Vredefort Dome: The Ultimate Weekend Getaway Guide

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Joburg Weekend Getaways, Johannesburg, North West, Parks/Nature Reserves | 18 comments

People of Joburg: Pay attention because I’m about to let you in on a seriously good travel secret.

Most of you have probably heard of the Vredefort Dome. But if you’re anything like me (up until a few days ago), you have only a vague idea of what it is.

Vredefort Dome sign
Even this sign doesn’t tell you much.

You might know the Vredefort Dome is a big meteorite crater, that it’s geologically significant, and that it’s somewhere near the town of Parys, about an hour south of Joburg. You might know the Dome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and maybe you’ve thought about visiting. But, if you’re anything like me, you probably googled the Vredefort Dome, didn’t immediately find much tourism information, then moved on to something else and forgot about it.

If you’ve ever wondered about the Vredefort Dome in this way, then wonder no more. I finally visited the Dome last weekend and my mind exploded like a two-billion-year-old meteorite. I can’t believe South Africa has been keeping this geological treasure a secret from me for so long.

Thorsten at the Vredefort Dome
Thorsten looks out over the Vredefort Dome.
Sketch of Vredefort Dome
The scene he was sketching. (See more sketches at @theThinking_Hand.)

Here are some mind-blowing facts to get the asteroid rolling:

  1. The Vredefort Dome is the remnant of a giant meteorite impact, called an astrobleme, which happened more than 2 billion years ago. The impact predated complex life forms — algae was the only living thing back then — and predated the existence of Africa or any of the continents as we know them today.
  2. This astrobleme (I love that word) is the oldest and largest that we know of on Earth. Because the astrobleme has been eroded over billions of years, it no longer looks like a crater or dome. What’s left is a semi-circular mountain range called the Dome Bergland, with an ancient river (the Vaal) running through it.
  3. The Vredefort impact did not kill the dinosaurs. That event happened in modern-day Mexico, about 66 million years ago, and was about half the size of the Vredefort impact.
  4. The meteorite that created the Dome was anywhere from 8 to 23 kilometers (5 to 15 miles) wide, and the impact crater is about 360 kilometers (225 miles) wide. In comparison, the 200,000-year-old Tswaing Crater north of Pretoria is 1.8 kilometers (about a mile) wide.
  5. The Vredefort impact was millions (maybe billions) of times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb, and made a 70-kilometer-deep hole in the earth.
  6. The wider Vredefort impact zone includes the city of Johannesburg. More on that later.
Thorsten sketch of the Vredefort impact
Thorsten’s artistic interpretation of the creation of an astrobleme.

A Weekend at the Vredefort Dome

I could continue spouting Vredefort facts, but I’m not a scientist. I really just want to tell you about our weekend so you can go learn the facts for yourself. So let’s get into it.

Where to stay:

There is a town called Vredefort in this area, but don’t go there to explore the Dome. The best places to stay are around Parys, a popular antiquing town less than 30 minutes from the Dome, or Venterskroon, a tiny, historic settlement inside the Dome. The roads are primarily dirt and gravel once you get outside Parys, so take a sturdy car for this getaway.

Thorsten and I stayed near Venterskroon, a former gold-rush village with a super quirky, uniquely South African vibe. I loved it.

Venterskroon buildings
Venterskroon only has five or six buildings, one of which is this former police station — now a small information center for the Dome.

We stayed at Knopberg, a self-catering guest farm a few minutes’ walk from Venterskroon. Knopberg is nothing fancy but it served our purposes: peaceful, quiet except for the honking geese and baying sheep, and we hardly saw another human. We had our own fire pit for braaing, a nice view, and an insanely spacious bathroom. The internet didn’t work at all (mostly a good thing).

Chalet at Venterskroon
The Honeybush Cottage, our chalet at Venterskroon.
Geese at Knopberg
It was too cold to swim in this sparkling pool but the geese enjoyed it.
Nyala at Knopberg
A nyala bull hanging out behind one of the other units at Knopberg. (It’s alive, not stuffed.)
Inside Knopberg
Surprisingly elaborate towel art.
Bathroom at Knopberg
Fabulous bath with a view of the stars, surrounded by wicker tchotchkes. Loved it.

Thabela Thabeng, a more upscale lodge with chalets built into the sides of the mountains, is just up the road from Knopberg. I tried to book there but all the chalets were full — maybe we’ll stay at Thabela Thabeng next time. Otters’ Haunt, which I’ll talk about more below, also has accommodation.

Where to eat:

We self-catered most of our meals and ate the rest of them at the Venterskroon Inn, a quirky restaurant/bar and the only place to hang out in Venterskroon. The Venterskroon Inn was super weird in all the right ways.

The Venterskroon Inn
The Venterskroon Inn.
Beer sign outside the Venterskroon Inn
“We have beer as cold as your ex’s heart”.
Inside the Venterskroon Inn
The inside of the Venterskroon Inn is hard to document. As you can see, there is a flock of live peacocks in the ceiling. The inn also has a pack of friendly dogs, a couple of miniature horses, and a pet rat. The food is above average.
Thorsten sketch of the Venterskroon Inn
Thorsten’s sketch of the Inn.

Thabela Thabeng has a restaurant too but we didn’t manage to eat there. There are also lots of places to eat around Parys.

What to do:

1) Graeme Addison’s self-driving tour.

Visiting the Vredefort Dome isn’t like visiting Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon. You can’t look at the Dome and easily understand what you’re seeing. Understanding the Dome requires expert guidance, and we found that guidance with Graeme Addison.

Graeme Addison at Otters Haunt
Vredefort Dome expert Greame Addison at his home outside Parys.

Graeme — a retired university professor and expert on the Vredefort Dome — and his wife, Karen, run an eco-retreat near Parys called Otters’ Haunt. Graeme offers a variety of tours and educational programs on the Dome, one of which is an on-site briefing followed by a self-drive tour.

Graeme and his map of the Dome
Graeme gives us a brief talk about the Dome using this beautiful geographical map.

We met Graeme at Otters’ Haunt, on the banks of the Vaal River, and he explained the Vredefort astrobleme by throwing a large rock into the water. The splash is like the impact, Graeme said, and the water that pushes upward after the splash is the dome. The ripples that expand outward, followed by bubbles, are like the rings of mountains and hills that we can still see today. The inner ring is the Dome Bergland and the outermost ring is the series of ridges upon which Johannesburg is built.

Thorsten's Vredefort map
Thorsten, inspired by Graham’s map, drew one of his own.

This is the most interesting thing about the Vredefort Dome, at least for a Joburg enthusiast like me. When the meteorite hit, it pushed a whole bunch of gold deposits down below the surface of the earth. If not for that meteorite impact, two billion years of erosion would have washed the gold away long ago, to be lost at the bottom of the sea. Instead the gold stayed right here, underground, until its discovery in 1886. That discovery prompted the founding of Joburg, in what was previously a very sparsely populated area, and this is why we all live here today.

Graeme shows us a rock
Graeme shows us his rock collection.

Graeme gave us our map and packet of literature about the Dome, and off we went.

The briefing costs R95 ($5) per person and the map, accompanied by a bunch of other literature about the Dome, costs R340 ($18). You can also book hosted tours with Graeme, as well as a geological canoe tour along the Vaal. We might go back for that. To book a tour, contact Graeme at +27-84-245-2490.

Three Sisters in the Vredefort Dome
The “Three Sisters” — one of the first few stops on Graeme’s map — is one of the most iconic Vredefort Dome views.
Three Sisters sketch.
A view of the Dome Bergland, also called the Dome Collar, toward the end of the drive. As Thorsten pointed out, you can almost see the mountains rippling.

2) Hiking in the Dome.

There are lots of hiking trails in the Dome, including at least one multi-day hike. We did two short, six-kilometer hikes — one at Thabela Thabeng and one at a place called Koedoeslaagte, and really enjoyed both. Hiking at Thabela Thabeng costs R150 ($8) per person for a day pass (which I thought was a bit steep) and Koedoeslaagte costs R50.

View from Thabela Thabeng
View from one of the lookout points at Thabela Thabeng. August is the driest month of the year in the highveld — this landscape will be totally green in January.
Miing tunnel at Thabela Thabeng
There are a couple of abandoned mining tunnels along the trail at Thabela Thabeng. Here is Thorsten in one of them. We weren’t able to find the other one.
Koedoeslaagte hiking trail
The Koesdoeslaagte trail was our favorite, despite the hazy air that day.
Koedoeslaagte
Funky hiking eagle man at Koedoeslaagte.
Thorsten on the banks of the Vaal
Thorsten on the banks of the Vaal.

I really loved this trip and I’m going to make it my number-one recommendation for Joburg weekend getaways. I hope more people will go and give the Vredefort Dome the attention it deserves. Yay for astroblemes!

18 Comments

  1. INTREPID TRAVELLER

    BRILLANT FIND AND “EXPOSE OF SOME HIDDEN GEMS” – in a marvelous part of the world so close to Jozi. Well done to you and Mr T.

    Reply
  2. Barend van der Merwe

    This is so great. I’ve been in the area, but never have I explored it the way you have. While I have some knowledge of the consequences of the Vredefort meteorite impact, particularly how the meteorite affected the geography of South Africa, I have not been aware of this detail of the meteorite impact securing the gold deposits of Gauteng. It is fascinating and it just goes to show how connected our fate is with that of Mother Nature. The knowledge hits hard, and broadens one’s perspective on things. One can now better understand the significance of this site, and why it is considered as world heritage. I am also a Jo’burg enthusiast, despite being a Capetonian. I was born on the west rand, if I can trust the stories of my parents (joking). Thanks again for the hard work in compiling this.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks, Barend! I know, it’s crazy how this ancient geological history has such a direct link to our present existence. I’ve never felt so interested in rocks, haha.

      Reply
      • Barend van der Merwe

        My late sister studied geology. But I was a child of 11 when she passed in 1997. I can remember our house with all kinds of rocks displayed that she collected. I suppose she would have been aware of the significance of the dome.

        Reply
        • 2summers

          Yes, she probably would have. Although it only became a World Heritage Site in 2005! Apparently there was some disagreement in the years before that about what the geological history was and whether it really was a meteorite crater.

          Reply
  3. dizzylexa

    Thanks this was such an interesting blog, I know the area but never really went into all the details of the Vredefort dome.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yeah, I feel like it falls below the radar — somehow the Cradle of Humankind gets all the attention. But the Vredefort Dome is equally as cool, if not more! I’m going to become a Vredefort Dome evangelist 🙂

      Reply
  4. Graeme Adamson

    Enjoyed that, thank you! I’ll have to go there sometime.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      You’re welcome! You must go — you have a nearly identical name to the Vredefort Dome expert 🙂

      Reply
  5. AutumnAshbough

    Ooooo, I always love trips with lots of history and and scenery (and giant bathtubs). The peacocks in the restaurant are hilarious–someone should create that in our neighboring community where the peacocks were imported and scream during mating season. Be a huge hit.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yeah, I couldn’t figure out why they were all going up there. I think maybe there was some kind of food up there for them. The animals at that place were endlessly entertaining.

      Reply
  6. Fiver Löcker

    My mind is blown. The gold was pushed underground? Westcliff is the result of a meteorite impact? Omg!????

    Reply
  7. Caitlin Jean

    In Deon Meyer mentions Vredefort Dome and its caves in his book titled Fever.

    Reply
  8. Dudley Schnetler

    A group of us hiked in the Vredefort dome area many many years ago. A guy from Pretoria had bought Venterskroon and used some of the buildings for accommodation. He told us all about the impact crater but at that time his views were considered a bit loopy. But a great few days of hiking and exploring the wonderful stone (iron?) age villages nearby as well as the old mine shafts.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Interesting! I didn’t realize Venterskroon was all owned by one person. (Maybe it isn’t anymore, but it kind of makes sense because all the historic buildings are really well maintained and painted the similar colors.)

      Reply

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