Driving through Johannesburg today, you will notice a city of modern skyscrapers. But Johannesburg extends back thousands of years to a time when it was inhabited by the hunter- gatherer. Slowly over time, waves of migrants moved into the area establishing an Iron- Age Culture, until the discovery of Gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886. Since then, the city has been re-built four times! It was a tented dusty mining town when gold was first discovered, then a town of tin shanties, then of 4-storey Edwardian brick buildings and finally, today’s modern city.
Below I’ve shared ideas for ways to explore the prehistoric beginnings of our region’s history right up to the 21st century.
Cradle of Humankind
Driving along the “off the beaten track” route about 50km northwest of Johannesburg, the countryside changes from towns to grass and farmlands and we arrive at “The Cradle of Humankind”, a significant UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the site where many of the oldest hominid fossils have been found, dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago. Since 1947, literally thousands of fossils have been found at Sterkfontein Caves and the other sites that make-up the Cradle of Humankind. Before exploring the caves you enter the exhibition hall for a detailed explanation of the beginnings of evolution. As you walk along the path towards the caves, stone inscriptions explain the stages of evolution; inside the caves, deep in the depths of dolomite, limestone, stalagtites and stalagmites, a guide explains the formations of the caves and discoveries of fossils.
A 10km drive away from the Sterkfontein Caves is a place called Maropeng which means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana, the main indigenous language of this region. You enter the replica of a massive burial mound called the Tumulus, which is your entrance to learning the secrets of human ancestry.
Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve
Close to the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng is a large area of wilderness, a nature reserve called the “Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve” especially for the protection of the Rhinoceros, white lions and other species of cats, small mammals and free roaming buck and antelopes. You are sure to see many different kinds of animals in this reserve.
We drive 55km to Pretoria from the Cradle of Humankind to explore “the Jacaranda City” so called because of the purple hues of blossoming Jacaranda trees which line the streets in summer. Pretoria is full of many monuments and buildings that speak to a rich cultural history. The Voortrekker Monument, a huge massive granite Monument built to commemorate the Great Trek of South Africa and the “Afrikaner” is now a heritage site. It stands tall and alone on a hill for all to see. We drive to the Union Buildings or Parliament buildings, the official seat of the South African Goverment and the site of the Presidential inaugarations in South Africa.
On the drive back to Johannesburg we drive along highways newly completed in 2010 (for the FIFA Soccer World Tournament) into Sandton City, the newest built part of Johannesburg, where the giant bronze Statue of Nelson Mandela is displayed and the latest economic hub and rainbow nation join forces in the new South Africa.
Thanks for taking the time to explain some of the highlights to explore around Johannesburg, Brenda! If anyone is about to head to South Africa for a dose of southern hemisphere summertime (or planning a trip for later in 2014) consider getting in touch with Brenda for a custom tour of her part of the Rainbow Nation.