08 August 2014 by Cassidy Parker

Get out of town: 5 day trips from Johannesburg

Johannesburg has a charm all of its own, especially if you linger a while, taking the time to immerse yourself in it, to discover its nooks and crannies, and to speak to its fiercely loyal inhabitants.

The view from Maropeng, the visitors' centre at the Cradle of Humankind, just outside of Johannesburg. Image courtesy of Tara Turkington

That said, it’s also a big city – with the hubbub of people, cars and buildings – and getting out of town for a while can recharge you.

Just a short distance beyond the 'ring road' – the highways that encircle the city – are a number of towns and sites worthy of exploration. Visit for the day, or stay a little longer; satisfy the adrenalin junkie within you, soak up a little culture, a little history, and eat and drink to capacity. Being merry is a given. Below are a couple of suggestions to help you on your way ...

Parys

Situated just 110km south of Johannesburg sits the small town of Parys on the banks of the Vaal River in the Free State province. On the one hand, Parys is known for its relaxed, riverside feel; for its art galleries and antique shops, and the experience it offers of Afrikaans culture and cuisine. On the other, however, Parys is the dream of any water sport enthusiast: river rafting, waterskiing, canoeing, angling and powerboating are all on offer, and cater for every age and skill level.

Parys is also situated at the site of the Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site, the world’s largest meteorite impact site.

Lazy living in one of Parys's many decadent restaurants. Image South African Tourism

Cradle of Humankind and Sterkfontein Caves

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, just north-west of Johannesburg, is recognised as the place from which all humankind originated. The site, covering 47 000ha, is one of the richest sources of ongoing scientific discovery into our origins you are likely to find. The visitor centre, named Maropeng, a Setswana word for ‘return to your origins’, provides insight into humankind's history in an engaging, informative and interactive way. The nearby and affiliated Sterkfontein Caves are home to the oldest and most continuous palaeontological dig in the world.

Both Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves can be visited in a single day, but if you’d like to stay over, there is a boutique hotel at Maropeng, as well numerous accommodation options if you head further into the Magaliesberg mountains.

The formation of early life display tells all at the Sterkfontein Caves visitor centre. Image courtesy of Tara Turkington

Hartbeespoort Dam

A regular day trip for many Joburgers, and with good reason, Hartbeespoort Dam offers a welcome reprieve from city living. Situated at the foot of the Magaliesberg mountains, Hartbeespoort town itself is quaint and artsy, while the dam affords any number of boating and water sport opportunities. Quad biking is also an option, as is paragliding, hang-gliding, hot-air ballooning, hiking and climbing. For massive views of the entire area (while still keeping your feet on the ground), take a trip up the Harties Cableway.

Panoramic vistas come into view as you ascend the Hartbeesport Aerial Cableway. Image courtesy of Tara Turkington

Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Accessible, beautiful and filled with African wildlife – what more could you ask of a game reserve situated only two hours from Johannesburg? The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is home to the Big Five – elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino – as well as a variety of other delights, from hyenas to wild dogs to birds fit to titillate any twitcher.

Accommodation options range from hotel rooms to self-catering chalets and bungalows. However, if you’re interested in contrasting your bush experience with some luxury sleeping and dining, Pilanesberg is only a short driving distance from the world-renowned Sun City resort and entertainment complex.

Elephants roam the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Image South African Tourism

Groot Marico

Okay, this one is a bit further, but well worth the trip: heading in the direction of South Africa’s border with Botswana is the little town of Groot Marico. Home to the undisputed father of short-story writing in South Africa, Herman Charles Bosman, Groot Marico is a patch of planet forgotten by history. The locals are friendly, the surrounding countryside exquisite, arts and crafts are on display in abundance, and mampoer (a distilled fruit liquor you have to experience for yourself) is available for sampling.

The town hosts the annual Herman Charles Bosman Festival every October, as well as the Marico Mountain Bike Classic, usually in August.

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