Gauteng is South Africa’s smallest region, comprising less than two percent of its landmass, yet contributing around forty percent of the GDP. Home to nearly ten million people, Gauteng is almost entirely urban; while the province encompasses a section of the Magaliesberg Mountains to the east and the gold-rich Witwatersrand to the south and west, the area is dominated by the huge conurbation incorporating Johannesburg, Pretoria and a host of industrial towns and townships that surround them. Although lacking the spectacular natural attractions of the Cape Province or Mpumalanga, Gauteng has a subtle physical power. Startling outcrops of rock known as koppies, with intriguing and often lucrative geology, are found in the sprawling suburbs and grassy plains of deep-red earth that fringe the cities.
The older parts of Johannesburg and Pretoria are gloriously green in summer: both are among the most tree-rich cities on Earth, and Johannesburg, home to ten million of them, is proudly described by locals as the world’s largest man-made forest. The ubiquitous jacaranda trees blossom in late spring, turning the suburbs purple.
Gauteng is dominated by Johannesburg, whose origins lie in the exploitation of gold (Gauteng means “Place of Gold” in Sotho). Although it has grown rapidly since the discovery of gold in 1886 to become the richest metropolis in Africa, it is a hectic city, home to extreme contrasts of wealth and poverty. The city has a reputation among both visitors and South Africans as a place to avoid, but those who acquire a taste for Jo’burg – something you can do in just a few days – are seduced by its energy and vibrancy, unmatched by any other city in South Africa. A highly cosmopolitan city, and the most Africanized in the country, Jo’burg boasts South Africa’s most famous townships, its most active and diverse cultural life, some of its best restaurants and the most progressive nightlife.
Some 50km north lies dignified Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital. Historically an Afrikaner stronghold, today it’s a cosmopolitan mix of civil servants, diplomats and students from South Africa and around the world. Smaller and more relaxed than Johannesburg, Pretoria is an important and intriguing destination in its own right, with a range of interesting museums and historic buildings. The new Gautrain rapid rail connection between Jo’burg and Pretoria is nothing less than a transport revolution, finally offering locals and travellers a safe and affordable alternative to the tedious traffic jams on the N1.
Less than an hour from the centre of Jo’burg, the section of the Magaliesberg Mountains that extends into Gauteng is a magnet for Johannesburgers desperate to escape the city’s hectic tempo. Although the hills can hardly be described as remote and untamed, you’ll find ample opportunities for nature trailing and hiking. As in much of Gauteng, however, the important part lies underground, with a series of caves, underground passages and archeological sites making up the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Most famous of these sites are the Sterkfontein Caves, where some of the world’s most important discoveries of pre-human primate fossils have been made.