Where are we going? Magaliesberg
Where are we traveling from? Johannesburg
How long does it take to get there? 90 minutes by car
After spending a crazy two days in Johannesburg, some downtime in the bush felt like it was much-deserved. Fortunately, the Magaliesberg mountains are a 90-minute drive from the city and offer the restorative advantages of a safari destination with all of the convenience of a weekend escape.
The Magaliesberg stretches from the Pilanesberg in South Africa’s North West province to Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng. The mountain range was formed out of an ancient shoreline that dates back about 2,000 million years—and has an incredible diversity to show for this. There are game reserves, spas, geological sites, and adventure activities that will ensure you’re able to plan a city escape that will have you feeling completely recharged whatever your definition of relaxation.
Getting to the Magaliesberg
Hop in your car, hit the road, and head out of Johannesburg towards Lanseria. Soon, the wide open spaces of northwestern Gauteng will surround you and the tightly packed buildings of the city will be just a sight in your rearview mirror.
Landscapes in the Magaliesberg change significantly and quickly as the miles go by. One minute, you may find yourself driving among the tawny scrub scattered with human detritus. Then you could turn onto a winding dirt road that leads up a ridge and opens to views of a practically uninhabited valley. The entire area is a patchwork of conservancies and reserves, farms, and tiny towns. Which makes it perfect for a weekend getaway—or a quick day trip from Johannesburg or Pretoria.
How to Spend Your Time in the Magaliesberg
Naturally, what you choose to do while you’re in the area will depend on your interests and how much time you have on your hands.
I was fortunate enough to have a couple of days to explore and made the African Hills Safari Lodge & Spa on the Plumari Private Reserve my base for my time in the Magalies. Besides being able to take full advantage of the spa, staying at African Hills gave me the added benefit of starting my days with a morning game drive or rounding them out with an evening viewing. You can also explore the reserve on foot with guided hikes—a rare opportunity in the African bush.
There’s plenty to do outside of the reserves, too.
Top of my list, because I tend to nerd out on history and science, is visiting the Maropeng Visitor Centre at the Cradle of Humankind and the linked Sterkfontein Caves. Considering how old the Maliesberg range is, it’s little surprise that there have been some super important fossil finds here.
To learn about the rich history of the area, a visit to the Maropeng Visitor Centre is needed. This interactive exhibition center takes you on a journey through time from the formation of Earth up until the present day. Plus, the tour starts with an underground boat ride, which is a load of fun no matter how old you are. If you’d like to delve deeper, you can book a guided tour of Sterkfontein Caves, where famous fossils ‘Mrs Ples’ (who may actually be a Mr) and ‘Little Foot’ were uncovered. Although it’s interesting, I’ve been spoilt with more engaging cave tours, so if I had to do it again, I’d give Sterkfontein a skip.
You don’t have to stay underground either. Some of the best activities in the Magalies will get you sky high.
A real treat is the hot-air balloon safari. Lift off is at sunrise (which can be very early if you’re here in the summer months) and gets you a bird’s-eye view of the gorgeous Magalies River Valley and, if you’re lucky, game in the veld below. Remember to dress in layers—the early mornings are usually chilly, but the excitement of being in the balloon (and sipping sparkling wine at sunrise) will warm you up quickly and you’ll want to be able to peel off.
Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris are the ones to go with if you’re keen on spotting game from the sky. The family-run business has been operating balloons in the Magaliesberg since 1981 and their warm welcomes and hospitality are like a comforting hug when you’re preparing for takeoff in the early morning.
For something a little more down to earth, book a canopy tour. The Magaliesberg course zig zags between cliff faces, suspending you about 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground. Don’t panic if you’re afraid of heights like I am—the views you’ll see as you glide along the zipline are plenty to distract you. And the guides are all so knowledgeable and friendly that you’ll forget about your fear in no time.
Game drives, spelunking, and ziplining filled my time in the Magaliesberg. But if you’re looking for more things to do in addition to the underground and aerial activities, you can also visit the Hartbeespoort Dam. There are loads of water-based activities (think scuba diving and cruises), plus animal sanctuaries to visit. While you’re in the area, be sure to take the Harties—as locals affectionately call the dam—gondola to get panoramic views of the Magaliesberg.
With vibrant cities, untouched natural wonders, and a favorable exchange rate, South Africa is one of the most dynamic destinations for travelers. Learn more about the Rainbow Nation with our latest articles.