It’s a weird time to live in Gauteng province. Gauteng is South Africa’s largest province by population and its smallest province by size, by huge margins. And due to the ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions, all 13 million of us Gautengers are stuck here together.
Domestic tourism has technically reopened in South Africa, but we’re still not allowed to travel across provincial lines (at least not without a permit). People living in larger provinces — the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and pretty much every other province — have miles and miles of open space to travel in, with countless small towns and beautiful natural wonders to enjoy. In Gauteng, our options are far more limited. From Joburg we can hardly drive an hour in any direction without hitting a provincial border, and everyone is yearning for a bit of open space.
So far, I still feel pretty happy being a pandemic hermit. I mainly stay home, and only occasionally venture out for a trip downtown or a walk/run in a local park. But I realize there are many among you who don’t feel that way, and it is my moral responsibility as a blogger and informal Gauteng travel expert to help you out.
For those of you yearning to get out of the city, here’s a list of five out-of-town Gauteng outings I recommend.
1) Dinokeng Game Reserve
Dinokeng is a private game reserve — the only reserve in Gauteng with the Big 5 — about 30 minutes north of Pretoria. Dinokeng is relatively new by game park standards, and its biodiversity is nowhere near that of a park like the Kruger or even Pilanesberg. But if you want a real bush experience with wild animals, this is the best option in Gauteng. One friend of mine has visited three times in the past few weeks and had quite a few good game sightings, including a pair of lions mating.
You can visit Dinokeng for a self-drive day trip or book accommodation at one of several private lodges, some of which are self-catering. I’ve heard some lodges are already booking up weeks in advance, so call now.
2) Stone Hill
Stone Hill is a scenic farm in Magaliesburg, with hiking trails and a collection of lovely self-catering cabins. I stayed there in December 2016 and loved it. (I realize this was a few years ago now, but other friends have stayed more recently and loved it as much as I did.) I highly recommend staying a night or two at Stone Hill, but their hiking trails are also open to daytrippers for a modest entrance fee.
Stone Hill’s cottages and hiking trails are pet-friendly, so you can bring your dogs with you.
Cullinan is a historic diamond-mining town, also about 30 minutes outside Pretoria. The diamond mine, which is still operational, is Cullinan’s big tourism draw, but I managed to spend more than half a day in Cullinan without even visiting the mine and still had a lot of fun. There are quite a few quirky historic buildings to look at, including a lovely church designed by Sir Herbert Baker, and a giant hole in the ground that you can walk right up and look into.
It’s worth the drive to Cullinan simply to have a meal at As Greek As It Gets, one of the best Greek restaurants in South Africa.
4) Anton Smit Sculpture Park
I suddenly remembered the Anton Smit Sculpture Park yesterday, and it’s one of the reasons I got excited to write this post. This is such a fun, quirky place to visit and I feel like hardly anyone knows about it. I last visited the sculpture park in 2017, and I think if I decide to do one COVID-19 Gauteng outing on this list, it will be this one.
The sculpture park is in Bronkhorstspruit, which is — like most of the places on this list — about half an hour from Pretoria and just over an hour from Joburg.
Anton Smit is a well-known South African sculptor and the sculpture park is his home and studio. There are huge, imposing sculptures all over the property, and there’s also a nice café/restaurant filled with interesting art. If you’re lucky you’ll bump into Anton himself — he is quite a character.
UPDATE (16 August): A reader living in Bronkhorstspruit just informed that Image Café, the restaurant at Anton Smit Sculpture Park, has moved off the premises to another location. I’ll provide more information whenever I have it.
5) Hennops Hiking Trail
As someone said on Instagram recently, “Hiking is the new clubbing.” Hiking in privately run nature reserves is all the rage during lockdown, and since the Hennops Hiking Trail is one of the closest private trails to Joburg — less than an hour to the north — it has been one of the most popular in recent weeks (or so I’ve heard.)
So while you’re unlikely to have Hennops to yourself, especially if you go on a weekend, I still recommend it. There are three hiking trails — a 2.5-kilometer, a 5-kilometer, and a 10-kilometer trail — and you can cross the river in a fun but terrifying cable car.
Unfortunately a few of my favorite Gauteng province getaway spots — Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Tswaing Meteorite Crater, and the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve — are still closed due to COVID. Here’s hoping they open soon.
If you have any other Gauteng getaway spots you’d like to recommend, I welcome your comments. Happy local traveling.