5 amazing things to do in the Magaliesberg
An easy drive from Johannesburg, the Magaliesberg mountains have all the makings of a great weekend getaway for families and couples. Here are some of the top attractions
1. SEE A CHEETAH GALLOP
There are few things as thrilling as seeing a cheetah launch itself after its prey and - quicker than you can say "fetch" - reach a speed of almost 80km/h, paws kicking up spurts of dust, tail swinging like a fat and furry rudder.
At the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre (previously known as De Wildt), near Brits, the spectacle will be yours early on a weekend morning, as part of a guided tour that will also see the resident wild dogs and other cats such as servals and caracals.
This centre has been a key player in cheetah conservation since its founding. Some of the cats bred there include king cheetahs with their magnificent markings, along with hundreds of other cubs that have found their way back into the wild.
2. SWING OUT OVER A KLOOF
To get a bit closer to the geology of the place and have an adrenaline spike at the same time, the Magaliesberg Canopy Tour in Ysterhout Kloof is just the ticket.
It takes you down the kloof on a series of slides, sailing from platform to platform anchored into the rock.
Apart from the whirr of the pulley wheel on the cable - and the occasional whoop from a rider - it is utterly quiet. You feel like a bird flitting over the trees, like you belong here in this treasured place. From R650 per person.
3. GO BACK TO OUR ANCESTORS
Your first stop should be the superb visitors' centre at Maropeng. The vast exhibition contains fossils, stone tools and dioramas that bring to life in a spectacular way the history of humankind - including the 2013 discovery of a new species named Homo naledi.
You can take a boat ride through 3 billion years of history and feel an odd thrill when you realise that this is where it all began for us.
Then head to the nearby Sterkfontein caves, the site of many of this continent's richest fossil finds, including the world-famous "Mrs Ples" and "Little Foot", discoveries that show us the timeline of our common ancestors.
4. TAKE A STEAM-TRAIN RIDE
Steam-locomotive operator Reefsteamers runs regular trains from its depot in the old steam loco shed in Germiston to the weekend market in Irene and also via Park Station to Magaliesburg town.
The Magalies Express is the real deal - a full day's train ride with a hissing, snorting steam engine up front, running through Joburg's western suburbs then northwards into the beautiful rolling foothills of the Magaliesberg.
This year's performer is a shiny iron horse named "Susan" who will celebrate her centenary in 2019.
5. PADDLE A RAFT DOWN THE CROCODILE
For a few weeks each summer, rainfall swells the Jukskei and Crocodile rivers.
The "Croc" is one of Johannesburg's greatest gifts - a wild river with tree-lined banks winding along beneath koppies and red cliffs and bubbling over little rapids.
Since the riverbanks are mostly on private land, getting to the river can be tricky. But fear not: the best way to experience the Crocodile is from a two-person inflatable raft, also known as a "croc", on one of Paddle Power's rafting excursions.
Drifting along, watching leguaans hoist themselves up the banks and kingfishers flitting over the pools, dripping paddles and wind in the trees, you'd never even know you were just 30 minutes from the economic powerhouse of Africa.