In the heart of the country’s northern reaches, the small province of Gauteng is South Africa’s economic dynamo. Home to the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg and Pretoria, the country’s revitalized administrative capital, Gauteng is the country’s smallest province, but its population is the largest. Gauteng means “place of gold” in the Sotho language, but today rather than gold, the province lures travelers mainly with its urban attractions, including poignant historical monuments and impressive museums and botanical gardens. Outside the cities, tourists can explore the fossil-rich caves of the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
West of Gauteng, separated by the millennia-old Magaliesberg, the North West province is a perfect counterpoint. Fantastic game reserves such as Pilanesberg National Park and Madikwe Game Reserve offer authentic African safaris that you can take anywhere. But even this province has been affected by the development of nature. In stark contrast to the province’s vast savannah, the impossibly opulent Las Vegas-style Sun City resort is a mirage in the desert, an unashamed recreational area packed with entertainment, from water parks with wave pools to luxurious themed hotels.
Read also: Where to stay in Johannesburg
1 Editor’s Pick Pilanesberg National Park, North West Province
About a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, near Sun City, Pilanesberg National Park offers fantastic safaris with a chance to spot the Big Five: leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino. Thanks to its location in a transition zone, between the arid Kalahari and the humid lowveld of the Transvaal, the park’s flora and fauna is diverse and abundant; sable antelope, roan, African wild dogs, zebra, giraffe and more than 360 species of birds are some of the many animals found here. Tourists can explore the 550-square-kilometer park on self-drive tours, and guided walking and open vehicle game drives are also available. For a bird’s-eye view of the game, visitors can fly over the park in a hot air balloon.
Official site: https://www.pilanesbergnationalpark.org/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pilanesberg National Park
2 Lion Park, Gauteng
For a walk on the wild side, less than an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, animal lovers can head to the popular Lion Park for the day. Cheetah walks, lion cub cuddles and interactions with giraffes and ostriches are some of the exciting activities on offer, and the park also offers a two-hour lion tour and special game drives for photographers in quiet electric vehicles. In addition to all the animal encounters, visitors can self-drive through the wildlife’s inhabitants or embark on guided game drives aboard the park’s safari vehicles to see hyenas, wild dogs, zebras, lions, cheetahs and many species of antelope. A fun park here full of bouncy castles and jungle gyms will keep the kids busy for hours.
Adres: R114, Honeydew, 1747
Official site: https://www.lion-park.com/home/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Gauteng
3 The Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng
About 44 kilometers from Johannesburg lies the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the richest concentrations of early human fossils in the world. The site is also home to the impressive Sterkfontein Caves with six connected underground caverns where many of the fossils were found. Among the finds here is the skull of a humanoid creature known as Australopithecus africanus , estimated to be two million years old, as well as a skeleton thought to be about 3.5 million years old. To learn more about the site and its remarkable fossil stories, visit the Maropeng Visitor Center. This fascinating journey back in time is a popular day trip from Johannesburg.
4 The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg
One of the top attractions in the vibrant metropolis of Johannesburg is the evocative Apartheid Museum. Poignant exhibits such as photographs, artefacts, personal stories, newspaper clippings and films follow the story of apartheid and its impact on daily life at the time. Visitors become travelers through time and follow a path of exhibits that takes them on South Africa’s journey from oppression to democracy. It’s an emotional experience, but a visit to this excellent museum gives you a new appreciation for the long way this country has come. Plan on spending at least two hours here to really take in all the exhibits.
Adres: Cnr Northern Parkway & Gold Reef Road, Ormonde, Johannesburg
Official site: https://www.apartheidmuseum.org
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Johannesburg
5 National garden of Pretoria, Gauteng
A tranquil escape near the city center, the Pretoria National Botanic Garden focuses on South Africa’s fascinating flora. Cycads, aloes and colorful flowering plants brighten these 76 hectare gardens, which are home to more than half the country’s tree species. Cold and warm climate plants bloom in separate areas of the park, offering contrasting landscapes thanks to a quartzite ridge that separates the gardens. Theme plantings include coastal forests, savannas of the Karoo and the grassland plains of Namibia; and the National Herbarium here is home to the largest collection of plant species in the country. After strolling through the gardens and natural wilderness on the scenic nature trails, visitors can relax in a restaurant overlooking the lake.
Address: 2 Cussonia Avenue, Brummeria, Pretoria
Official site: https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/pretoria
6 Historic Landmarks of Pretoria, Gauteng
Aside from its jacaranda-strewn parks and gardens, Pretoria is known for its thought-provoking historical monuments. One of the most famous is the Voortrekker Monument , a South African heritage site that honors the pioneering history of the Boers. A steep staircase leads to this 40-metre-high imposing granite monument and a wall of carved bullock carts surrounds it, representing the wagons used by the Boers in the mid-19th century. Highlights include the Hall of Heroes with marble reliefs depicting the Great Trek of 1838, informative museum exhibits, and stunning city views from the roof.
Overlooking the Voortrekker Monument from the top of Salvokop Hll, Freedom Park reveals South Africa’s journey to democracy through a series of evocative memorials and museum exhibits. Visitors can visit the Wall of Names, which honors victims of South Africa’s conflicts, and the Gallery of Leaders , which celebrates some of the country’s most inspiring figures. Guided tours enrich a visit to this moving site.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Union Buildings perch atop the city’s highest point near historic Church Square , site of the city’s first settlement. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1913, these sandstone buildings are the seat of government and also house the offices of the president and the state archives.
7 Sun City, North West Province
About 160 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg, Sun City is entrepreneur Sol Kerzner’s extravagant vision, a kind of Disneyland meets Las Vegas in South Africa. Where the arid savannah once spread, now incredibly lush lawns, parks and even tropical forests surround this flamboyant, family-friendly pleasure district, and four hotel complexes host a stream of fun-seekers, many of whom come from Johannesburg for weekend getaways. The tempting line-up of entertainment options includes cinemas, shops, a giant stadium for pop concerts and sporting events, a world-class golf course and water parks with man-made beaches and wave pools. The luxurious fairytale Palace of the Lost Cityis the most exclusive hotel and the centerpiece of the resort. Kids can escape to Camp Kwena, ride the safari train, water ski and jet ski on the faux lagoon, float on bumper boats and interact with animals in the petting zoo. For a more authentic taste of Africa, the nearby Pilanesberg National Park and Madikwe Game Reserve offer fantastic game viewing in natural bushland.
Official site: https://www.sun-city-south-africa.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sun City
8 Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary & Elephant Sanctuary, North West Province
At the Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary near Hartbeespoort Dam , animal lovers can get up close and personal with these adorable creatures. Nestled in a gorge in the Magaliesberg, the sanctuary rescues and abuses bush babies, as well as lemurs and many species of monkeys, and houses them in naturalistic large enclosures. The bushbabies are active at night and sleep during the day, but visitors can enter the monkey enclosures with experienced guides and view these mischievous animals from elevated walkways. Beware of hairy, long-tailed pickpockets. Next door, the Elephant Sanctuary offers elephant trekking and educational interactions with these gentle giants.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in the North West Province
9 Madikwe Nature Reserve, North-West Province
About a three and a half hour drive from Johannesburg and just 90 minutes from Sun City, Madikwe Nature Reserve offers travelers the chance to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) in more than 750 square kilometers of malaria-free free natural bushland. The park also protects endangered African wild dogs, hippos, cheetahs, hyenas, antelopes and more than 300 species of birds. Accommodation ranges from affordable bush camps, self-catering villas and guest houses to luxury lodges with full board. Guests can fly here from Johannesburg or Tambo airports.
Official site: https://www.madikwegamereserve.co.za
10 Magaliesberg Canopy Tour, North West Province
About a 90-minute drive from Johannesburg near the town of Rustenburg, thrill seekers can fly over a steep canyon in the beautiful Magaliesberg, the world’s second-oldest mountain range. The Magaliesberg Canopy Tour is an exciting eco-adventure that gives visitors a bird’s-eye view of this spectacular area and gives the chance to spot wildlife such as dassies (rock hyrax), duiker, klipspringer, zebra, impala and wildebeest, as well as many varieties of birdlife. Built into the steep rock walls, ten zip lines allow visitors to fly at heights up to 300 meters above the canopy. They stop at eleven platforms with panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness. Expert guides lead the tours, sharing fascinating facts about the flora and fauna along the way.