This story was first published on 12 July 2018 and was updated on 7 August 2019.
You don’t have to travel far to enjoy a day out in the City of Gold.
Joburg often gets a bad rap for being a concrete city with very little to do other than sit in traffic on the William Nicol. Yes, there aren’t any beaches and we certainly don’t have a majestic mountain, but that doesn’t mean you have to write-off this city just yet. If you look a little harder, you’ll uncover some amazing gems in and around the city that are worth a trip. Our regular contributor Sue Adams took a trip to each of the spots below and we’ve compiled her adventures into a handy list. Let us know if you make it to one of these 5 Joburg day trips on our Facebook page or by emailing us at [email protected] – we’d love to hear from you!
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1. Melville Koppies
Life is busy and it’s not always easy to make a plan to get out of the city and into the countryside. But Melville Koppies, a 160-hectare reserve on the ridge in the suburbs just north of Joburg, with views in all directions, is the perfect getaway. The views and Joburg’s skyline are spectacular. If you want to just wander at your leisure, have a picnic, take your dog, Meville Koppies East is open all the time and is well-used by local residents.
I so enjoyed the country feeling and sense of space that I came back to watch the full moon rise with a bunch of friends, and then drifted down to 4th Ave Melville for a late-night coffee. As much as I enjoy what cities have to offer, a secret country gem like Melville Koppies does make my heart sing.
- Melville Koppies East (10ha) offers free access during the daytime and dogs are welcome.
- Melville Koppies Central (50ha), with its carefully conserved biodiversity and Iron Age site, is only open on open days or by appointment on tours (R60 donation for a three-hour tour).
- Melville Koppies West (100ha) is open during the daytime, with free entry, dogs are welcome and it’s used by many church groups but has security issues. About 20 church groups use this area on a Sunday and the sounds of singing and drumming are delightful.
- Many specialist groups use these Koppies to study birds, insects, spiders, plants and butterflies. BirdLife SA has done regular bird ringing on the Koppies since 1959. One little Willow Warbler that flies annually to Siberia has been ringed four times.
- The organisation Friends of Melville Koppies runs walks and tours on alternate Sundays. The Tour is a 4 kilometre-walk filled with interesting titbits of info and sights. The 10-kilometre hike is a fantastic walk through the Koppies.
- In this small reserve there are a number of different environments including forest, grasslands, rocky crests and the river, which make for a wonderful variety when walking
To find out more, visit Melville Koppies Nature Reserve.
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2. Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve
Only eight kilometres off the N3 to Durban, Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve is a treasure of waving golden grasslands and rose-gold sandstone with rocky ridges and hidden kloofs. Diversity is the real gold of this reserve, which has a backbone of the Suikerbosrand mountain range, with the highest point in the Witwatersrand at 1 917m above sea level. Rather like the back of a dragon, this range seems to pop up out of nowhere and offer a wonderful drive along the ridge. The game is not easy to see as the reserve is so large but the joy is in the small things – a bush of red berries, a spider’s web glistening in the dew, a lizard sunning itself on a rock.
We made a day drive of the Tourist Route – a 60 kilometre, circular, one-way, tar road – with a stop at Holhoek, an isolated picnic site. There are also 60 kilometres of trails with five overnight huts only for hikers. The day trails include the 3.7-kilometre Cheetah Trail and the short, wheelchair-friendly, 800-metre Toktokkie Trail.
The main parking area for hikers is at Diepkloof Visitors Centre where there is a fascinating, small Farm Museum based on the original 19th century farm buildings belonging to the Marais family. The centre is under renovation but the museum is well worth a visit, and the foreman, Alfredo Cossa, made sure I didn’t miss a visit to the school house, all set up with chalk and blackboards at the ready, and even a school bell.
- From Gauteng take the N3 towards Durban and take the R550 Nigel/Lenasia offramp. Turn right over the highway and after 6 kilometres you will see the reserve entrance on your left.
- Hours are 07h00-16h00 weekdays and 07h00-17h00 weekends.
- Make sure you collect the map and the information brochure at the gate or from the Diepkloof Visitors Centre.
- Bring your own refreshments, especially water if you’re hiking or cycling.
- Register at the Diepkloof Visitors Centre before you hike.
- Keep up to date with the latest projects by The Friends of Suikerbosrand through their Facebook page.
- Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve: 011 439 6300
3. Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens
It’s hard to believe that this hidden treasure, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, is just a half-hour drive from the centre of Joburg.
The themed gardens make for interesting wandering. The first garden I come across is the People’s Plants Garden, which is filled with traditional medicinal plants. Here the krantz aloes are in full bloom and the sunbirds hover like jewelled exclamation marks. This appears to be a favourite place for photographers with long lenses and lots of time.
Step into the Walter Sisulu gardens and the world slows down. The Geological Display Garden has a circular walk, with a pathway set out in a geological timeline. For the agile, there’s the 3.5-kilometre Geological Trail to the top of the ridge, with some spectacular views.
I follow the sound of water to a footbridge and a large lawn. Beyond is the 70-metre-high Witpoortjie Waterfall, the crowning glory of the garden. The brochure tells me that, every month, 14 000 people come to see it and I understand why. What bliss to spend a day here, or even just some hours on one of the benches, letting that water soothe the soul. I am impressed when one of the gardeners tells me that water from this stream (Crocodile River) is gravity fed into small reservoirs and irrigates the gardens. I also hear that the curators here are strictly and proudly water-wise, and ensure that watering is phased throughout the day, using just enough to keep the gardens alive.
- The Geological trail is a circular walk that takes about 2.5 hours – take your own refreshments.
- Eagle’s Fare restaurant serves breakfast and lunch and has a lovely outdoor area.
- Keep an eye on the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden South Africa Facebook page for any upcoming events, concerts and movie nights. You can also find an events diary on the South African National Botanical Institute’s website.
- Open from 08h00-18h00. Make sure you buy a map from the info centre as you don’t want to miss anything.
- Easy to find at the end of Malcolm Road in Poortview, Roodepoort.
- Guided tours by appointment. 086 100 1278
4. Modderfontein Reserve
Originally a buffer zone for a dynamite and explosives factory, Modderfontein Reserve east of Joburg is a haven for stressed-out Gautengers. The Green Otter Trail takes me along the river below the dam wall, and a small duiker dashes into the trees. I am here early on a weekday and few people are around, but I feel safe.
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The reserve is stocked with game such as black wildebeest, red hartebeest, zebra and blesbok, as well as small creatures like otters, leguans and mongooses. But for me this is not about game viewing – it’s about wandering through a beautiful green space on my doorstep in Gauteng. I walk the Green Trail along the river and sit on one of the benches to watch the water meander past. Then I take the Jackal Trail that has open grasslands with splendid birdwatching and wide-open Highveld vistas, and don’t forget the bird hide. At most times of the year, there are wild flowers on the Yellow Reedbuck Trail.
- Modderfontein Reserve is open from 06h00-18h00 daily. Ask for a map at the gate.
- There are 40 kilometres of cycling trails, and guided walks are offered weekly by the Modderfontein Conservation Society.
- There is a parkrun every Saturday morning.
- Bring your own lunch and enjoy the picnic site at Fish Eagle Dam, or tuck in at the restaurant and coffee shop, Dobb’s House Café, at the group of historical buildings called Isidleke. You are welcome to explore the historical buildings that are open during park hours.
- For more info, visit the Modderfontein Reserve’s website, or email [email protected]
5. The Wilds
Once notorious as a crime hotspot in Joburg, The Wilds has been transformed by the energy of one man and his dog. Artist James Delaney and his dog Pablo took it upon themselves to tidy up the park’s gardens. Today it is a network of stone paths creeping through an urban forest. James used his talent as an artist to design and make 67 owl sculptures which he hung up around the park to help attract more visitors.
- Entrance is free and it’s open from sunrise to sunset.
- Parking is in a carpark off Houghton Drive.
- Find out more about the Wilds by visiting the Friends of The Wilds, Johannesburg Facebook Group here.
- To find out more about James and his art, visit his website.
- Klipsriviersberg Nature Reserve: Situated 10km from Joburg’s city centre, this reserve has a lot on offer including zebra, red hartebeest, black wildebeest, an abundance of flora and fauna, great birding opportunities for twitchers and hiking trails. For more info, visit the Klipsriviersberg Nature Reserve Association Facebook Group, or on email [email protected].
Words Sue Adams
Photography Sue Adams and supplied