Whether it is renamed Bokone Bophirima or not will do little to change the muddied perception amongst travellers that North West has little more to offer than Sun City and the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve.
Also known as the platinum province, for its production of 94% of the country’s plantinum, this lesser known part of South Africa lies north-west of Johannesburg where it nudges up against Botswana and the Kalahari.
Jostling with Gauteng for claim to the Cradle of Humankind, North West is fundamentally a bushveld playground – great swathes of grassland dominated by nature reserve upon game reserve with little to interrupt the expanse than the Magaliesberg mountains, one hundred times older than the Himalayas. These straddle the province’s eastern flank and function as a bolt-hole for Jo’burgers.
Small wonder then that the top 10 natural attractions in the North West Province are dominated by nature reserves…
This huge 2000 hectare body of water is a Ramsar site and refuge to globally threatened bird species that include migratory and inland water birds.
The reserve is, for all intents and purposes, divided in two – the southern part ideal for birding, whilst the northern section is reserved for angling and boating. It is the birds that steal the show, however. Literally thousands of birds, including flamingos, African spoonbills and pelicans make the protected wetlands their home, and well-positioned bird hides make easy viewing. Best as a day trip.
Borakalalo is one of the most under-subscribed parks in North West, yet shouldn’t be. It lies just under two hours’ drive north of Johannesburg. The 14 000 hectare national park describes its landscape as an ‘unusual eco diverse terrain’; a mixture of broad-leafed and acacia woodland combined with riverside forests along the banks of the Moretele River.
The over 350 different bird species attract bird watchers who come to see the eleven types of eagle and eighteen different raptors, whilst the dam is popular with anglers after carp, bream and barbel. Game includes antelope, giraffe, white rhino and leopard and because there is no bigger game, getting out of your car is not an issue.
Calling it a ‘natural’ attraction is possibly stretching the definition a bit, but Harties, as it is known by locals, is so much a part of North West’s outdoor and getaway lifestyle that it cannot go without mention.
Because of where it lies, in amongst the Magaliesberg hills, Hartbeespoort Dam forms the heart of the tourism region for North West. Regarded as Jo’burg’s mountain and water-fun place, there is no shortage of things to do along its banks. Take the cable car.
This reserve lies on the western edge of the Magaliesberg range of mountains, only 100km from Johannesburg. For this reason it is most attractive to day visitors from the two cities who head here to hike, ride their bikes and birdwatch along paths that give rise to some of the most beautiful scenery.
Sable and other antelope dominate the swathes of grassland in the reserve but there are also predators in the form of jackal, caracal and leopard. Raptors circle the reserve’s craggy cliffs.
Madikwe is the country’s fourth-largest reserve, its 750 square kilometres hugging the border with Botswana; one of the country’s least-known reserves. What makes a visit tricky is the over 20 lodges through which, even as a day visitor, you are expected to book any game drive or visit into the park; independent drives are not an option.
That said the lodge-led game drives are well worth the effort as rangers not only communicate with one another in a bid to track game, but they drive off road at the slightest provocation; getting you as close to the game as possible.
Set right up against the border with Botswana, the Molopo Game Reserve is one of the province’s ‘secret’ reserves due in no small part to its remoteness, derth of large predators and luxury facilities, and a winter hunting season. If solitude and bush camping (sites are spread over a wide area for privacy) is what you are after then this wilderness is a perfect retreat.
Six waterholes that allow game to come to you, and the combination of red Kalahari sand dunes and bushman grass are particularly beautiful. Stock up well in advance as Vryburg is over 200 kilometres away.
Pilanesberg is one of North West’s major draw cards. Not only is one able to see all Big Five wildlife animals close to the major city of Johannesburg, but the reserve lies within an ancient alkaline crater a stone’s throw from the province’s other major attraction – Sun City.
It’s perfect if you have no time to visit one of the major Big Five reserves, but for the same reason it can get crowded. Like all reserves your best time is early morning (dawn) when the animals are more likely to roam and people least likely to be there.
In 1924 Professor Raymond Dart uncovered the fossilised skull of a hominid child at the Buxton Quarry. The Taung skull fossil site, now part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, was identified as an ancient human ancestor and named the southern ape of Africa, or Australopithecus africanus.
It was to have enormous repercussions for it placed Africa at the centre of humankind’s origin, more than a million years earlier than science had previously believed. The Taung skull discovery site is marked by a monument, whilst an abandoned mine tunnel is open for exploring. Visit as part of the Taung Skull Heritage Route.
Now officially a World Biosphere Reserve the Magaliesberg is unequalled anywhere in the world in terms of its combination of biodiversity and human history. Formed 2 300 million years ago the mountain range stretches across Gauteng and North West, its beauty captured in its quartzite cliffs, kloofs, valleys, and waterfalls.
Home to over 300 species of bird and numerous buck, monkeys, genets, baboon, sklipspringers and leopard, the mountains are also a natural retreat for the city dwellers of Pretoria Accommodation and Johannesburg who escape here to hike, horse ride, bike trails, abseil or simply retreat into the silence.
10. VREDEFORT DOME
The world’s biggest meteor crater (as well as the oldest and most deeply eroded), Vredefort Dome is where a huge meteorite hit the earth some two billion years ago; the remains of the original crater that scientists estimate was 300 km in diameter. Today what remains is a partial ring of hills 70 km in diameter.
It lies close to the Free State town of Parys. The Vaal River flows through the crater, creating an enviably scenic space for visitors. To get the most out of a visit, take a guided tour from the Parys Information Centre (the dome’s information centre is closed).