My cousin stayed with us for a few days, so we did a few touristy things while she was here. On Monday we drove to the Cradle of Humankind. She hasn’t been to Johannesburg in years, so the trip was a good opportunity to show her and her son a few great reasons to come back.
We started the trip at the Sterkfontein Caves and then after a picnic lunch, we drove to Maropeng. It’s definitely more cost effective to buy a double ticket and spend the day in the Cradle of Humankind, than splitting the trip.
It was a day jam packed with interesting information and exciting new experiences. As our guide said when we started, if we walked away with 5% more knowledge, then it was good day out. And we’re definitely richer from the experience.
The Sterkfontein Caves are owned by the University of Witwatersrand and are still actively excavated by scientists. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it really does need to be on your list of things to do in Johannesburg. It’s so close to the city, so there’s really no excuse.
The tour of the caves is just over an hour long, and well worth the money spent. Yes, you do actually climb down into a real cave! It’s not climbing, climbing though. You climb down via hundreds of steps, so it’s really quite accessible for most tourists.
This was the highlight of the day for the kids. Even getting hardhats to wear is exciting! The most exciting part was crouching through the low tunnels. Us adults found the crawling a lot more difficult than the kids, but it’s still loads of fun to do. I ended up sliding along the one passage on my bum! It was much easier to get through that way.
You start the cave trip walking up a hill and stopping at various plaques with interesting information. This plaque spoke about the size of “Little Foot” and the guide explained the basic anatomical differences between Little Foot, Mrs Ples and modern homo sapiens.
Inside the caves
Top tip: Wear comfortable shoes! Sneakers are the best option. Even though the floor is covered with a rubber mesh, it’s uneven and a bit slippery in places.
It’s really dark down there, so I don’t have very many photos. I didn’t take a flash with me, and they really don’t like you to use a lot of flash photography anyway because it affects the caves. I took this as we got to the bottom of the first set of steps into the caves. The light you can see is from the surface.
Most of the caverns are lit, and this is one of the biggest caverns you walk through. You can see the damage caused by limestone miners from the last century. They removed all the stalactites and stalagmites.
We stopped at this lake deep underground. It’s quite eerie to see this massive body of fresh water under the earth.
There’s a bronze bust of Dr Robert Broom as you leave the caves. If you rub the skull of Mrs Ples, you’re going to get wisdom. If you rub his nose, you get luck.
One of the active excavation sites is behind Connor in this photo.
You are asked to stick to the walkways on the way in and out. The area is dotted with natural sinkholes which drop into the cave system. The scientists reckon that the fossils they’ve found are all as a result of plants, animals and early homo species falling into the holes, or being swept in by water.
Our next stop was the Maropeng Visitors Centre. This is such a fun place to take kids. It’s really built as a family day out.
Top tip: Bring your own picnic lunch! I’m so glad we did this. We sat under some trees at Maropeng eating our picnic lunch before heading into the museum. It’s a nightmare to stand in the queues at the restaurants at both places. They were filled with tour groups and it would’ve taken us forever to get food and drinks.
Even though the main museum is self-guided, we’re really glad we hooked onto a tour at the start.
Almost Human: The new Homo Naledi exhibition
We started at the new Homo Naledi exhibition. It was great to listen to the guide talking about the fossils on display rather than just reading the information.
There are fossils from 15 individuals in this case. It’s fascinating to see it. In the case behind the boys in the photo above, is the newest discovery. That skeleton is named Neo, and was found in the most recently found Lesedi chamber.
Inside the interactive museum
Once we left the Homo Naledi exhibition, we did the rest of the museum without a guide. There’s no need to follow a tour after that.
The entrance into the Maropeng centre to the underground boat ride is my favourite part. I love the walk through time that is set out along the circular walkway.
The inside of the museum is fantastic for kids. It’s filled with interactive exhibits teaching you about the history of the earth.
In the last room, the boys LOVED looking through the microscopes.
I loved how this room was made up like a cave made out of wood!
Connor was fascinated by the scientists that were using the tiny drills to excavate the rocks. It’s so awesome that the university has set up this inside Maropeng for visitors to see how they actually painstakingly uncover earth’s secrets.
Connor told me that afternoon that he now wasn’t sure about becoming a game ranger. After the trip to the Cradle of Humankind, he now reckons being a paleoanthropologist would very cool!
The Cradle of Humankind is definitely a trip that you need to do with your kids. I know a lot of schools do outings there anyway, but it’s so cool to experience it with your children.