Lockdown has been tough for the Long Weekenders, with a few months of not even being able to leave our municipal area and then a few more of being confined to Gauteng province. While Gauteng is our home, it’s not exactly known for its tourist attractions, being South Africa’s smallest and most heavily populated province. Here is our guide to the best Gauteng day trips for nature and outdoor-lovers.
Warning: contains (some) birding
Modderfontein is a private nature reserve in the east of the greater Joburg area. It has a picturesque stream running through a section of blue gum forest as well as some big dams and general veld area. It’s a very popular area for mountain bikers and hikers and is home to an astoundingly good variety of birds considering that it is in the middle of the city. There is also a restaurant/pub and a weekend market. Definitely our top pick for hiking inside the Joburg city limits.
Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens
Joburg’s answer to Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch is situated on the west rand en route to Krugersdorp. The gardens are beautiful, with big lawns for picnicking and an impressive waterfall in the middle. The gardens are famous for a breeding pair of black eagles who reliably produce a chick every year. There are generally volunteers available to help you spot the eagles and give you info on latest developments. Other birdlife in the park is also great and there is an excellent 5km hiking loop which takes you up next to the waterfall and then along a series of ridges with views out over the Joburg suburbs.
Ground is a lovely restaurant and venue just north of Joburg which was very clever about reinventing themselves during lockdown – offering a package deal with socially distanced hiking on their beautiful property followed by a tasty outdoor breakfast. This place was a real life-savior for us at a time when there were very few options to get if the house and still feel safe. Give them some support!
An honorable mention goes to Northern Farms, a mountain biking venue near Diepsloot in the north of Joburg. Although it is very much targeted at bikers, the property has some beautiful wetland areas which are great for birding.
Marievale is arguable Gauteng’s top birding destination. It is a small reserve about 1 hour to the east of Joburg situated rather bizarrely in the middle of a mining area. Despite the odd location, the reserve is a haven for an astounding variety of water birds and is really well set up for birding with numerous hides, good road access and a little picnic site in the centre.
Rietvlei is right in the middle of Centurion, and only 45 minutes away from home. It’s a little piece of the bushveld in the city, with rhinos, buffalo and a good variety of general game as well as small predators like jackals and serval. The reserve participates in a cheetah conservation programme so if you’re really lucky, you might even bump into some breeding cheetahs! The reserve is covered in rolling grassland, which makes gamespotting easy, and there are several hides and a small coffee shop.
In our next post we will look at some places in Gauteng that are good for overnight trips.