Although Gauteng's UNESCO protected World Heritage Site the Cradle of Humankind can be easily visited from Johannesburg as a day trip, it is also a great place to stay overnight with a good choice of hotels that offer unparalleled views of the rolling hills of the Highveld.
MAROPENG AND THE STERKFONTEIN CAVESThe history here is living as the Cradle is an ongoing area of academic research with 16 fossil rich sites, only two of which are open to the public. Maropeng is the official visitor's centre for the Cradle of Humankind and is one of Gauteng's top museums. The word Maropeng means ‘returning to the place of our ancestors’ and the towering visitor’s centre building is designed to resemble an ancient burial mound. A visit takes you on a journey spiralling down under the earth, led by educational and interactive exhibitions that outline the history of the universe as we known it from the Big Bang to the present day, with a special focus on the fascinating evolution of humankind.
A five-minute drive from Maropeng museum is the Sterkfontein Caves, the place where the remains of world-famous hominids Little Foot and Mrs Ples were discovered. On a 45-minute guided tour of the caves you’ll learn more about how our early ancestors lived and hear about the kinds of wonders that archaeologists and paleo-anthropologists continue to unearth in the area, including the Cradle’s most important recent hominid discovery, homo naledi.
Open 09:00-17:00. Tours of the caves every 30 mins. Closed Mon.
Maropeng visitor's centre is located off the R563 Hekpoort Rd, Sterkfontein. Maropeng Visitor's Centre tel. +27 14 577 9000, Maropeng Hotel tel. +27 14 577 9100, www.maropeng.co.za.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONSMake the most of an overnight stay by combining your trip with a visit to some of the Cradle's other major attractions such as the 1,2000-hectare Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve and the 2.2 billion year old Wonder Cave (reached via the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve).
Attractions just north of the Cradle area include Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris, who have been offering thrilling hot air balloon rides over the region since 1981 and the popular Hennops Hiking Trail, which has three well maintained hiking routes (2km, 6km and 11.3km) that traverse the Hennops river valley, each providing wonderful views of the Magaliesberg mountains. Both these activities require an early morning start - all the more reason to book into a hotel overnight. The beautiful Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens on the north western edge of Johannesburg is a fantastic place to stop off on the way back to the city and admire the waterfall, where a pair of majestic Verreaux eagles nest.