South Africa’s Wealth of World Heritage Sites (Part 1)

World Heritage Sites - Mrs Ples

Mrs Ples was found at the Sterkfontein Caves

South Africa is often lauded for its diversity in all shapes and sizes; its beautiful landscapes and myriad cultural influences. However, did you know that it is home to no fewer than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites?

Whether you are local or visiting, at least some of these sites should make it onto your itinerary!

The Cradle of Humankind – Gauteng – Day Trip

The Cradle of Humankind and its famous Sterkfontain Caves is the world’s richest hominid fossil site. When you visit you will be taken on a tour of the scientific exhibition centre where you can see the famous ‘Mrs Ples’ (a 2.1 million year old Australopithecus skull) and ‘Little Foot’ (an almost-complete Australopithecus skeleton over 3 million years old) displayed.

The centre provides some background before the tour of the actual caves begins. At the end you can stroll along the wooden boardwalk, taking in the scenic beauty of the Cradle of humankind and view the excavation site.

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape – Limpopo – Weekend Trip or Longer

Mapungubwe is a fascinating discovery in the far North of South Africa. It was once a prosperous Iron Age community lead by a king and surviving on subsistent crops, animal husbandry and hunter-gatherer techniques. The most well-known site, Mapungubwe Hill provides evidence that the kingdom was divided accorded to social classes with the King dwelling on top of the hill and poorer people living at the bottom. Archaeological findings such as pottery and gold works in the area tell us that the Mapungubwe people were skilled metal workers and competent traders.

World Heritage Sites - Mapungubwe Hill

Mapungubwe Hill

Today the Mapungubwe Cultural site is protected within the Mapungubwe National Park. A beautiful reserve with an information centre, abundant plant and wildlife and the Mapungubwe sites, the area definitely requires a few days to explore. It’s found in the Limpopo province about an hour from Joburg and Pretoria.

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape – Northern Cape – Minimum 5 days

The Richtersveld is a unique region in the Northern Cape. It is an arid landscape full of sand, mountain and volcanic rocks. Some people describe the landscape as lunar, only broken by the meandering Orange River.  Despite its dryness, the Richtersveld has an astonishing number of specially adapted species, among them numerous mammals, reptiles and insects. It is also home to 650 plant species and the largest diversity of succulents in the world. It is a world heritage site because it is the only biodiversity hub in an arid region in the world.

World Heritage Sites - Richtersveld

One if the weird and wonderful species awaiting you in the Richtersveld.

Visiting the Richtersveld Community Conservancy (the more pristine part of the area as diamond mining is practised in the national park), requires a 4×4 if you want to get the full experience, and camping in the reserve is probably the most pleasant (and magical) bet where accommodation is concerned. It is vital that you give it time for the desert to reveal itself to you.

Robben Island – Western Cape– Day Trip

Robben Island is renowned as the site where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned by the Apartheid government for a large chunk of his 27 year incarceration. It was also the holding site for numerous other political prisoners during the Apartheid years.

World Heritage Sites - Robben Island

The entrance to the Robben Island prison.

The island lies just off the coast in Cape Town’s Table Bay. Visitors start at the Waterfront and take the ferry to the island. Upon arrival an appointed guide will take you through the prison, pointing out the cells of famous freedom fighters and generally explaining what daily life was like on the island during those days.

To be continued…

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