Bloemfontein - You may not have heard of the small farming town of Vredefort in the Free State and it’s very likely you may not know of the Vredefort Dome, a site that is listed on the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) list as one of the world’s most important heritage sites.
You are not the only one: I only recently discovered it existed when I visited the Vredefort town on a Sho’t Left to the province.
Arriving there from nearby Parys, on the banks of the Vaal River, the town feels old, but with well-preserved buildings and houses lining the streets.
Our very passionate tour guide Jan Fourie greets us with a smile before sharing with us his vault of knowledge on the area.
The story of the Vredefort Dome began about 2 013 million years ago when small pieces of rock from outer space collided with Earth between Parys and Vredefort, creating this 300km-wide volcanic crater.
It is estimated that to create a crater this wide, the meteorite must have been travelling at an unimaginable more than 10km a second.
It is also believed that the high impact contributed to our golden circle as the blast brought rich gold deposits closer to the surface, which were mined in the 1880s.
This Vredefort Dome remains an important site for scientists and geologists who come from far and wide to study the broken and melted rocks.
We visited the site under Fourie's guidance.
Even though the rocks don’t look like much, the story of how they landed there is fascinating.
Fourie says that during the summer months, visitors can enjoy a beautiful display of Cape flora scattered around the fertile dome area such as the red ivory, tree fuchsia and velvet bushwillow - even more reasons to visit Vredefort.
While you are there, have lunch at the Old Imperial Inn in Venterskroon in North West, close to the dome.
This town is even smaller than Vredefort with just a post office, a police station and hotel.
The open-air bistro serves a good braai and is decorated with amusing old knick-knacks.
We enjoyed mouth-watering food here and views of beautiful scenic mountains.
The meteorite impact happened about 2 013 million years ago, at a time when there were no people or even animals or plants like we see today. The only living thing was a type of algae, like the green slime seen in dams.
To make a crater 300km wide, the meteorite must have been about 10km across (as big as a mountain) and travelling at more than 10km a second (36 000km/h).
The Vredefort Dome is only the central part of the impact crater. It is called a dome because the rock layers were bent into the shape of an upside-down bowl 90km across by the impact.
For more information, visit vredefortdome.org or email [email protected]
For more information click below: