By Stuart Johnston
The most surreal experience we have on our trip to the Magaliesberg is cresting a rise on the road leading from Maropeng to the old Tarlton-Magaliesburg road. As the nose of our vehicle points straight up at the sky, there is an aeroplane directly in our field of view, tugging a glider up into the sky.
The MAGALIESBERG GLIDING CLUB has been in existence for decades, and it is still a flourishing organisation. We stop off to check out the action and find a regional gliding championship is being held, with dozens of gliders taking part. If you’ve never been in a glider, you should get hold of the club, because it’s probably the ultimate flying experience. And yes, rides are available to the public at a cost of about R750 for a half-hour flip.
You can travel at great speeds, with absolute control (an experienced pilot will be at the helm behind you), and yet with a complete absence of sound—except for the whistle of the wind on the wingtips as you dive out of a thermal and swoop down for yet another exhilarating half loop.
If you are really lucky, you may even get to traverse the up-draft thermals in the company of vultures, as I did back in 1978, when I visited this club as a rookie journalist on an assignment for a Krugersdorp newspaper. Back then Magaliesburg was way out in the ‘country’. But now it’s almost on the doorstep of both Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Perhaps the best-kept secret about the Magaliesberg region is it offers an African experience that can rival just about anything this country has to offer.
There is accommodation to rival the best in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga, so if you plan to extend your day-trip to a weekend or more, you have a wide choice ranging from B&Bs to exclusive establishments right up there with the best. Places such as MOUNT GRACE and DE HOEK are legendary for their up-market lodgings, cuisine, and the tranquillity of their settings. De Hoek’s swiss-trained chef Michael Holenstein and his team, create five-course dinners, set with crystal and silver for guests to enjoy. There are many other options, too.
These include two establishments better known for their conferencing and wedding focus, AVIANTOand KLOOFZICHT, the former catering for honeymooners and weddings, complete with its own Tuscany-styled chapel; the latter offering fishing at a tranquil dam within sight of both the hotel area and the Magalies mountain range. You have to pinch yourself to realise this setting is less than 50km away from greater Randburg.
On your way there you’ll have to look out for hundreds of cyclists enjoying the reasonably deserted roads. Cyclists being catered for in this region—by the provision of special cycle lanes—is pretty unique anywhere in slow-on-the-uptake South Africa, and gives us hope for the future.
If you happen to stop for a reasonably priced and tasty breakfast at Kloofzicht, your best bet is to turn right when exiting, where a whole range of atypical treasures awaits you.
The RHINO AND LION NATURE RESERVE, previously known as the Lion Park, has been in existence in this part of the world for the last half-century or so. It is still well worth a visit. There are dozens of animal experiences on offer in the region, including the popular Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, and many more.
Entertainment for kids? We stop off at an establishment that is a real blast from the past—a go-kart track situated just past the popular GREENSLEEVES restaurant on the R563 towards HARTBEESPOORT DAM. This old track, too, has been in operation for decades and the karts are ancient and slow, but well maintained. That means they are reasonably safe. The SWARTKRANS GO-KART TRACK also has horse rides on offer for those of a less petrol-head inclination, and although you’ll be looking at spending R9 a lap on each youngster, the place is still immensely popular.
After go-karting we head towards the dam, and if we had more time on this trip, we would definitely check out MAROPENG. The official Cradle of Humankind establishment offers educational tours and the like on the history of this region, in which it is said the earliest of human beings first lived.
Also along these lines are the STERKFONTEIN CAVES, well worth a visit, as they are among the most famous series of caves in the world, because early hominid remains found there have been dated as between 2,0 to 2,2 million years old. To date, some 500 finds of these early human ancestors have been discovered at the site since the early 1930s, although the caves themselves were discovered in the late 19th century by a miner in search of gold (what else?).
A far gentler way of earning a living than mining is raising fish, and this we discover for ourselves as we travel just a few further kilometres on from Sterkfontein. The sign saying KOI FARM draws us in out of curiosity, and we spend an hour here learning about the raising of these exotic fish from Koi farmer Mike Minne. Mike and his wife Mariske also run a wedding venue on their farm, which has buildings on it dating back to the 1880s.
It’s only a few kilometres from the farm to the village of Magaliesburg. And it must be said, the village itself has not done itself any favours over the past few years in terms of offering itself as a tourist attraction. Too many taxis, too many greasy fast-food outlets, too many low-budget shopping malls. What happened to all the curio shops of a decade or so ago? So, if you’re in search of a good place to eat, take a right after the village in the direction of Rustenburg. Here we find the BLACK HORSE RESTAURANT and micro-brewery, which has its tables located right alongside stables for the establishment’s horses, which you can see at play in the meadows below the restaurant. The menu has a good variety on offer, with starters such as Buccancini Mozzarella Toasted Almonds and Celery Salad, and main courses ranging from Roast Pickled Pork Knuckle to Tempura Fish and Calamari with Curried Slaw. Great for a sunny day.
Another place we try, on the second day of our Magalies meander, is VAN GAALEN KAAS MAKERIJ,a cheese factory situated just outside of Skeerpoort on the south-eastern side of Hartbeespoort Dam. Apart from being able to view the cheese factory before sitting down to a meal—in pleasant country-cottage surroundings on the stoep outside—you can take part in all sorts of outdoor activities. This is a hugely popular venue among mountain bikers, with trails leading out from the restaurant. There are bicycles you can hire from Van Gaalen for this purpose, and the venue also organises birding, hiking, horse riding and trail running excursions. They’ll also pack you a picnic basket if you choose to wander across the river for some peace and quiet.
The list of things to do in this area is endless. There’s the ELEPHANT SANCTUARY and the BUSH BABIES MONKEY SANCTUARY at Hartbeespoort Dam. There is also the GOBLIN’S COVE, a trip for kiddies and adults alike into a world of fantasy. The best thing to do is get a map. Get yourself out of Joburg in the direction of Mudersdrift or Hartbeespoort Dam. Stop at any establishment and pick up brochures on things to do.
And I haven’t even mentioned HOT AIR BALLOONING, courtesy of the famed Bill Harrop organisation, which is also on offer once you’ve tried out the passenger space in a glider. Or maybe you’d like to do that first. The endless choices are yours.
In And Around the 'Berg
•Trading Post Coffee Shop and Deli: A family-orientated spot that serves good, home-made food in a relaxing atmosphere. Tel. 073-577-9994
• Black Horse Restaurant and Micro-Brewery: Enjoy mouthwatering beer and delicious food on this working family stud farm. Tel. 082 453 5295
• De Hoek Country House: Not just a luxurious place to stay the night, it’s a great place to savour a tasty five-course meal. Tel. 014-577-9600
• Melon Rouge: Make sure to stop by the Melon Rouge, you’ll be impressed by some of the finest art and antiques in the area. Tel. 079-680-6050
• Puschka Farm: An organic farm offering self-catering accommodation. Tel. 083-445-5058.
• The Moon & Sixpence Country Venue: The perfect spot for Sunday lunches and picnics, functions and even your wedding day. Tel. 011-6597-030
• Budmarsh Lodge: A five-star experience in a charming country setting. Web. www.budmarsh.co.za