Vredefort Dome − imagine an asteroid the size of Table Mountain heading for Earth at a speed of 20km per second. Packing more punch than multiple nuclear bombs, it penetrates 17km deep into the Earth and leaves an impact crater so large it’s been declared a World Heritage Site.

Did you know?

Another crater impact site, the Tswaing meteorite crater, is located outside Pretoria.

Thankfully the meteorite collision that formed the Vredefort Dome happened a long time ago, more than two-million years back, before life as we know it.

In its wake, pulverised rock powder rained down on the Earth for months, blotting out the sun. But, curiously, scientists speculate that the incident may have increased the planet's oxygen levels to the point of making life possible. The cataclysmic event left behind the Vredefort Dome, a South African World Heritage Site.

You'll come upon the dome near the Free State town of Parys, where the meteorite, some 10km in diameter and heated from its passage through the atmosphere, ploughed into the Earth as a blinding, hissing fireball. On impact it forced layers of rock outwards and downwards to form three rims of crumpled ridges that today stretch as far as Johannesburg and into the North West province. Simultaneously granite and gold were forced to the surface – all in a matter of minutes.

Some 200-million years ago the Vaal River began flowing through the Vredefort Crater, attracting a passing parade of ancient San people, followed by the Sotho, the Tswana, Boer and Brit, and gold prospectors in search of personal fortunes.

Ironically, this site of past violence has been transformed over time into a tranquil sanctuary for body and soul where a plethora of leisure activities are enjoyed.

In the portion of the Vredefort Dome that has been declared a World Heritage Site, private landowners take their role as custodians seriously, guarding against overdevelopment.

They operate B&B establishments, conference centres, and activities that allow adventure seekers to test their bodies against the Vredefort Dome's challenging geographical features. Visitors climb its peaks and abseil its rock faces, explore its mine tunnels and canoe the rapids of the Vaal. In between, they visit Iron and Stone Age sites, granite quarries, and shop for antiques in nearby Parys.

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