Gauteng's great outdoors

While high-rise buildings and First World shopping malls are a definitive part of Gauteng province, nature is never far away. The region is renowned for a wide range of natural treasures just awaiting your visit.

A good starting point is at the Cradle of Humankind on the West Rand, where some of the oldest pre-human fossils in the world have been found. Nearby you will find the Sterkfontein and Wonder caves, and within a 60-minute radius you will be able to visit a variety of wildlife attractions, including the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.

The Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens offers a rare opportunity to view one of the few breeding pairs of eagles to live in an urban environment anywhere in the world. The nearby Kloofendal Nature Reserve abounds with indigenous trees and plants.

The Magaliesberg Mountain range and surrounds offer the perfect country getaway, and there are a number of guesthouses and bed and breakfasts accommodation options for visitors. This is a prime spot for walking and mountain biking. For the more adventurous, activities such as abseiling and rock climbing are on offer. You may want to try an indoor climb at Kya Sands Industrial Park in the Randburg area.

The Magalies Meander and Crocodile Ramble in the West Rand and Vaal Meander in Sedibeng are some of the best arts and crafts routes in South Africa. Artists’ studios – selling and exhibiting original works – tea gardens, restaurants, accommodation, nature reserves and outdoor adventure activities line the routes. This is a great way to experience some true Gauteng hospitality and savour the province’s excellent warm climate. Hot-air ballooning is also another exciting way to explore the countryside with its lakes, rivers and rich bird life.

Sedibeng, in the south of Gauteng, is the playground of urbanites who escape for the weekends. The Vaal River offers boat cruises, fishing and water-skiing. Those interested in bird watching and wildlife viewing should spend a few days at one of the many fine guest farms in the area.

Sedibeng is also home to the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, which has 66km of hiking trails especially suitable for children and less accomplished hikers. Hikers can choose between day and overnight hikes. The reserve has six overnight huts at strategic places, all within a day’s walk of the starting point.

There are many green lungs in the urban centres and often you do not have to leave the city to enjoy a brisk walk or leisurely picnic. The many lakes, dams and parks in the region provide residents and visitors alike a chance to relax and unwind. Ekurhuleni has many such lakes and is home to the Rietvlei Zoo and Nature Reserve, and the Korsman and Rondebult bird sanctuaries. Tshwane has the Fountains Valley Nature Reserve and the famed Pretoria Zoo. Johannesburg has Emmarentia Dam and Zoo Lake on the city’s doorstep.

For the more adventurous, hiking and mountain biking are popular ways to keep fit and explore the province’s natural beauty. A number of trails criss-cross the major cities – Tshwane’s Hennops Hiking Trail and Groenkloof Nature Reserve, Gillooly’s Farm in Bedfordview in Ekurhuleni, the Melville Koppies in Johannesburg, Sedibeng’s Three Rivers Nature Trail and the Kromdraai Conservancy in the West Rand are just a few examples.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/pejrm/416420573/'>Paul Jacobson</a>

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy Paul Jacobson

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/pejrm/416417354/'>Paul Jacobson</a>

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy Paul Jacobson