Monthly Archives: February 2014
Visions of Namibia
I visited Namibia for the first time in November 2013. What I experienced was far beyond my expectations. I found it to be a land of contradictions. It is a place where you can experience daily fog in the desert. Where you may have to wear a coat in the tropics. It has some of the oldest land and human artifacts on Earth, yet it is one of the youngest countries in the world.
It is also a spectacular place for photography. You could almost throw your camera in the air and be guaranteed a great photo.
This collection is the result of a five day trip I took into the Namib Desert and a shorter two day trip to Damaraland to visit the ancient rock carvings of Twyfelfontein. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
UNESCO World Heritage Site #269: Vredefort Dome
From the World Heritage inscription:
Vredefort Dome, approximately 120 km south-west of Johannesburg, is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure (astrobleme). Dating back 2,023 million years, it is the oldest astrobleme found on Earth so far. With a radius of 190 km, it is also the largest and the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy-release event, which caused devastating global change, including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes. It provides critical evidence of the Earth’s geological history and is crucial to our understanding of the evolution of the planet. Despite this, geological activity on the Earth’s surface has led to the disappearance of evidence from most impact sites and Vredefort is the only example to provide a full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor, allowing research into the genesis and development of an astrobleme immediately post-impact.
The site contains high quality and accessible geological (outcrop) sites that demonstrate a range of geological evidences of a complex meteorite impact structure. The rural and natural landscapes of the serial property help to portray the magnitude of the ring structures resulting from the impact.
This is one of the oddest world heritage site visits I’ve ever had.
For natural sites such as these, there is normally a national park or something which is associated with the site. Visiting the site usually means visiting the park. It is so straightforward that I usually never even have to think about it.
The Vredefort Dome was a totally different experience.
The dome is very interesting from a geological standpoint. It is a very unique place and offers geologists a glimpse at something which they can’t see anywhere else in the world. If you look at the area from a satellite image, you can clearly see the crescent of hills which make up the crater. (Click to see how it looks from space)
From a visitor standpoint, the dome leaves something to be desired.
For starters, the visitors center is closed. It looks abandoned actually. From the comments I’ve read on Trip Advisor, it seems to have been closed for over a year and it was closed due to safety standards.
Then, I found out that there is no park. In fact, all of the land is privately owned. This left me scratching my head as to what it actually was I was visiting. It was basically some hills in a large, grassy region.
Eventually, I found a road where you can drive through the hills, which is the best way to experience the site beyond taking a private tour.
To do the drive, head to the town of Parys and take the R500 out of town. Turn left on the R53 until you see a brown road sign on the left side of the road with the World Heritage logo. This is a gravel road which will loop around and back into Parys. You should roughly be following the Vaal River along most of the road.
A GPS enabled map will be a huge help when taking this drive. DO NOT put “Vredefort Dome” into Google Maps as it will take you to the middle of a farm field.
Hopefully the visitor center will reopen at some point in the future.
The Vredefort Dome is located approximately 2 hours south of Johannesburg by car.
UNESCO World Heritage Site #268: Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls
From the World Heritage inscription:
The Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls is the world’s greatest sheet of falling water and significant worldwide for its exceptional geological and geomorphological features and active land formation processes with outstanding beauty attributed to the falls i.e. the spray, mist and rainbows. This transboundary property extends over 6860 ha and comprises 3779 ha of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambia), 2340 ha of Victoria Falls National Park (Zimbabwe), 741 ha of the riverine strip of Zambezi National Park (Zimbabwe). A riverine strip of the Zambezi National Park extending 9 km west along the right bank of the Zambezi and islands in the river are all within the Park as far as Palm and Kandahar Islands, with the Victoria Falls being one of the major attractions. The waterfall stands at an altitude of about 915 m above mean sea level (a.m.s.l.) and spans to about 1708 m wide with an average depth of 100 m and the deepest point being 108 m. Sprays from this giant waterfall can be seen from a distance of 30 km from the Lusaka road, Zambia and 50 km from Bulawayo road, Zimbabwe. Basalts have been cut by a river system producing a series of eightspectacular gorges that serve as breeding sites for four species of endangered birds. The basalts of the Victoria Falls World Heritage property are layered unlike those of the Giants Causeway World Heritage site which are vertical and columnar.
I’m sure most people are already aware of Victoria Falls. Widely considered one of the natural wonders of the world, the reality actually lives up to the hype.
Straddling the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, the falls are the largest waterfall in the world as measured by volume of water. If you visit when the water is high, like I did in February, the mist can be so great that it is often difficult to impossible to even see the falls.
If you visit during the wet season, expect to get drenched. The mist can be so strong that there is a perpetual rain nearby. My ability to take photos was seriously hampered by the mist many times.
Visiting the falls can be done from either side of the border. I’d recommend crossing the border to experience both sides, regardless of which side you come from. If you come in via Zimbabwe, they offer a dual entry visa for US$45 and you can get a day trip visa to Zambia for just US$20. Park fees are US$30 on the Zimbabwe side and $20 on the Zambian side.
UNESCO World Heritage Site #267: Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa
From the World Heritage inscription:
The undulating landscape containing the fossil hominid sites of South Africa comprises dolomitic limestone ridges with rocky outcrops and valley grasslands, wooded along watercourses and in areas of natural springs. Most sites are in caves or are associated with rocky outcrops or water sources. The serial listing includes the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, and the Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site. The Taung Skull, found in a limestone quarry at Dart Pinnacle amongst numerous archaeological and palaeontological sites south-west of the Sterkfontein Valley area, is a specimen of the species Australopithecus Africanus. Fossils found in the many archaeological caves of the Makapan Valley have enabled the identification of several specimens of early hominids, more particularly of Paranthropus, dating back between 4.5 million and 2.5 million years, as well as evidence of the domestication of fire 1.8 million to 1 million years ago. Collectively these sites have produced abundant scientific information on the evolution of modern humans over at least the past 3.5 million years. They constitute a vast reserve of scientific information, with enormous potential.
The sites contain within their deposits all of the key interrelated and interdependent elements in their palaeontological relationships. Alongside and predating the hominid period of occupation is a sequence of fossil mammals, micro-mammals and invertebrates which provide a window onto faunal evolution, palaeobiology and palaeoecology stretching back into the Pliocene. This record has come to play a crucial role in furthering our understanding of human evolution and the appearance of modern human behaviour .
The fossil evidence contained within these sites proves conclusively that the African continent is the undisputed Cradle of Humankind.
Before I even arrived, I knew I was in for trouble. Every other time I’ve visited a paleontology world heritage site, I’ve faced the same problem: there is nothing to photograph! What makes the site significant are the fossils which have been unearthed and put into museums. Usually my only options are the visitor center or the landscape surrounding it. As you can see, I went for one of the original skulls currently residing in the museum.
That being said, the Cradle of Civilization site in Gauteng Province was unlike any other world heritage site I have ever visited. It is what it would look like if Disney ran a world heritage site. The visitor center was more of a science museum. They actually had a boat ride and an artificial canal inside the building! It was easily the best, most elaborate visitor center I’ve seen in my years of traveling and visits to several hundred world heritage sites. It appears to have been designed to handle the many school trips for all the students in the greater Johannesburg area.
The site is actually a serial site with several locations scattered around an area the size of a large city. The Cradle of Civilization is the main site, but there are others which can be visited. In particular, the Sterkfontein Caves are only a few kilometers from the visitor center, but were closed due to flooding during my visit.