Gauteng, the landlocked province of South Africa, may be the smallest in size, but it packs a punch when it comes to natural attractions. While its bustling cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria offer a vibrant urban experience, Gauteng also boasts a variety of natural wonders that are sure to captivate visitors. From ancient caves to game reserves and picturesque hiking trails, there’s something for every nature enthusiast. Let’s explore the top ten natural attractions in Gauteng.
Cradle of Humankind
Located just 50 kilometers outside of Johannesburg, the Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the richest hominid site in the world. This 47,000-hectare reserve is home to a series of dolomitic caves that have yielded 40% of the world’s fossils of human ancestors. The Sterkfontein Caves, believed to have housed human ancestors up to 3.5 million years ago, are a must-visit. Another highlight is the Kromdraai Wonder Cave, known for its remarkable stalactites, stalagmites, and rimstone pools.
Pilanesberg National Park
Where else can you experience the Big Five in the midst of an eroded crater? Pilanesberg National Park, one of the largest volcanic complexes in the world, offers a unique wildlife encounter. This 550-square-kilometer park, situated on the border between the Lowveld and the Kalahari, is home to lions, buffaloes, hippos, hyenas, giraffes, zebras, and more. For the best chance to spot these majestic animals, plan an early morning visit to beat the crowds.
Rietvlei Nature Reserve
Located between Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport, Rietvlei Nature Reserve provides a taste of the bush close to home. Although it may not have the Big Five, the reserve’s expansive grasslands offer excellent opportunities for spotting herds of antelope and other wildlife. The presence of hippos and cheetahs adds an element of excitement to your visit. For an urban-bush experience, Rietvlei Nature Reserve is hard to beat.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens
These beautiful gardens, situated on the outskirts of Johannesburg, offer a tranquil escape from city life. With 300 hectares of botanical wonders, a picturesque waterfall called Witpoortjie, and sprawling green lawns perfect for picnics, this garden is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Keep an eye out for the nesting Verreaux’s eagles on the cliffside, which attract birdwatchers from all over. Don’t miss the rockery and cycad garden, and be sure to visit the nursery, gift shop, and restaurant.
The Braamfontein Spruit, Johannesburg’s longest stream, is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Once known for its polluted state, it has been transformed into a thriving park with a dedicated pathway along its banks. Locally known as “Braamies,” this area is a haven for mountain bikers and walkers, particularly on weekends. While safety has significantly improved, it’s advisable to explore the Spruit in groups, especially during quieter times.
Preserving the natural ridges of Johannesburg before the city’s gold rush, Melville Koppies is a 150-hectare nature reserve on the south side of the city. This wild and rocky area is a treasure trove of indigenous plants, offering vibrant displays of wildflowers in spring and highveld grasses in winter. The reserve’s hilltop views are breathtaking, and guided hikes are occasionally available to the public. It’s important to note that walking alone in other areas of the koppies is not advisable for safety reasons.
Dinokeng Game Reserve
Just outside Pretoria, Dinokeng Game Reserve proudly claims to be the only free-roaming Big Five game reserve in Gauteng, and perhaps even the world, located so close to an urban area. Established in 2011, this relatively new reserve offers an authentic wildlife experience. As you venture off the main roads, you’ll feel immersed in the untamed wilderness. Don’t miss the opportunity to spot magnificent game species during your visit.
Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve
Nestled in the foothills of Moreleta Kloof in Pretoria’s eastern suburbs, this nature reserve provides a serene escape without venturing too far. Spanning 100 protected hectares, Moreleta Kloof is a haven for birdlife, antelope, ostriches, and zebras. Managed by volunteers, the reserve doesn’t charge an entrance fee, allowing visitors to enjoy nature at no cost. If you’re feeling hungry, the on-site restaurant comes highly recommended.
Despite being bustling cities, both Pretoria and Johannesburg offer green spaces that cater to hikers and nature enthusiasts. Johannesburg’s Kloofendal, Delta Park, and Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, especially the latter, feature picturesque paths and trails that invite exploration. In Pretoria, Groenkloof, Wonderboom, and Faerie Glen Nature Reserves offer easy access to nature, providing a pleasurable escape from the urban environment.
Located just 40 kilometers northwest of Pretoria, Tswaing Crater is a fascinating astrobleme, or impact crater. With a diameter of 1.13 kilometers and a depth of 100 meters, it ranks among the most accessible craters globally. Embark on a hiking adventure along the designated trail, spanning 7 kilometers, and marvel at this unique geological wonder. Keep in mind that visiting outside of summer is recommended to avoid extreme heat, although the vibrant blue lake during the summer months is a sight to behold (don’t forget mosquito repellent).
Gauteng, despite its landlocked nature, offers a myriad of natural attractions that showcase the province’s unique beauty. From ancient caves that unravel the mysteries of our human ancestors to expansive game reserves teeming with wildlife, Gauteng invites you to explore its diverse natural wonders. So, whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or an adventure seeker, be sure to include these top natural attractions in Gauteng on your itinerary. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the province’s remarkable landscapes.