The small town of PARYS, just off the N1 highway 300km northeast of Bloemfontein and 100km from Johannesburg, makes a good stopover on the long trek across the country, or an interesting day-trip from Jo’burg. The town, with its galleries, antique shops, adventure sports and the meandering Vaal River, is pleasant enough, but its main claim to fame is harder to spot, as it’s situated near Vredefort, the epicentre of a massive meteorite impact some two billion years ago. What remains of the huge 300km-wide crater is now South Africa’s most abstract World Heritage Site, as it can only properly be seen from space, but by joining a tour it is possible to get a good idea of what happened and to view what’s left of the impact dome, the mass of molten rock that was thrust upwards after the meteorite struck.
Early November is a good time to visit Parys, when outdoor enthusiasts descend on the town for dragon-boat racing, competitions and live music during the annual Dome Adventure Festival (domefest.co.za).Read More
The Vredefort Dome
The Vredefort Dome
Some two billion years ago, an asteroid the size of Cape Town’s Table Mountain slammed into Earth at a speed of 30,000 kilometres per hour, forming a 300km-wide crater. The impact at Vredefort, 10km south of Parys, vaporized the asteroid and part of the Earth’s crust, melting, pulverizing and shattering rocks for kilometres around. It also forced rocks beneath the impact area briefly down before these rebounded, raising and upending rock layers to form a dome structure. Even though the Earth’s surface has eroded about 10km since the impact, the weathered concentric rings of this dome can still be seen, forming the hills around Parys. The rim of the crater, originally up to 150km away, has not survived the elements, though it’s thanks to the downward sagging of the gold-bearing layers around the dome, caused by the impact, that the richest source of gold in the world was preserved from erosion before the first gold diggers discovered these layers in Johannesburg, in 1886.
The dome area is best experienced on a tour, which takes in the view of the dome remnants, and tracks down strange melt rock formations.
A well-designed new visitor centre on the outskirts of Vredefort on the road to Parys has an introductory film, 3D models, and interactive displays about the Vredefort impact, the solar system, meteorites, asteroids, craters and the environmental consequences of impacts.