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The birthplace of man is an absolute must-see. Start at the Maropeng Visitor Centre to get an overview of the origins of mankind, then head down into the Sterkfontein Caves to see over 500 hominids dating back more than two million years, including Mrs Ples and Little Foot. There are 12 more fossil sites and caves to explore, all of which have contributed to our understanding of the human evolution.
With a massive waterfall and 300 hectares of Highveld flora and fauna, the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden is a picnicking and birdwatchers’ paradise. Although it was only formalised in 1982, the site and its unique geological formations, and indigenous aloes and cycads, has been a popular destination for hundreds of years.
The feeling when you get to the Magaliesberg Mountain Range is of timeless magic. Just a short drive from Johannesburg, you can explore these mountains that are older than Mount Everest and host to a variety of ancient biomes. This mountain wonderland is filled with an astounding variety of flowers, trees and animals and is also home to some of South Africa’s most-loved hotels, spas and country restaurants. While there, try out hot air ballooning, go bird watching or join a safari to find the elusive leopard.
A local favourite, this nature reserve and wetland is teeming with wildlife such as zebra, rhino, cheetah, buffalo, black wildebeest and blesbok. Rietvlei is also great for picnics, riding, cycling and fishing. Birdwatchers are particularly happy here – sightings include the fish eagle, kingfishers, the grass owl, spike-heeled lark, buffy pipi and the orange-throated longclaw.
Just 200 000 years ago an asteroid collided with the earth, leaving a crater 1.3km in diameter. If Pretoria was around then, it would have been annihilated. About 100 000 years ago, stone tools were being used to harvest salt and collect water. Until the 1990s, the Tswaing Crater was at the centre of a ferocious academic debate around whether it is an impact crater or not. No matter how it was created, visiting the crater is a great outdoor experience.
Situated in one of Joburg’s most popular lifestyle neighbourhoods, the rugged Melville Koppies has examples of over 80% of the flora species found in Gauteng. The hiking area has evidence of a Stone Age village and iron-smelting works, proving that Melville has been a popular village for thousands of years.
Just south of Joburg, Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve offers 13 330 hectares of ridges, plains and kloofs for those who want to get some fresh air. Hikers can choose from 66km of trails, depending on their level of experience. While en route, look out for antelope, baboons, cheetahs and hyenas.
In the mood for a day trip where you can picnic, go fishing, do some game viewing and finally use your new binoculars to see some incredible birds? Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve is located just 22km from Pretoria and is home to zebra, kudu, waterbuck, blue wildebeest and the aforementioned amazing birdlife. Take a 7km hike around the dam, or stay overnight to get the full experience.
Just 40km from Pretoria, Dinokeng, which means "Place of Rivers", is a popular destination for people looking for an easy-going game experience. Expect to see zebra, buck, wildebeest, warthog and more. There’s also a local brewery and fantastic restaurants.
Groenkloof was one of the first areas to be declared a nature reserve. Today, it’s considered to be one of the best hiking experiences. With a variety of options, there is a trail for everyone – from walkers, to mountain bikers and horse riders, to kids and hard-core hiking groups. While trekking, keep your eyes open for kudu, impala, blue wildebeest and ostrich.