For city sloths chained to their desks from Monday to Friday, there’s little more rewarding than spending a weekend in the bush and, despite popular delusion, Gautengers really don’t have to head far or dig too deep into their pockets.
(Three hours from Johannesburg)
The Waterberg offers magical red-hued mountains, crisp, clear waters and dazzling, deep, dark nights with a bazillion flecks of golden starlight. The region stretches in a rough arc encompassing Thabazimbi in the west, past Modimolle (formerly Nylstroom) to Mokopane (Potgietersrus) in the east and includes other main towns such as Vaalwater, Lephalale (Ellisras) and Bela-Bela (Warmbaths). Its vastness means it boasts an enormous biodiversity and it’s rich in bird life, with more than 400 recorded species.
The cool, clear Palala River runs through the Palala River Nature Reserve cocooned in the heart of the Waterberg. The beautiful natural setting is the perfect antidote for city stress and the sound of gently flowing water brings serenity to even the most ragged soul.
Guests are free to walk or drive through the reserve, which sports white rhino, giraffe, zebra, antelope and more. Sedan drivers should be warned, however, that certain roads are inaccessible without 4×4, but you can still see a large enough slice for satisfactory game-viewing. Other activities on site include birding, guided walks and game drives (subject to availability). These come highly recommended as having a guide with particular knowledge of the reserve and the Waterberg Biosphere adds an interesting educational dimension to the experience.
There are three self-catering cottages, each of which has something special to offer. River Cottage is the perfect retreat for a couple seeking solitude, while the three Podica Bush Camp rondavels (sleep two to four) together make a good option for groups of family and friends. Each unit has an open-plan living area and kitchenette. Kingfisher Cottage can sleep up to 10 people in three twin and two double rooms. There’s also a comfortable living area and swimming pool.
Rates range from R270 to R350 a person a night sharing. Tel 014-755-4415, cell 082-570-8474, email email@example.com. Web information can be accessed through www.jembisa.com (click on self-catering cottages). If you’re after a luxury, catered option, Jembisa Lodge is also worth checking out.
For a nature lover, it’s liberating to explore the 1 200-hectare private game reserve on foot or mountain bike. Most of the dirt roads are accessible to sedans, but certain marked sections are 4×4 territory only. There’s also the option of game drives on an open Land Rover with a qualified guide. The Waterberg is a paradise for birders and the reserve is stocked with plains animals from giraffe to impala.
The reserve has a gorgeous deck on which to enjoy sundowners, a swimming pool and a play area for kids. Pack a picnic and head to one of two allocated sites on the banks of a dam or at the start of the walking trail with gorgeous views. There are even paddle boats available if you want to enjoy the dam without getting your paws wet.
Guests are accommodated in stylish and comfortable self-catering cottages, with all the conveniences of home – think simple, African/ colonial décor, screed flooring and broad verandas from which to enjoy the sunset. The cottages come in various sizes, from two to 14 sleepers, and are set a good distance apart to ensure absolute privacy and quiet.
Reconnecting with nature and relaxation are the sole purposes of a visit to this 430-hectare escape. When you aren’t watching game from the comfort of your chalet or luxury tent, you can take a walk or mountain-bike ride across the savanna to spot zebra, giraffe, kudu or wildebeest. There’s plenty to keep children and adults entertained including horse riding, a giant chess set, mini-golf, a play area, pool and spa treatments.
Given the amenitites available, the retreat could double as a small resort, which is great for families with younger children, but the distance and general sense of space prevents this from being a place that couples or solitude seekers need to avoid.
The three self-catering cottages are serviced and well equipped and there are four spacious safari tents, which offer a greater sense of privacy.
High-season rates start at R370 a person a night in the tents and R470 a person a night in the cottages. Tel 014-755-4244, cell 083-460-2982, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bushveldretreat.co.za.
(About 45 minutes from Johannesburg)
Unlike its noisy neighbour of Johannesburg, Tshwane tends to take a gentler approach to life, swaying to the rhythm of the green and lavender jacarandas that envelop it. This might well have something to do with the fact that there are a number of nature spots in close proximity. After all, there’s nothing like a little time in the bush to anaesthetise city stresses and restore energy levels.
Hear the call of fish-eagles from your balcony or explore the reserve’s 40 kilometres of road and keep your eyes open for white rhino, zebra, buffalo and, if you’re lucky, cheetah – all within the city limits. The 3 800-hectare reserve to the south of Pretoria is one of the world’s largest urban nature reserves and is a special boon for Pretoria residents, who can literally spot game and birds before heading to work – what a way to start the day.
Comfortable chalets overlooking a dam sleep up to six and there’s a campsite (no electricity) on the other side of the dam with a basic ablution block. Activities on site include fishing, mountain biking, game-viewing and birding.
Units sleep up to six and cost R700 a night with a R200 deposit. Camping is R25 a vehicle and R60 a person a night. It’s not always easy to get hold of reception, but persevere as someone will answer your call eventually. Tel 012-358-1819.
Choose from a range of accommodation, from campsites to chalets, at this lesser-known nature reserve which is home to 33 game and 300 bird species. The units are basic, but comfortable enough and there’s plenty to keep you busy from guided game viewing and horse riding to mini-golf and visits to San rock paintings, which are the only paintings in Gauteng open to the public. There’s a large dam for fishing and plenty of space for the children to run around. A small shop stocks the basics.
Units sleep between four and six. Rates start at R70 a person a night for camping, R145 a person a night for hiking huts and R205 a person a night in the chalets. Tel 013-680-1399, cell 083-440-5886, email@example.com, www.ezemvelo.co.za.
Nyala, waterbuck and springbok roam the 400-hectare reserve, which also boasts zebra and wildebeest as well as smaller species such as bushbabies, porcupine and aardvark. There are game drives and guided horse rides available or you can go it alone and explore more than 30 kilometres of road on foot or mountain bike. Somabula is close to Cullinan and guests can pop into the quaint mining town for a meal or a spot of shopping.
The self-catering stone and wood cottages (each sleeps four) are set among indigenous trees offering privacy and tranquillity. There’s also a campsite and, for something a little more unique, there’s an outspan of four restored ox wagons (sleep two each) with an entertainment and self-catering lapa.
(About 40 minutes from Johannesburg)
Like many peri-urban centres that fringe Johannesburg, Heidelberg seems to have little going for it when you skirt the town from the N3. But this is farming country with golden grasslands, hiking trails and historical sites aplenty. Surprisingly, the sleepy town centre was once the life of the party – it boasted no fewer than 18 bars in the 1980s when gold was found close by.
The farm offers a low-fuss break in accommodation that varies from a dorm-type camp for hikers to family units and small cottages for couples. Each of the nine venues has its own charm, but the pick of the lot is Ouma se Huisie, a beautiful, stone farmhouse with a lemon tree in the front garden.
The property is set among the hills of the Suikerbosrand and offers two day hikes: the 13-kilometre Panorama Trail or the 11-kilometre Kraal Trail. Look out for more than 17 mammal species, including black wildebeest, springbok, zebra, blesbok, jackal, duiker, steenbok, mountain reedbuck and more. The area also offers excellent birding with more than 120 species identified on the farm. There are canoes available for rowing on the farm dam and guests can play volleyball too.
Units sleep from two to 35 and are available for a minimum of two nights. Rates range from R200 a person for the weekend in the hikers’ hut to R840 a night for the units sleeping one to six people. Cell 083-412-5272, email firstname.lastname@example.org” target=”_blank”>info. email@example.com, www.wheretostay.co.za/klipkraal.
(About 45 minutes from Johannesburg)
The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is best known as the birthplace of humanity where archeologists are still uncovering plant, animal and hominin fossils that offer clues to our past. It’s also a popular tourist destination and wedding venue.
For one up on roughing it in the great outdoors, try glamping at Bushwillow Tented Camp. The 10 comfortable tents accommodate up to six each on army-style beds and have en suite bathrooms with hot-water showers. Each has a kitchenette, but you’ll need to take along crockery and cutlery. All meals are prepared in the communal boma and it’s a great idea to book out the entire camp for groups of up to 60.
The heated pool has beautiful views of the Zwartkops Mountains and the camp is surrounded by indigenous bush, which is home to a range of bird and animal life, including eland, zebra and impala.
Guided hikes are available on request. If you fancy really spoiling yourself, book one of the spa treatments available from Chicama Country Spa (www.chicama.co.za) at the neighbouring Glenburn Lodge.
Tents sleep six and are R880 a tent for the first night and R550 for each consecutive night thereafter (check the website for specials). Tel 011-668-1600, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bushwillowtentedcamp.co.za.
(Two-and-a-half hours from Johannesburg)
The 27-kilometre long dam is part of the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve which is home to 70 species of mammals including white rhino, buffalo and even leopard as well as oribi, hippo, giraffe and warthog. The area plays host to one of the largest inland fishing competitions, held in September each year, when about 1500 anglers flock to the dam to try their luck at catching carp, red-breasted and blue-breasted bream, eel, yellow fish and many more.
A holiday here can be as busy as you choose. Activities on the resort, which is surrounded by mountains and a nature reserve, include game viewing by boat – expect to spot crocodile, hippo, various antelope and, if you’re lucky, white rhino and leopard. There’s also volleyball, a heated pool, mini-golf, tennis, paintball and fishing. The presence of hippo and crocs prevents this from being a suitable swimming or waterskiing dam and young children should be supervised at all times. Other than that it’s a tranquil body of water in a beautiful, rugged environment.
The 40 wood cabins dotted along the banks of the Loskop Dam are the recommended choice of accommodation, but there are other options for larger groups. Keep your doors and windows closed when you aren’t around as unattended food is likely to be snapped up by a hungry feral cat or two. If you go during the week (off season), you’ll be blessed with peace and quiet and have the hiking trails to yourself, but if it’s a social escape you’re after, visit over weekends or school holidays. Keep an eye on the events calendar on the website for details of the annual angling competitions and the Loskop Ultra Marathon.
Peak-season prices start at R150 a campsite and R75 a person a night, units are from R1 110 for a two sleeper to R1 620 for a six sleeper. There are also two houses that sleep five each and cost R1 955 and R3 960 a night respectively. Tel 012-423-5600, email email@example.com, www.foreverloskopdam.co.za.
(Two hours from Johannesburg)
The 120-kilometre long Magaliesberg range is 100 times older than Everest and half the age of the Earth. It’s watched humanity evolve and civilisations crumble. The area, which stretches from Brits to Krugersdorp and Hekpoort to Pretoria, is a popular weekend escape and is best known for the Magaliesberg Meander, a tourism route (www.magaliesmeander.co.za) which highlights places to stay and things to do.
Climb to the top of the 2,5-kilometre portion of the Magaliesberg range encompassed on the reserve or simply gaze at it from your veranda.
As the seasons change so does the colour kaleidoscope of flora. There is a wonderful sense of openness in the portion of the property in front of the cosy wood cabins you’ll be calling home for the duration of your stay. You can keep an eye on the children romping around the hectares of cut grassland or head to the mountain to explore the series of well laid-out hiking trails.
Keep an eye open for Cape vultures, Verreaux’s eagle, mountain reedbuck, duiker, klipspringer, baboon, jackal, genet, giraffe, warthog and ostrich among others. Gorges are thick with indigenous trees, ferns flowers and grasses and you can either hire a mountain bike or bring your own to explore the farm roads.
The cabins sleep four in two rooms, one with a queen-size bed and the other with twin beds. There’s a swimming pool and game-viewing horse rides can be arranged.
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