It might not be in the league of Table Mountain’s cable-car experience, but the new Hartbeespoort Aerial Cableway adds huge value to this area’s visitor attractions.
And – not least – it gives a bird’s-eye view of the Magaliesberg, which bear the ripples of tides that lapped its shore more than two billion years ago.
Africa’s longest mono cableway (1.2km) proved at its launch last week – when it quietly hoisted visitors to the mountain top – it’s undoubtedly a world-class feat of engineering.
Swiss company CWA Constructions, the largest cabin manufacturer in the world, supplied the 14 six-seater cable cars.
Another Swiss company produced the galvanised cables.
The fact that the owners – Craig Saunders and investment partner Michael Sachs of Zargodox – are entrepreneurs and not from the local government, somehow makes one feel a little safer going up.
Zargodox purchased the cableway – which had operated for 32 years – in 2010, after it had fallen into disrepair and closed down in 2005.
It has taken until now to rebuild the site and cableway system to meet international standards. The cableway was fitted and re-engineered according to Canadian Standards Association specifications.
Apart from safety considerations, what does the new Harties cableway adventure offer?
I have been on many aerial cableways, including in Europe and the US. My experience is that once back on terra firma on the mountain, the views are always spectacular, but the facilities are often a bit disappointing.
Not so in this case. With the all-year good weather a Harties trump card, Zargodox cleverly laid down an expanse of wooden decking.
This connects the 250-seater Bugatti Restaurant at the base station to the Lookout Bar, with its panoramic views of the Hartbeespoort Dam and surrounding Magaliesberg.
These views are flanked by local agricultural fields, blighted here and there by towers of industry, like the Pelindaba nuclear power station.
On the upper deck, an educational Dassie Walkway leads to the alfresco Pizza Shack. This kids’ zone features a compact jungle gym and a couple of private bomas on its perimeter, ideal for romancing couples, picnickers or smokers.
More adventurous visitors can call on the adventure centre, which offers paragliding and hiking.
There’s also a little shop that sells curios, clothing, gifts and novelties, although I’ve learnt to apply a blinkered-eye approach to those, given price tags usually as lofty as the shop’s location.
The great attraction of this spot includes its 360° uninterrupted views and inspired use of the setting, including floor-to-ceiling windows in the Bugatti restaurant.
In addition, it has an incredible geological and anthropological history.
The Magaliesberg is almost 100 times older than Mount Everest.
We know it is the denouement of a story that began more than two billion years ago, when huge seismic forces cracked open the bed of an inland sea and tilted it skywards.
Vincent Carruthers, who wrote The Magaliesberg, describes what happened next.
“Molten magma pumped into fissures and burned deep kloofs in the rock.
“Ragged peaks of the tilted seabed were scoured by a continental ice sheet, then buried in swamp, smothered under desert sands and finally capped with volcanic lava.
“Sixty million years ago, the covering began to weather away and the mountains re-emerged to become the cliffs, the gentle slopes, the secretive kloofs and the tumbling streams we know today.”
The Harties cableway overlooks the southernmost ridge of the Magaliesberg, which also happens to be part of the Cradle of Humankind, the place that gave birth to what is believed to be our hominid forbears.
So, beyond what some might regard as drab scrub bush – that sweeps into a valley containing an expansive man-made dam – is a marvellously melodramatic tale and landscape, more indigenous to human beings than anywhere else on earth.
It’s also a mecca for birdwatchers, with more than 300 bird species, including endangered black eagles, falcons, Cape vultures and colourful sunbirds, starlings, cuckoos and barbets.
For that reason I think it makes an ideal venue for weddings or special events, like a 50th anniversary.
It’s also ideally suited to corporate functions and team-building events.
Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who attended the launch, noted Hartbeespoort – that hosts more than 100 000 tourists a month – was one of Gauteng’s most attractive areas to spend weekends and holidays.
“Ten years ago, there were 25 guesthouses and lodges in this area. Today there are more than 100 guesthouses, and it’s growing.
“Also, there are lots of restaurants, craft markets and other activities in the area.”
Nearby the new cableway is one of its best attractions, the Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary.
Visitors walk through indigenous forest on an elevated wooden walkway and observe a variety of exotic monkeys, some of them rescued.
In the vicinity are also the De Wildt Cheetah Farm, Elephant Sanctuary, Ukutula Lion Park and Vulture Breeding and Rehabilitation Project.
If you’re looking for somewhere different to stay for a weekend away, try Oxwagon Lodge nearby.
Visitors sleep in an original restored oxwagon, but it’s quite comfortable.
And the Sunday “international boere buffet” makes it all the more alluring.