In search of South Africa's meteor impact sites
Did you know?
To make a crater 300km wide, the Vredefort meteorite must have been about 10km wide and travelling at around 36 000km/h.
As meteorites go, few come larger and more devastating than the 10km-wide chunk of space rock that hurtled towards Earth around two billion years ago.
As it entered the atmosphere, the massive molten meteorite – larger than Table Mountain – exploded into the ground and shattered, initiating a meteor shower that rained down for hundred of kilometres.
The dust that the impact threw up would have blanketed the planet for millennia, causing dramatic global cooling and a crater some 300km wide.
In 2005 the Vredefort Dome became South Africa's seventh World Heritage Site. Describing its global significance, the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing reads, 'It is the site of the world’s greatest single, known energy release event.'
Some speculate this meteor strike may have introduced the single gas than enables life on Earth, oxygen.
The most visible of the four major meteorite impact sites in South Africa lies 40km north of Pretoria and is called the Tswaing Crater.
Tswaing, or 'place of salts' in Tswana, is a 1 946ha conservation area and crater caused by a relatively recent event – a much smaller meteor around 30m to 50m wide that hit Earth less than 250 000 years ago. At just over a kilometre in diameter, the rim of the crater rises 100m high and in the centre is a small, salty lake from which the crater gets its name.
Tswaing is a popular destination for birding enthusiasts and is located in dense African bush with a wetland nearby.
The Kalkkop crater in the Karoo in the Eastern Cape is the impact site of another meteor that hit Earth around 250 000 years ago. The impact left a crater 460m in diameter and more than 200m deep.
Located in the Kalahari area of the North West province, the Morokweng crater was formed around 145-million years ago and is estimated to be 70km in diameter. Morokweng is not visible from the Earth's surface, and was only discovered in 1994 through magnetic and gravimetric surveys.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)18 299 5371
Tswaing Meteorite Crater Museum
Tel: +27 (0)76 945 5911
All sites visited require your own transport or a guided tour, which can be organised via the tourism offices in Parys (Vredefort Dome) and Graaff-Reinet.
What will it cost
Most sites have entry costs of less than R50 per person, plus vehicle surcharges.
Length of stay
Each site visit can be anything from a couple of hours to a day's outing.
What to pack
Take sunblock, walking shoes, binoculars, bird books and a sun hat for hot weather. Pack a jersey and raincoat for wet weather.
Where to stay
Accommodation is available in the towns closest to the sites. Camping facilities are available at Tswaing.