On Sunday, Jessica and I decided to do a day trip to an area about 45 minutes west of Johannesburg. We had an ambitious plan to go to the Rhino and Lion Park, see the Cradle of Humankind museum and go on a nice hike. We got an early start, meeting at 8 am, and set off on our adventure.
First up was the Rhino and Lion Park, where we were able to drive around three very large enclosures and see wild dogs, white lions and cheetahs up close. We were within three feet of the animals, with only the car door between us and them. I’m not sure how these animals have ended up in the park, but they are much habituated to humans and didn’t even open their eyes when cars drove up and idled nearby. They are all really well fed animals, with rich coats and no ribs in sight. So perhaps it’s not such a bad trade off.
After we took a bunch of pictures and observed them for quite some time, we drove through the park and got to see many of the prey animals including zebra, wildebeest, eland, ostrich, buffalo, a white rhino and calf, waterbuck, warthogs, giraffe, and several antelope species I can’t identify.
Our next stop was the animal creche a petting zoo of some sort. For $3, you can spend 5 minutes in a large, fenced paddock with a trainer and some animals. We decided to go all out and bought tickets to each of the three animals. First we got to pet an adult cheetah, who was purring! Its coat was so soft and it slept quite soundly as we excitedly took turns petting it and taking photos. Jessica nearly cried from excitement. Next, the two of us got to play with three month old white lion cubs! There were six in the litter and they were incredibly playful, chewing on sticks and climbing over each other. We were able to hold them in our laps and cuddle them like kittens (very large kittens, with sharp teeth and claws). It was an amazing experience.
Finally, we got to spend five minutes with 6 month old brown lion cubs. These were much larger and we couldn’t hold them. At first they were sleeping, so we got some great pictures of us sleeping with them, but once we started petting them a few woke up and interacted with us. And by interacted, I mean tried to eat my pants and shoes, but in a cute way. We couldn’t hold these because they are much stronger and sharper, but we were able to pet them and play with toys.
Overall, it was well worth $10 and certainly not available anywhere in the US. Only in Africa!
After our cute overload, we looked around at the rest of the animals, but it was more like a zoo, with smallish cages and neither of us wanted to spend much time there. We had some lunch overlooking a pool with a pygmy hippo and basked in the warm sun for an hour.
In the afternoon we went to the Cave of Wonders, the second largest cave in South Africa. Its 2200 million years old and was discovered in 1898. The cave was mined for four year for the limestone it is made out of so some of the formations are ruined, but (luckily?) gold was discovered nearby and the mine was abandoned before it was stripped bare. The cavern is huge: around 90 feet high and 150 feet in length, and has some very nice stalactites, stalagmites, columns and flowstone. We entered the cave by going down 87 very steep steps then taking a lift down another 30 feet. The 45 minute tour was very nice and informative.
By this time it was mid-afternoon and our plans for a long hike were long gone, but we still had some daylight so we decided to see if the Cradle of Humankind museum was still open. We got there an hour before close and were assured we had enough time for all of the exhibits.
I don’t know when the museum was built, but it looks very new and modern so I think it’s less than 10 years old. The upstairs had some pictures and descriptions of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. Then we went downstairs where we walked along a long cement hallway that had bars painted on the walls describing major events in Earth’s history. The distance between the bars was representative of time and we walked back in time from the present day to when life on Earth began.
Next we entered a room where we got into a four-person “boat” and set sail to experience the elements. This section was very much like being on a ride at Disney World and I’m still not sure how it fits in with human evolution, but it was pretty cool. We passed through several different rooms with fire, water (including ice), wind and earth, all while slowing floating along. When we disembarked, we went through the vortex, a hallway with curved walls that rotated, making it seem like you were rotating. It was such a creepy feeling and we felt slightly dizzy afterward. We went back and did it twice.
Finally we reached the main exhibit room, which had many wonderful displays about human evolution and early hominids. A large emphasis was put on fossils found in South Africa of course, but other major specimens were mentioned as well. The evolution exhibits were interspersed with conservation exhibits, all culminating with the question of: what is the future of Earth and humankind? It was a great museum and is certainly on par with the best in the US.
By the time we were done with the museum, it was after 5 pm and everything was closing. We headed home then, reliving our epic day, the best one each of us has experienced in South Africa so far. (Pictures to come in a separate post.)