What kind of Dome experience are you looking for? Science, astronomy, Dome by river, hiking, wildlife & ecology, origins of life, human history, culture, battlefields – or the lot?
I’m finding that there are basically four kinds of visitor to the Dome, all wanting to know more – but each in their own way.
- The average visitor, from South Africa or abroad, has heard about the Dome and is curious about what it is, where it is, and what it all means. Here I try to give a general overview, starting with the geology and astronomy (the asteroid and its impact on the Earth) and then sketching the story of the Witwatersrand gold, the evolution of life on the planet, and the tale of human origins, cultures and migrations, down to the battlefields of modern times. This general introduction to the Spirit of Place serves to excite further interest, and visitors go away with their appetite whetted for more.
- School tours are definitely taking off, as World Heritage Sites are in the curriculum. Thanks to the interest of educators in geography, history and biology we get busloads of youngsters aged anything from 8 to 18, many of whom have never done a nature tour in their lives. We try to interest them in the environment and in the marvellous scientific investigations that have led to our current knowledge of the Dome. When we show videos of the destructive force of asteroids, the kids are gripped – and realise that the fate of humankind hangs on science and engineering to steer dangerous asteroids away from our planet.
- Heritage and humanity. Increasingly, academics and students are realising that both the Cradle of Humankind, the other World Heritage Site just to the north, and the Dome, tell a connected story. Human fossils and current realities merge when one examines the facts about how various peoples have criss-crossed this landscape as hunter-gatherers, herders, invaders, colonists, gold-diggers, guerillas, administrators, builders and business investors. The architecture of the Dome reveals a vast mix of cultures. The growth of ecotourism shows that this area just south of the industrial heartland of Gauteng occupies a special place in South Africa’s wildlife and adventure offerings. The beautiful Vaal River is one of its biggest drawcards.
- Specialists and researchers of all kinds come here alone or with student groups to study the area. Geologists, botanists and zoologists, archaeologists, astronomers and many more are on their own missions. We can’t duplicate what they know about their own specialities but we can facilitate their visits because we know the ground and have the contacts.
- The Vredefort Dome is the oldest and largest asteroid impact crater on Earth, right? No! It used to be… until we learnt that there is at least one older crater nearby (much smaller) and probably a bigger one under the Antarctic icecap. But we can be sure that the Dome represents the largest visible impact site on Earth and is very, very old – 2 billion years. The whole crater (of which the Dome is merely the central core) is so big it can only be seen from space, but there are some pretty good viewsites on the mountains from which to get an idea of the scale of the thing. The crater stretches from Johannesburg to Welkom, some 300km or more.