Much more than just a mountain range, the Magaliesberg holds many surprises as an ideal destination that has it all. Whether just for a weekend break, or a full week away, Magaliesberg is a treasure chest of places to explore, for families looking for fun and adventure to romantics longing for a quiet break.
Stretching across Gauteng and the North West province, it starts just an hour’s easy drive from Johannesburg. A mountain range almost 100 times older than Mount Everest, 58 000 hectares of it was declared a protected Unesco biosphere reserve in 2015.
This is where you can really get away from the bustle of the city – with its malls and shopping centres that consume our usual weekend hours, or the screens we stare at all day in our offices – and rediscover how enticing natural beauty and what a therapeutic dose the country can be.
For animal lovers, the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre near the town of Brits is an up-close-and-personal encounter with numerous big cats, such as the king cheetahs for which this conservation centre is known, as well as servals, caracals and even wild dogs. There are also many horse trails in the region, such as those on the Duo Duce farm.
Situated alongside the Hartbeespoort Dam, it offers outrides and picnics for all levels of riders. Alternatively, take in the Elephant Sanctuary or the Vulture Rehabilitation Centre for the endangered Cape Vulture – both also at Hartbeespoort.
If it’s a blast from the past you’re looking for, retro-style fun can also be found close to the dam, on the permanent set left behind from the Afrikaans movie Pretville. This is where brightly coloured buildings and cars from the 1950s set the scene, along with an old-style diner that serves the type of milkshakes and burgers that will transport you back in time.
Alternatively, take a ride with Reefstreamers on one of their old-fashioned steam locomotives that run regularly from the company’s depot in Germiston to Park Station in the Magaliesburg. Or if it’s a deeper dive back into history you crave, the outstanding visitors centre at The Cradle of Humankind Maropeng Visitor Centre houses an exhibition of fossils, stones and dioramas that bring the history of humankind to life.
One of the most popular attractions, also close to the dam, is the aerial cableway that offers visitors panoramic views over the Magaliesberg and its surrounds. Restaurants and food stalls are on site as well as the Dassie Loop walkway where kids can learn about nature from the educational placards en route.
If you prefer your natural beauty a bit more rugged, the Magaliesburg is filled with rising cliffs, sheltered kloofs and rolling streams – a landscape within which numerous species of buck, baboons and birds are abundant, many of which can be found along the walking and mountain-biking trails inside the Mountain Sanctuary Park.
Equally enticing, Magaliesburg is also where hikers will find the hidden gem known as Castle Gorge, a waterfall with crystal clear pools and weathered rock formation that will make the quite rigorous climb worth the while for those who enjoy a hiking challenge. Please note, though, that a permit will be required and these can be obtained via the Johannesburg (JHB) Hiking Club.
For breathtaking beauty of a different variety, and particularly for those visitors needing a proper respite from city life, this region is also home to the African Pride Mount Grace Country House and Spa, Autograph Collection, a calming retreat set against the majestic Magaliesburg Mountains with sweeping views across the countryside.
Part of the group’s Autograph Collection of hotels, each hotel has a “mark” – a theme that runs through the entire venue – and the one at this establishment is lavender, with long walkways lined with lavender bushes along which guests may stroll. Opulent and luxurious, the resort has four restaurants on site, and its Bush Spa is an attraction on its own, featuring nature-inspired treatments.
It’s a venue that offers the type of relaxation you may never want to leave, but there are other enticements close at hand to add to the Magaliesburg experience. Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris will float you high above the hills, or you can explore local arts and crafts markets, take in the delicious cheeses made at van GaalenKaasmakerij … or take in the region’s Ale Trail.
This latter boasts a number of breweries to be found in the region, from The Black Horse Brewery which looks out across the magnificent Zeekoeihoek Valley, to Gilroy’s Pub and Restaurant in Ngwenya Village (which brews four different beers from a Serious Dark to a Pale Ale).
There’s also the Brauhaus am Damm in the town of Rustenberg, the White Dog Taproom (on the R98), and the Ale House Brewery and Chameleon Brewhouse, both close to Hartbeespoort. Discovering the magic that makes up the Magaliesburg will probably leave any visitor with just one question: when can you make it back for more?