Our first trip out of Johannesburg in July was to the Kgaswane mountain reserve near Rustenburg, which is one of the 2010 football venues. All the tourism websites seem to say that Rustenburg is an hour from Joburg but that’s very optimistic; it’s two hours drive northwest of the city and appallingly badly signposted – I predict hundreds of self-driving footie fans getting lost in the Magliesberg foothills next year, as even with a map and geographer’s intuition it was tricky to find. Worth it, though!
The drive goes through Joburg’s suburbs and sprawl, across grassy plains and undulating forested hills before hitting the Magliesberg range – an ancient, ancient mountain range that’s one of the oldest on the planet. The landscape is beautiful here, with lakes and semi-arid landscapes fringing the towering mountains that are home to vultures (so the signs say), various kinds of deer-type animals and lots of guesthouses.
On top of the mountain closest to Rustenburg (its suburbs have crept right up to the perimeter fence), the Kgaswane reserve consists of a large flat valley in a semi-circular basin at about 1500m above sea level. After finding the entrance to the reserve (not signposted at all from the main road of course – turn left before you pass the huge mall along the main road into town) and paying the R50 conservation and car fees we drove in and soon caught a first breathtaking glimpse of Africa-according-to-Attenborough: plains of waving yellow grass dotted with flat-topped trees. Only the grazing giraffes were missing from the picture.
The visitor centre beside the parking was unmanned due to low season (they didn’t see the need to tell us this at the gate) so we set off on the two-hour Peglarae walking route recommended by the Rough Guide without their printed map. The route was easy enough to follow, but we missed the explanations of the numbered plants and rocks. The reserve is known for the Aloe Peglarae plants that grow mainly underground with just the tips of their leaves poking above the ground but – perhaps logically – we didn’t spot any on this midwinter day. Then again, we’re not even sure what a normal aloe should look like.
Crunching across paths made of small quartz crystals we rounded a koppie (small hill), and made our way though dry valleys and grassy fields past several viewpoints. Apart from a scared duiker (small antilope-type animal), our very fist game sighting in Africa, and a few rather tame bigger antilopes near the visitor centre, there wasn’t an animal to be seen, but we also didn’t see a single other hiker, despite it being a lovely sunny Sunday. After the hike and a picknick we drove around the park’s other roads and zoomed off to the mall for a spot of shopping for curtains (hey, life goes on) before going home.