Hot-footing it to Harties
Just 45 minutes from Sandton, Pretoria or Krugersdorp, Hartbeespoort Dam is, for me, one of those unsung places well worth a visit.
It's a favourite for weekend day-trippers with its laid-back, small-town vibe and, with summer finally here, it was the ideal place to take a drive to in a drop-top (and also drop-dead gorgeous!) Mercedes-Benz SLK 200.
That first glimpse from a distance, of the dam waters with the majestic Magaliesberg mountain range in the background, never fails to stir something in my soul.
Okay, admittedly the closer you get to the water the quicker you realise that this is just one big toxic, sewerage dump. But don't let that put you off, because within about a 5km radius of the dam itself, there are literally a million and one things to do and explore.
From a walk with the elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary, to interacting next door with monkeys at Bushbabies; from buying curios and trinkets from one of 40 stalls at the Welwitschia Market, to simply enjoying a meal and a drink at one of the many establishments dotted around the shore line, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
One of the main reasons I enjoy visiting Harties is that it is so easy to get there.
The R512 is one of the main arterial routes to the dam and it is littered with places of interest. One of these is the Home of the Chicken Pie. Situated about five kilometres past Lanseria Airport it sells - and I guarantee it! - the best chicken pies around.
There is a lovely tea garden to relax in or, if you are in a hurry, you can buy some takeaways or frozen products.
Also on the R512 - and just down the road - is the well-known Lesedi Cultural Village which is always a good venue to visit if you have guests from outside Gauteng or from overseas countries.
A word of warning, though, about the R512. For the majority of the drive to the dam, it is single lane and over the weekend it gets particularly busy with day visitors, people towing boats and caravans; and, of course, the guys and girls on bikes on their breakfast-run.
It all adds up to the equivalent of the N1 on a holiday weekend but don't let that put you off. Instead, rather head out early so you can check out the Welwitschia market before finding somewhere for a bite to eat. You are always guaranteed a good meal at a Squires Restaurant and the one in Schoemansville is a great spot to relax for an hour or two.
With big screen TVs all over the show - and Bakkies Botha's Blue Bulls rugby jersey hanging on the wall - it's a sports bar of note.
A starter of snails in a creamy garlic sauce sprinkled with Parmesan cheese (R45) followed by mains of spare ribs (R130) and fish and chips (R70) went down a treat with the ribs lip-smacking good thanks to the mango sauce that they are basted with.
The shade from the trees and umbrellas provides welcome respite from the midday sun and drinks are reasonably priced; a glass of house wine will set you back R25. Within walking distance of Squires is the Blue Ivy Art Gallery which is home to a cross section of fine arts.
"We have different types of artwork," says gallery manager Louis Roux.
"It attracts a cross-section of visitors ... from locals to day visitors to overseas tourists."
So, if you are in the Gauteng region, and are looking for a place with a whole host of activities just waiting to be explored, remember that Hartebeespoort Dam is basically right on your doorstep!
A lot of roadworks are being done on the road off Commando towards Soweto. Take it easy as a lot of trucks are in the vicinity
No visible speedtraps but stick to the 60km/h speed limit as people are constantly crossing the road
Roadworks means large sections are reduced to single lane so if you have a lunch date, allow plenty of time to get to your destination
TOLL AND FUEL BUDGET
Depends on where you are coming from but Soweto is no more than an hour's drive from Pretoria or the East Rand
There are plenty of places in Soweto to fill up and most have convenience stores on the premises if you need a snack