Hike, camp, glamp or just chill for summer at these new or old favourite spots – all under two hour’s drive from Gauteng. Words & Photos Melanie van Zyl
Get some air
Tented Adventures, Bezhoek Nature Reserve
The mines and coal trucks that clogged and chugged along the tarred R555 past Emalahleni did little to excite the nature-lover in me – until I passed through the gates into Bezhoek Nature Reserve, where industry gave way to a grand gorge carpeted with indigenous forest, and my misgivings dissolved. I passed relaxed impala herds and blue wildebeest and soon reached a sign that said ‘This way to your adventure’. Beyond it, nine spacious canvas tents faced the plains.
The 4 500-hectare private reserve encompasses the Olifants River and the park has gained acclaim as a mountain-biking and hiking destination for day visitors. Now it’s home to a new glamping hub, too.
While Tented Adventures (with camps in Pilanesberg and greater Kruger) handles accommodation, Impact Adventure Africa lays on epic outdoor escapades. ‘Abseiling opens new neural pathways’, Rene Robinson told me later that afternoon, as she secured belay lines to rocks and sturdy trees on the escarpment edge.
A psychologist by training, Rene joined the adventure business almost a decade ago and understands a thing or two about throwing yourself off a mountain.
Standing on the rim of the ravine, I could see the Olifants River slivering towards the sun while baboon barks echoed up from below. Fortunately I couldn’t see the cliff base 40 metres down.
Rene encouraged me over the ledge. The hardest part of abseiling was that initial dip backwards into thin air. ‘Lean back and take your hands off the rig’, Rene shouted from somewhere above, ‘and trust the ropes’. I let go and hung suspended in the balmy spring air. ‘Now, put your hands up and celebrate.’
‘Yeeeeeeha!’, I bellowed to the baboons below. The mechanics of abseiling are easy: feed the rope and walk down the cliff. The mental gymnastics are another story. Technically I’d reached bottom, yet I felt on top of the world. Walking back to camp an added treat was coming across a tower of giraffe eyeing us curiously as we passed by.
DBB From R1 250 pp including an afternoon game drive and morning walk, G&T sundowner, plus a glass of wine at dinner. Activities cost extra, abseiling R340 pp | 076 146 1468 tentedadventures.com
More ways to get high
Feel the altitude
on the Shelter
This 8km hike reaches a summit of 1 700m in the Magaliesburg. Allow at least two hours for the return walk. Open between 7am and 4.30pm, with last hikers permitted at 11am. R100#pp shelterrock.co.za
Watch winged critters at Marievale Bird Sanctuary
It’s free to enter this beloved birders’ paradise in Nigel (about an hour’s drive from Joburg), and summer brings a myriad migrant visitors. Pack a coffee flask and hone your bird photography or brush up on twitching tricks with a day visit. Open from 6am to 6pm | 011 364 5900
Stay at The Zenkaya Eco Pod at Rosemary Hill
Set on a working farm in Pretoria, this new eco-friendly stay lets the outdoors in with floor-to-ceiling glass panels and a lekker porch to relax on after taking to the trails that crisscross the property. B&B R1 600 per night – sleeps two | 012 802 0052 rosemaryhill.co.za
All Fired Up
Morekuri Safaris, Dinokeng Game Reserve
If Lockdown taught South Africans anything, it was to appreciate the treasures on our doorstep, and Dinokeng Game Reserve – barely an hour north of Joburg – is one such Gauteng address. Planning a weekend, however, can be daunting.
There are over 50 lodges in the 20 000-hectare Big Five reserve, with accommodation ranging from five-star luxury to tented suites to basic unfenced bush camps. Morekuri Safaris is the latest addition (a rebirth of the old Ngata Safari Lodge) and offers discerning campers an excellent opportunity to gather around a campfire without breaking the budget.
Shaded by acacias and tamboti trees, the four bush campsites are thoughtfully designed and a low, wide electric fence keeps wild animals at bay but enables guests to keep an eye on passing game. Campsite number one has unobstructed views towards the sunset, and each site has its own ablutions – so you can leave your towel on the hook for the whole weekend. Five bigger campsites accommodate caravans and share a bathroom.
Tackle the self-drive safari route (a day permit costs R250) then relax around a blazing fire at night. In the stillness, you might just make out the sounds of cars driving on the N1 but it does little to detract from this easily accessible and very affordable bush break.
From R130 pp to camp, entry fees cost R80 pp (purchase your self-drive permit at Tau Gate before checking into the camp) | 073 773 2722 morekurisafaris.com
Want a guided game drive? Morekuri owners Jacques and Kobie Blofield suggested nearby Mongena Lodge. ‘They have their own land to traverse so it’s a more exclusive safari experience’. From R380 pp, mongena.co.za
Take to the water
Old Willow No. 7 Houseboats, Sasolburg
Skip the Vaalie crowds in Durban this December with a journey down the Vaal River instead – all aboard an Old Willow No. 7 houseboat. On arrival, one of your party will become designated driver and undergo a brief skipper’s training, before being handed the boat keys for a riverine meander. The self-drive houseboats sleep up to five people and boast a kitchen, bathroom plus a shaded braai area, and an upper level with deck chairs for unforgettable sundowners. With 55km of waterway at your disposal, keep an eye out for otters, enjoy the waterbirds, throw out a fishing line or dock at a restaurant for lunch.
Low season from R895 for two; December rates, for a minimum two-night booking, from R610 pp a night | 083 391 4884, oldwillow.co.za
Pack The Pooches
The Crooked Tree is perched on the banks of the Magalies River and offers a choice between riverfront, fenced-off and regular campsites nestled into the trees. As long as dogs are socialised and tidied after, they are free to romp, frolic and swim in the streams. Luckily, there’s a designated doggy shower before bedtime.
R350 to R450 a stand per night for up to four people and one vehicle | 074 743 7788 crookedtreecamp.com
Just 35 minutes drive from Crooked Tree, towards Hartbeespoort Dam, pet parents can enjoy a classy day outing. Kleine Rijke pivoted from being a beautiful wedding venue to providing picture-perfect picnics in an animal-friendly environment. There’s a 5km trail past the dam; or settle down with the dogs for a long lunch.
Book ahead for Feastbox Saturdays (from R260 pp) or pull in for pizza Sundays. Pre-booking is essential | 072 146 0278. kleinerijke.com
More hydrous happenings
Cheetahs roam Rietvlei Nature Reserve again
Joe and Njozi (both about two years old) were relocated to Pretoria from Welgevonden and the Western Cape respectively in October 2020. If you don’t, er, spot them on a drive, don’t fret. There’s plenty to see besides. Zebra, warthog, rhino, blesbok and hippo make Rietvlei a hit with kids (they can also get out of the car at various hides). Arrive early to secure a prime waterside picnic spot and bring braai supplies.
Entry costs R64 per adult and R37 for children between 7 and 17 years old | tshwane.gov.za
Catch smallmouth yellowfish with an expert
Anthea Piater is the Free State’s only female fishing guide. The enthusiastic, easy-going Vaal River local has a palpable love for lures, line and learning. Meet at Eendekuil Flyfishing Venue, which offers comfortable wading for beginners and rambling lawns ideal for picnics.
Entry costs R100 pp and a half-day private guiding experience R1 000 for up to three people | anthea@ thenaturalagent.com