Perhaps they were lying down to take a post-lunch nap when municipal employees Bill Hartley and Rhett Kaiser noticed something unusual above their heads – what appeared to be hoof marks, bird tracks and human footprints on the roof of the cave they were taking shelter in.

Did you know?

Trace fossils are geological records of biological activity, like footprints, and people who study them are called ichnologists

<p> It was a hot day in 1964 when the two municipal workers decided to eat their lunch in the shade of Bat's Cave close to Nahoon Reef in East London, where they were inspecting the sewerage system. That's when they noticed what looked like tracks and footprints on the roof of the cave.</p><p> The two men had the foresight to report their find to the East London Museum and its exceptional curator, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (of coelacanth fame), who confirmed that what they had discovered were indeed fossil footprints.</p><p> The tracks were later identified as those of two antelopes, a bird and a human child, probably under the age of 10 and recently dated to 124 000 years ago, making them the oldest human footprints of their kind.</p><p> They are in fact trace fossils, and reflect the 'positive' tracks after the 'negative' part of the imprint fell down. Although the roof of the cave subsequently collapsed, the slab of rock on which the footprints were found is now housed at the museum. The museum is definitely worth a visit, but better still, you can visit the actual area where the fossils were found, thanks to the museum’s current deputy director, Dr Kevin Cole.</p><p> In a bid to preserve the area for posterity, Cole unearthed a document that showed that King Edward had ceded the coastal land next to Nahoon Reef to the people of East London in 1907, as a reserve.</p><p> Today the 2.6km stretch of pristine coast is part of the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve and a network of boardwalks protects the fragile dune field and leads you to a lookout point where you can see Bat’s Cave, where the footprints were discovered.</p><p> While there, you can visit the educational centre, designed in the shape of a footprint, and enjoy a meal at the Footprints Café with its unspoilt sea view. The centre was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, which has a large plant in East London. There’s also a display focusing on East London’s famous surfing culture, and the history of shark attacks in the Nahoon area.</p>

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

<p> <strong> East London Museum</strong> <br> Tel: +27 (0)43 743 0686</p>

How to get here

<p> East London has a small airport where you can hire a car.</p>

Best time to visit

<p> Year-round.</p>

Around the area

<p> Morgan's Bay is a beautiful coastal village within an hour's drive of East London and well worth a visit.</p>

Tours to do

<p> The lower end of the Nahoon River has a small conservation area known as the Nahoon Estuary Reserve, which is home to the southernmost stand of mangroves in Africa. Mangroves are highly endangered coastal vegetation that can be found along the coast of Africa all the way up to Somalia. They are adapted to intertidal areas and provide important habitat for young fish and other animals. Birdwatchers can enjoy a stroll along the Dassie boardwalk and look out for ‘specials’ like the Knysna warbler and Terek sandpiper. Alternatively, you can arrange a barge tour on the Nahoon River that will take you down to the mouth.</p>

Get around

<p> It's best to have your own car, but some establishments will collect you.</p>

Length of stay

<p> If you want to relax, the Sunshine Coast around East London is a perfect place to spend a week.</p>

Where to stay

<p> East London has a range of accommodation, from B&Bs through to hotels and game reserves.</p>

Best buys

<p> Look out for local arts and crafts.</p>