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The Art Galleries of the Waterberg, 7 Days

The Art Galleries of the Waterberg, 7 Days

$ 4495 / per person
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7 Days / 6 Nights Waterberg Tour Programme
Including: Rock Art & Archaeological sites
Valid: January – December ’23


The Waterberg (or Thaba Meetse, which in Northern Sotho means ‘water mountain’) is an area of dramatic mountains, hills, gorges and cliff-face landscapes.  Over many hundreds of millions of years, this red sandstone environment has been carved out by rivers running through it with their source being that of the Waterberg plateau.  It is a place untouched and exquisite, a complete natural showcase with equally impressive palaeo & cultural sites.


Human occupation of the Waterberg goes all the way back to the middle & late stone ages (the San Bushmen & Khoi) as well as the iron age (Bantu).  Rock paintings by the San, carvings by the Khoi as well as art by the Northern Ndebele farmer communities are found in caves and on rock shelters strewn across the Waterberg.  There are also a number of late iron sites to be found, one of which is encountered whilst on this tour – set within the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve – a late Iron Age stone-walled settlement with evidence of ritual practices within a domestic space.


The Waterberg is a landscape for those with a particular sense of curiosity.




The content of the “Art Galleries of the Waterberg” tour is taken from our Cultural Academic Programmes and is presented in a recreational tone by a particularly well-versed researcher in the palaeo landscape of the Waterberg.  The thread of this tour rests on interpretation, stemming from many years of research, surveying, documenting and management of the fragile palaeo resources of the Waterberg, the most prized of which includes the rock art, iron age as well as initiation sites.


Insightful interpretation of such resources is what sets this programme apart whether it is the interpretation at first glance of a rock art canvas or sharing what we know about our origins as learnt from the fossils of our ancestral species and their life of ancient existence.


This unique palaeo experience is further complimented by some of the finest lodge accommodation, cuisine and safari activities that the Waterberg bushveld has to offer.


For more visit the Tour Plan at the top of this page . . .

Tour Plan


DAY 1: WITS University & The Sterkfontein Caves (Hominin Fossils of the Cradle of Humankind)

  • Your first day in Johannesburg is spent in the company of some of the Palaeo-Scientists of the WITS Evolutionary Studies Institute.  The morning starts off at WITS (The University of the Witwatersrand), with Dr Bernhard Zipfel, the University Collections Manager, after which you will visit the WITS Origins Centre with Dr Tammy Hodgskiss.  Dr Hodgkiss is the Museum Curator and you will also enjoy an intro to the ancient art of ochre painting in her company.
  • Afternoon visit to Sterkfontein Caves with Prof Dominic Stratford, the Sterkfontein Caves Research Coordinator and Archaeologist who will intrique the group with details on the rich fossil, artefact and sedimentary records of the world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves.  For further insight into the greater surrounds of Sterkfontein and its cave systems, Dr Keneiloe Molopyane (Centre for Exploration of the Deep Human Journey, WITS) will spend some time with our group.  In 2018, Dr Molopyane joined the Rising Star team as a junior / trainee Underground Astronaut and has since then been involved in multiple excavations at Rising Star and the UW105 cave expedition.
  • Lunch at Forum Homini’s Roots Restaurant, locally produced cuisine, set amongst the farmlands of the Cradle.
  • Stop-over at The Black Horse Brewery & Distillery for a gin & beer "tasting" and snacks.
  • Dinner at the De Hoek Country Hotel (5*) in Magaliesberg, which also provides for your overnight stay.
  OVERVIEW OF THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE OF THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND - The Cradle of Humankind - said to be the birthplace of humankind - stretches over an area of 470km² and includes an estimated 300 caves. Within this landscape palaeoanthropologists have discovered thousands of hominid fossils and other animals, dating back about 4-million years. The most famous of these fossils are “Mrs Ples”, a skull which is more than 2-million years old as well as “Little Foot”, a skeleton which is between 4-million and 3-million years old. Archaeological finds at the Cradle of Humankind include some of the oldest recorded stone tools in Southern Africa, such as 1.7-million-year-old stone tools, whilst at Swartkrans (located within the greater Sterkfontein area), a collection of about 270 burnt bones indicate that our ancestors could manage fire more than 1-million years ago.
  • Sterkfontein Caves - statue of Robert Broom holding the skull of "Mrs Ples"

DAY 2: Laluka Safari Lodge (Rock Art sites of the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve)

  • Early morning hot air balloon safari over the Cradle of Humankind area as the African bush slowly comes to life.  Breakfast is included as part of this experience.
  • Transfer to the Welgevonden Game Reserve in The Waterberg.
  • Lunch will be served upon arrival at Laluka Safari Lodge (5*) - delicious and locally produced by the chefs of Laluka.
  • Following a presentation on the rock art found within Welgevonden, you will be off on your first truly African bush game drive including a visit to a rock art site which requires a short distance of walking. The site is at a rock overhang, approx 50 meters in length with a number of rock art panels.
  • Dinner is served at the lodge's restaurant, cosy and initmate.  Sit alongside the kitchen (with a wine or cocktail) and watch the most magnificent chefs at work as they create a delicately placed dish for every course served.
  • Overnight at the Laluka Safari Lodge (5*)
  OVERVIEW OF THE WILDLIFE & ECOLOGY OF THE WELGEVONDEN PRIVATE GAME RESERVE - Welgevonden is home to more than 65 mammal species. While these include the famous Big Five, it is the rare and unusual species like cheetah, brown hyaena, caracal, aardwolf and aardvark that make game drives exceptionally exciting. Welgevonden sports a diverse range of habitat types which support a variety of biodiversity, including over 300 different birds! From cheetah-loved grasslands and savannahs to leafy wooded mountains cut by deep rocky ravines.  Welgevonden has it all!
  • Your early morning hot air balloon safari over the Cradle of Humankind

DAY 3: Laluka Safari Lodge (Rock Art sites of the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve)

  • Early morning rise and spend some time at Laluka's "underground" hide, set at eye-level with the waterhole and a beautiful valley in the background this waterhole is unresistable to the local Elephant herds.
  • Today you will visit the 2nd rock art site within the reserve. Set alongside the Sterkstroom river, we will enjoy a few snacks and beverages before heading back to the lodge.
  • After lunch you can enjoy the lodge pool or your own splash pool back at the room, a refreshing outdoor shower or a quick nap.
  • Afternoon game drive with sundowners is followd by an evening spent star-gazing with a local presenter(weather permitting).
  • The star-gazing experience includes a barbeque dinner down at Laluka's boma!
  • Overnight at Laluka Safari Lodge.
  OVERVIEW OF THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE OF THE WELGEVONDEN PRIVATE GAME RESERVE - There are two rock art sites of interest. Both sites contain San fine-line paintings & later finger paintings. At one of the sites are hand prints, walls are densely painted and in some areas there are at least two layers of paintings. At the other site there are designs that belong, possibly, to a later herder tradition of painting. Some of the images are fairly well preserved while others are quite faded and indistinct, a result of the art being a few thousand years old, natural weathering and other external elements.
  • Laluka Safari Lodge, Welgevonden Game Reserve

DAY 4: SwebeSwebe Nature Reserve (Rock Art & Ecology)

  • After breakfast you will be transferred to SwebeSwebe Nature Reserve, Lephalale
  • A short afternoon hike takes you to  Baboons's Cave, an impressively large overhang with a series of rock art paintings.
  • En-route back to your private lodge house, you will enjoy a wonderful conversation on the fauna & flora of Swebe, especially on the birdlife as well as trees, plants & "veld" flowers together with some folklore on the medicinal use of some of these.
  • Dinner will be served on the verandah of River House Lodge.  This natural setting will certainly entertain you with the song of evening birds and insects, perhaps even the odd antelope making their way through the shrub below.
  • Overnight at River Lodge House
  OVERVIEW OF THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE OF SWEBESWEBE - SwebeSwebe is located in an area of vast topographical variances, and with this it is most likely that cultural sites would be found along the river that cuts through its landscape, at times with massive cliff-faces on either side of the river. Not many sites have been identified, however, there is a site of particular interest since it contains three different painting traditions. This is rare in the Waterberg, and this particular site turns out to be one of the finest examples found in the greater Waterberg area.
  • Baboon Cave at SwebeSwebe with a series of rock art works

DAY 5: Tintswalo Lapalala Game Lodge (Rock Art & Archaeological sites of the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve)

  • Early morning, you will have noticed, is one of the most beautiful and serene times of the day to be out and enjoying the beauty of your natural surrounds.  Your morning drive will again deliver a little bit of everything - birding, wildlife and rock art.
  • After breakfast, you will transfer even further into the heart of the Waterberg - the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve - which forms part of the Waterberg Biosphere.
  • Upon arrival followed by check-in you will be seated on the open deck, overlooking the bushveld wilderness of Tintswalo Lapalala Game Lodge.
  • Mr Richard Wadley (local to the Waterberg), will deliver an overview of the geology of the Waterberg as well as its unique ecology in order to put the scenery and remarkable biodiversity of the region into context.
  • Your afternoon game drive will take you into the dazzling starry Lapalala Wilderness evening.
  • Dinner will be served back at the lodge followed by your overnight stay at Tintswalo Lapalala Game Lodge.
  • About the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve: Lapalala Wilderness is a pristine nature reserve, largely untouched by man, and established to promote the wealth of the biodiversity of the region and celebrate the rich natural heritage it represents.  When it was founded in 1981, the vision of Lapalala was to practice sustainable conservation that emphasises the interconnectedness of man and nature and delivers lasting benefits for both. As such, Lapalala provides a safe habitat for rare and threatened animal species, creates employment and upliftment opportunities for surrounding communities, and works to educate future generations and empower them to become South Africa’s champions of sustainability for years to come.  Lapalala achieves these objectives through a combination of special species breeding programmes, community collaboration in conservation projects, tourism promotion and a well-established education programme offered through the Lapalala Wilderness School.
  • The Archaeological sites of Melora Hill & Melora Saddle: Melora Hill & Melora Saddle - arguably the most important archaeological sites within the greater Lapalala area - include several Late Iron Age settlements which are associated with the early Northern Ndebele and Tswana occupation of the Waterberg region.  This is a mystical and, some might even say, magical part of Lapalala.  Perched atop a flat mountain in an area of remote wilderness, Melora includes a stone walled settlement that has been the subject of considerable research.  The remains of a clay rhino artefact were discovered there, confirming beyond doubt that these magnificent animals once called the Waterberg region, and Lapalala, home.
  • Rock Art of Lapalala: Within the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve 13 rock art sites have been identified.  One of these is located only a short 20 min drive from Tintswalo Lapalala or a 2-hour hike.  It is believed that the sites were created by the later stone age hunter-gatherers (the ancestors of the San or Bushmen), who occupied this area about 1000 years ago.
  • Melora Hill, archaeological site, Lapalala Wilderness Reserve

DAY 6: Tintswalo Lapalala Game Lodge (Rock Art & Archaeological sites of the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve)

  • Early morning game drive or safari activity of your choice.
  • After breakfast, a Waterberg palaeoscientist will share a presentation on the rock art of the Lapalala Wilderness as well as the Melora Hill late iron site, which hosts artefacts of what was once a thriving homestead.
  • Your morning will conclude with a drive to both the local rock art site and a drive-by or a walk toward Melora Hill for closer inspection.  The ancient rock paintings and carvings are found in caves and on rock shelters. The artwork depicts indigenous animals, non-human beings, hunters, and half-human half-animal hybrids.
  • A picnic lunch will be set alongside the banks of the Palala River before heading back to the lodge.
  • By far, your day is not yet complete - following lunch is a conversation with Glenn Phillips, CEO of the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, on their Wild Dog Tagging programme, conservation activities and more interesting topics about Lapalala and the Wilderness School.
  • Late afternoon star-gazing presentation with Dr Philip Calcott which includes snacks, a bush dinner and then snuggle up with your blankets, a hot water bottle and a mattress - out in the open and underneath the clear skies of the Waterberg.  Venture on a cosmic journey as the sun sets and the sky changes into a glistening star struck universe.
  • Overnight at Tintswalo Lapalala Game Lodge.
  TINTSWALO WILD DOG TAGGING EXPERIENCE AND OTHER ACTIVITIES:  There are a few additional activities that you could consider as an additional add-on, if you wish to read up about it
  • Tintswalo Lapalala Game Lodge, Lapalala Wilderness Reserve

DAY 7: Rock Art sites of the Goudriver Private Game Reserve

  • Wake up to one-last game drive within the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve - a true gem of the Waterberg.
  • Following breakfast you will transfer to the Goudrivier Private Game Reserve where you will be received with refreshments and a final presentation on the Rock Art sites of Goudrivier - host to a pivotal collection of rock art within the greater Limpopo area.  A drive out to the rock art sites follows and you will need to walk a little through some brush so please keep your hiking shoes and sunhat closeby.
  • Later afternoon lunch stop at The Saringa Cafe, Vaalwater en-route back to Johannesburg.
  OVERVIEW OF THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE OF THE GOUDRIVIER GAME RESERVE:  The rock art sites of Goudrivier, the number of paintings and their state of preservation, is without parallel in the Waterberg. This site was documented by the WITS Rock Art Research Institute in 1999. It is believed that the rock art resources of the Goudrivier area are pivotal in concluding the interpretation of the rock art as part of the greater Waterberg area.
  • Goudrivier Private Game Reserve - Rock Art


  • 6 Nights', 4 & 5* accommodation, sharing.
  • 7 Days transfer in luxury minibus.
  • Dedicated driver / guide.
  • Specialist guide and tour leader.
  • Cultural content, site visits, presentations & discussions.
  • Meals & beverages as indicated.
  • Game viewing activities in 4 x 4 safari vehicles as indicated in the itinerary.
  • Hot air balloon safari in Magaliesberg
  • Hotel & airport porterages.
  • Tips for drivers, guides and trackers.
  • A copy of the book "Waterberg Echoes", a history of the Waterberg, written by Richard Wadley.




The paintings of the San take on a dramatically different form to that of the Ndebele.  The artwork of the San is greatly refined compared to most others, and speaks of life, indigenous animals, people, non-human beings, hunters, half-human-half-animal hybrids, human interactions and animal interactions.  A great sense of spiritual belief is reflected as well.   The animal mostly depicted in the Waterberg is the kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) - fondly referred to as "The Dancing Kudu of the Waterberg" by Jeremy Hollman (WITS Honorary Research Fellow).  The Ndebele would draw with the finger and use white clay.  Their artwork includes mostly animals and it is believed to have formed part of their initiation rituals.   You will truly find yourself in a very unique bubble of the African landscape as you dwell into what really can only be described as the Waterberg's African Art Gallery!

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