A peaceful getaway to the place of salt

2012-06-22 09:39

A ripple of excited chatter swept through our group when a vervet monkey scuttled down a tree not far from us.

The sweet little thing ran off with quick, deft movements into a thicket, leaving the five children in our group of seven with broad smiles.

This was the first time these township and city-born kids, aged between eight and 13, had come so close to a wild monkey.

We were hiking the trail at the Tswaing Meteorite Crater on the outskirts of Soshanguve township, north of Tshwane.

Tswaing is a 1 946 hectare conservation area that is home to one of the world most well-preserved meteorite impact craters.

The crater has been here for the past 220 000 years, after a meteorite almost as wide as half a football field slammed into the earth.

The impact left a deep scar, a crater 1.4km in diameter and 200m deep.

Tswaing is one of about 170 impact craters in the world and one of four in South Africa.

But growing up in the township in the 80s, all this was unknown to us. Instead, our geography teachers made us sing the names of distant rivers and mountains.

Tswaing was only opened to the public in 1997 and now offers group dormitory accommodation for up to 64 people, as well as guided walks and education programmes.

We were there on a lazy Saturday afternoon, with the temperature hovering around 23 degrees.

You can imagine the challenge facing two adult men trying to control a group of five energetic, curious children on a bush hike.

Armed with bottles of water, hats and caps, we set off for the hike with the young ones firing off myriad questions.

“Are there lions here?”

“Do zebras bite?”

“What do we do when we come across game? Do we run?”

It was almost like being back in primary school, and all part of the fun.

We set off in single file up the walking trail towards the crater’s summit.

We paused often to read spoor in the soft sand and drink water.

A large number of bird species and smaller mammals such as otters, genets, civets, steenbok, antelope and zebra inhabit the area.

There is also a generous supply of snakes, including the venomous Mozambican spitting cobra that slithers through the grass here.

So it’s advisable to stay on the walking trail and keep a watchful eye.

The trail contains plaques that tell the story of Tswaing, which once served as a soda ash mine for 44 years until 1956.

Also on the trail lie the ruins of houses once inhabited by miners and curing plants for salt.

At the summit we paused to take pictures and admire the beauty of the lake below.

In the distance we saw zebra resting in the shade and impala eyeing us with suspicion.

This of course, unleashed another flurry of questions.

“Are they going to harm us?”

“Tjoo! they are looking at us. Are we safe?”

We descended down a precarious path to the floor of the crater and paused near the lake to take in the cool air.

But the water smelled quite bad! It is said to be seven times saltier than sea water and almost nothing can live in it.

However, sangomas and faith healers bottle the water, believing it has healing powers brought down by the gods through the meteorite.

The last leg of the trail, a steep incline back to the summit and down to the car park is not for the weak of knee.

From the decline in chit-chat among the children it was clear they too were taking strain. It was, however, all worth it to do the 7.2 km walk – and a great way to get away from a bustling township on a Saturday afternoon.

Go there some time, it costs only R15 per person.


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