Maropeng wins UK travel award

15 November 2005

Maropeng, the state-of-the-art visitors’ centre at South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind world heritage site, has won the British Guild of Travel Writers award for the best new tourism project worldwide.

The award, presented at a gala dinner at the Savoy in London on Sunday night, is judged by 150 international travel writers. It is awarded to a major new (less than two years old) international tourism project that combines responsible tourism development with local economic, environmental and community benefits.

Maropeng was up against developments from Spain and Italy. The 2004 winner was from the Gambia.

The Cradle of Humankind world heritage site includes the fossil hominid sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and environs in Gauteng, the Taung fossil site in North West and Mokapane’s Valley in Limpopo.

Together, the sites have been key to tracing humankind’s journey from its beginnings to the present day.

‘The place where we once lived’
Maropeng, a Setswana word meaning “the place where we once lived”, has been developed as a centre for visitors to the Cradle of Humankind. Rising from the dust of the Magaliesberg mountains in North West province, it is set to open on 9 December 2005.

The centre consists of an interpretation centre, where visitors explore the history of the earth and humankind. It lies on the side of a koppie, where ancient rocky outcrops mark the setting of a huge tear-shaped burial mound, referred to as a “tumulus”: a partly disguised grassy mound 20m high and 35m wide.

The site is visible from the road with seven tall concrete pillars, representing the seven daughters of Eve. After the visitor has parked, entrance to the site is via an excavated marketplace containing stalls, a restaurant and a curio store.

A walkway leads to the entrance into the tumulus, an exploration area with a boat ride on an underground lake exploring the different forms of water. From there the visitor walks down an underground spine, exploring through interactive displays the discovery of fire, bipedalism, extinction and DNA, among other things.

It is hoped that there’ll be real fossils, such as Little Foot and Lucy, on display in a high-security room.

Once through this area, the visitor exits at the crest of the koppie and relax with a picnic basket, taking in the view of the Magaliesberg.

At this point there is a children’s cave where the kids can set up their own dig. The cave is built with local stone in a jagged wall, representing shards of broken bone.

The site also has 24-room boutique hotel and a hostel for schoolchildren. Some 3 000 people are expected to visit the centre every day.

The Cradle of Humankind development, a Blue IQ initiative, is a R347-million project and the first public-private partnership of its kind in South Africa. The project is an undertaking by the Gauteng provincial government to develop the site as a premier tourist destination. It is managed by Maropeng a’Afrika Leisure

The University of the Witwatersrand is the owner of the Sterkfontein Caves and is the major excavator of the 47 000 hectare Cradle of Humankind world heritage site. Standard Bank donated 100 hectares for Maropeng.

“This development is not only part of our national pride, but to the world,” said Rob King, CEO of Maropeng a’Afrika. “It denotes the universal relevance of the Cradle of Humankind as the ancestral home to all, no matter what colour, culture or creed.” reporter