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Get an Aerial View of the Origins of Man

As the Homo naledi fossils lie open to view at Maropeng for the next month, followers of palaeontology are invited to take to the skies for a birds’ eye view of the terrain in which these homonins and other ancestors of the human race lived many hundreds of thousands of years ago.

From its Skeerpoort base in the Magalies River Valley, Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris flies over the Cradle of Humankind. The company is accredited as one of the area’s prime tourist activities by the World Heritage Site.

“The climate, flora and fauna of the Cradle area may have changed significantly since those very early times when homonins roamed the landscape, but there’s a timeless sense of wonder about the place, one that is almost palpable from an aerial view. As you drift above this panorama, it’s not hard to imagine early man hunting, gathering and going about his daily activities,” says Harrop.

Harrop’s balloon rides operate in the quiet and tranquility of daybreak. At this time, the air is at its most stable, and the sensation of the ride is a gentle floating. Flights last an hour or so, and are suitable for all age groups.

At Skeerpoort, Harrop has built an Edwardian-style reception centre from where balloon rides take off, and the experience ends with a lavish bubbly and breakfast. The base is 45-minute drive from Johannesburg.

Within a 30km radius of this base, early tools and hunting implements have been discovered. The Maropeng Interpretation Centre Complex and Sterkfontein Caves are just 25km away, making a combination of air balloon ride and Maropeng visit extremely attractive. Maropeng is discounting entry tickets by 25% until October 11, while the H. naledi fossils are on display.

Harrop, who jokingly refers to himself as an ‘old fossil’, is acknowledged at the pioneer of commercial balloon flights in South Africa, having started operations back in 1981. “If you are going to explore the origins of early man,” he says, “do it in style, with the original balloon flight company.”

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