I'm a Joburg-based travel blogger so I've done the Cradle of Humankind thing many times. I've driven the beautiful countryside, seen the fossils and toured the museums. I know all about Little Foot, South Africa's most famous hominid skeleton, and I've rubbed Dr. Robert Broom's nose outside Sterkfontein Cave. (Legend has it that rubbing the nose on Dr. Broom's bronze statue at Sterkfontein brings good luck. I'm almost sure it works).
But the one problem with living 50 kilometres from this beautiful World Heritage Site is that it works too well as a day trip. I'd been hearing about the lovely boutique hotel at Maropeng - the official visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind - for years, but I could never find a good excuse to stay there. So when I received an invitation to spend the weekend in the Cradle and stay over at Maropeng Hotel, I jumped. High.
Maropeng sits on the prettiest piece of land in Gauteng. The view is spectacular and by far the best thing about the Maropeng Hotel. From the little patio outside my room, I saw nothing but rolling hills and tall, swishing grass. I half expected to see a wooly mammoth emerge out of the bush. The sunset isn't half bad either, especially when accompanied by a glass of sauvignon blanc on the hotel's beautiful pool deck.
The rooms are luxurious, if a bit sterile for my taste (I'm usually a homey B&B kind of girl but this was a fun change of pace), and the hotel also includes a fine-dining restaurant that serves fancy, multi-course dinners. I really enjoyed our dinner although some courses were better than others. My prawn starter was perfect but the kingklip was slightly dry, and the dense, chili-chocolate mousse log was delicious but bore a disturbing resemblance to something I didn't care to think about while eating dessert.
Maropeng offers a stargazing experience in which local astronomer Vincent Nettman gives a talk and takes guests outside to view the moon and stars through a high-powered telescope. I dozed (okay, slept heavily) through the 90-minute talk. 90-minutes of looking at PowerPoint slides in the dark after a big dinner and a few glasses of wine - what do you expect? But I did like looking at the craters of the moon.
I definitely recommend the Maropeng Hotel overall, especially if you book their special online package. Go to maropeng.co.za
and look for the tiny "make a reservation" button in the top-right corner of the page. Then choose your dates and scroll down to the "All-inclusive deal". You can book a hotel room, tickets to Sterkfontein and Maropeng, breakfast, dinner, and a bottle of wine for well under R1000 per person. (It's not easy to find this on the website. Be persistent.)
Just skip the astronomy lecture if you're a morning person like I am.
Where? Maropeng Hotel, R563 Hekpoort Road, Sterkfontein
Tel: 014 577 9100
by Heather Mason