially or nationally, has done f-all to fix this. Neither have the true rulers of the country, the Guptas, but in fairness I suppose they have bigger fish to fry.

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