South Africa is a country of diversity, one bursting with soul and begging to be explored.

Johannesburg - South Africa is a country of diversity, one bursting with soul and begging to be explored.

This is particularly true of Johannesburg and its surrounding areas - full of hidden treasures and myriad of discoveries to be experienced within an easy three-hour drive. Below are five locations we recommend you to take a closer look at.

 

1. Cradle of Mankind, Maropeng

Driving time from Johannesburg about 1 hour

The Cradle of Mankind and Sterkfontein Caves are located about 50km out of the city. A Unesco site, archaeological finds here include ancient stone tools and fossil sites that tell the story of what the world was like when our human ancestors were evolving some three million years ago.

 

 

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Things to do include exploring the Sterkfontein Caves, where scientists have discovered many hominid and other animal fossils, dating back more than 4-million years. Enjoy time at the Maropeng Exhibition centre, which walks you through the path of humanity with its interactive and fascinating displays.

Where to stay

The luxury Maropeng Hotel, located a short walk from Maropeng. It’s a 10km drive from the Sterkfontein Caves.

Where to eat

The Market Place restaurant serves light meals and snacks, and the more formal Tumulus restaurant for those spectacular views.

 

2. Hot air ballooning, Hartebeestpoort

Driving time from Johannesburg about 1 hour

More of an experience than a destination, Bill Harrop’s Original Balloons Safaris operate out of the Skeerpoort Country Base in the Cradle of Mankind World Heritage site near Hartebeesport Dam. Visit early in the morning near the Clubhouse Pavilion where you can watch the pilots and crew ready the balloons for a flight on the flood lit field.

 

 

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Flight by hot air balloon speaks of the adventures of a bygone era. It is silent as you stand in the basket taking in the views below, while regular bursts of hot air lift you to altitude. This should be on all travellers’ wishlists, and is particularly rewarding in an area with a varied landscape consisting of high veld plains, rolling hills as well as winding rivers.

Soar above the clouds in a hot air balloon, fulfilling your dream. Also make a point of meeting the legendary Mr Bill Harrop himself, who is usually present and sometimes even flies in one of the balloons.

Where to stay

It is a manageable drive from the city, but you could easily stay in the picturesque village of Hartbeespoort Dam, at the Cradle Health Spa and Wellness Centre.

Where to eat

At the Clubhouse Pavillion and Restaurant, which serves generous champagne breakfast after landing.

 

3. The Magaliesburg area

Driving time from Johannesburg just over an hour.

Magaliesburg is a small village at the heart of a beautiful region known for its mountains, rivers and indigenous woodlands, all amid a natural bush veld with excellent bird life.

 

 

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Here the developed tourist route offers a wide choice of country houses and hotels, good shopping, arts and crafts studios, working farms, places to enjoy a good meal and a plethora of activities. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, or simply a place to unwind in the country, you’ll find it here.

Take a cable car trip on the longest mono-cable way in Africa. The Harties Cableway offers visitors panoramic views of the beautiful Magaliesburg and surrounding areas. Enjoy a Magalies Canopy Tour in one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Take a 1-2 hour hike through indigenous bush up to the summit of Olienhout ridge, or enjoy horseback riding with Saddle Creek Ranch in the Hekpoort.

Where to stay

The beautiful De Hoek Country Hotel with its stately style, sense of space and warm hospitality.

Where to eat

The Black Horse Brewery and Restaurant and Hollybrooke Farm, where many of the adventure activities take place.

 

4. Maboneng Precint, Johannesburg

Yes, it’s not really outside of Johannesburg, but this area has been rejuvenated over the past years and speaks of a new optimism and style unique to South Africa that both tourists and locals need to experience.

The area is known for its renovated buildings and is full of vintage shops, art galleries, independent boutiques and hipster cafes and restaurants.

 

 

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Take a walking tour with Main Street Walks, which offers insight into the history of downtown Joburg. Make sure to visit the Bioscope Independent Cinema where you can watch the Maboneng documentary, and stop at Kwa Mai-Mai Traditional Healers Market, which is said to be one of the oldest in the city. Make sure to check out the Collectors Treasury, the largest second hand bookstore in the Southern hemisphere where books are stacked everywhere! Also Market On Main, that trades in regional foods and local designer goods, open on Sundays only.

Where to stay

Twelve Decades Hotel has rooms that have been designed by some of South Africa’s top artists and designers to depict the country’s history.

Where to eat

There are many restaurants to choose from in the precinct, including Pata Pata, Canteen, Little Addis and The Blackanese Sushi & Wine Bar.

 

5. Pilanesberg Game Reserve, for game drives

Driving time from Johannesburg, about 2,5 hours

No visit to Johannesburg would be complete without time on safari. Within easy reach of Johannesburg you’ll find the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Here game drives are offered to view the iconic African animals that have traversed this land for decades. Elephants, giraffes, lions and zebras will observe you as you take in their splendour. It may not be the most remote of South Africa’s game reserves, but it guarantees rich reward and lessons in game management unique to the area.

 

 

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Make sure to take the guided game drive in an open 4×4 vehicle in search of game and if you dare try to do a walking safari. You can also get your hands on archery activities and even quad-biking.

Where to stay

In the Pilanesberg, the Ivory Tree Lodge is a lovely option. This is a malaria free area.

Where to eat

The lodges itself offer meals in their restaurant, or take a day trip to nearby Sun City for a meal and look around this fantasy-land.

If this has inspired you to book your own road trip, you can search for the best flight ticket fares as well as hotel and car hire deals in one place.

* This article first appeared on cheapflights.co.za