15 Reasons To Visit South Africa’s North West Province

From safaris to slot machines, the pursuit of pleasure is paramount in South Africa’s North West Province.

Located to the west of the major population center of Gauteng, North West Province was created after the end of apartheid in 1994, and includes parts of the former Transvaal Province and Cape Province.

The top three reasons to visit — Sun City, Pilanesberg National Park and Madikwe Game Reserve — are all located less than a six-hour drive from Johannesburg, which means this part of South Africa is as convenient as it is fun! Here are 15 reasons to visit South Africa’s North West Province.

This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.

1. Madikwe Game Reserve

One of South Africa’s lesser-known reserves, Madikwe Game Reserve makes for the ultimate luxury safari: it is closer to Johannesburg than Kruger National Park, malaria-free, boasts Big Five wildlife viewing, has dreamy lodging in red-sand and thorn-bush environs, and is packed with so many lions that the provincial parks department which manages Madikwe had to relocate some elsewhere.

2. Pilanesberg National Park

Less than a three-hour drive from Joburg, and nearly on top of Sun City, malaria-free Pilanesberg National Park is South Africa’s most accessible big game reserve. Designed as a sort of “back to nature” weekend escape for nearby city dwellers at the end of the 1970s, the park remains a refreshing haven where lion, buffalo and tourists roam. And although the park may be in a heavily developed area, don’t confuse it for a zoo. The animals roaming Pilanesberg’s extinct volcanic crater are 100% wild.

3. Sun City

Sun City is the legendary creation of entrepreneur Sol Kerzer. Here Disneyland collides with ancient Egypt in a demented attempt to look like South Africa’s version of Las Vegas. Filled with gilded statues of lions and monkeys, acres of artificial beaches, exploding volcanoes and endless slot machines, Sun City serves no purpose beyond entertainment. And even though there’s no question this gambling resort is grotesquely gaudy, visiting is also loads of fun.

4. Lost City

The best part of Sun City is undeniably its Lost City, which is entered via a bridge flanked by life-size fake elephants (the Bridge of Time). It is basically a giant water park that consists of the Valley of the Waves (a pool with a huge wave-making machine), a sandy beach, numerous water slides and other amusement park rides. Lost City is also home to another casino, theater complex and the requisite food court.

5. Palace of the Lost City

Consistently ranked one of the top hotels in the world, this palatial property in the middle of the Lost City at Sun City offers an opulent toast to the luxury lifestyle. Rooms are palatial, but pale in comparison to the awesome public spaces that can only be accessed with a reservation at the hotel (the public is not welcome to just wander around).

6. Magaliesberg Mountains

Less than a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, but worlds apart in looks and attitude, the ancient 120-kilometer-long Magaliesberg range forms a half-moon arc between the Hartbeespoort Dam and Rustenburg. This is a land of rolling green hills, streams, forests and lots of fresh, clean air. It is also a favorite weekend escape for South African residents of Gauteng’s big cities.

7. Zip Line Canopy TourIn the Magaliesberg Mountains, skim treetops and jump cliffs while whizzing down a steel zip line suspended 30 meters above the ground on the Magaliesberg Canopy Tour. This eco- adventure takes you on a guided two-and-a-half hour descent through Ysterhout Kloof, stopping at multiple platforms built into the cliff face for birds-eye views along the way.

8. Welwitschia Country Market

With more than 40 open-air stands full of African curios to choose from, this country market on the shores of Hartebeespoort reservoir is a great place to stock up on African handicrafts and souvenirs before heading home. Prices are reasonable, quality is fair to excellent (you can find some really nice pieces) and you can bargain.

9. Hartbeespoort Dam

A favorite weekend retreat for South Africans living around Joburg and Pretoria, Hartbeesport is also a good day trip for travelers hoping to escape the urban jungle. Less than an hour’s drive from either city, it feels worlds apart from urbanity with rolling hills, winding country roads and the dam’s green-blue waters.

10. Mafikeng Museum

This is one of the best museums in South Africa. Located in the town of Mafikeng, it focuses on the intriguing — and sometimes unusual — history of the region. It features everything from an exhibit dedicated to the rise of South Africa’s boy-scout movement to an entire room devoted to the famous siege at Mafikeng, with original photographs and letters. There’s also good information about the forgotten role played by the town’s black population.

11. Mapoch Ndebele Cultural Village

Not just a tourist replica but a genuine living Ndebele village, Mapoch Ndebele Cultural Village contains beautiful painted homesteads and is famous for its welcoming atmosphere. Located 50km north-west of Pretoria, a visit here can include a walking tour or a cycling trip, guided by a local villager. The tour will cover Ndebele architecture, wall-painting, art and also their Zulu roots. It is possible to stay overnight.

12. Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary

About an hour’s drive from Joburg, this sanctuary provides a free-roaming forest home for primates who were once either pets or in other places of captivity. It is one of only eight free-release sanctuaries in the world, and includes lemurs, spider monkeys and of course, bush babies. They have a seven hectare space to roam in, including waterfalls and natural streams. The sanctuary is privately run, and is located near the Hartbeespoort Dam. Visitors can walk on elevated walkways on a guided tour, but bushbabies are nocturnal, so they might be hard to see.

13. Blaauwbank Historic Gold Mine

Gold was first discovered here in the late 1800s, including the richest gold deposit in South Africa — the 120km Main Reef. Today, you can have a go at prospecting, too. And if you do strike it lucky, you can take the shiny elusive metal home with you. Or better yet, head to the casino at Sun City! Trained guides are on hand to take you on a tour of the old mine.

14. Taung Fossil Site & Taung Heritage Route

The Taung skull fossil site is a major attraction on the Taung Heritage Route and of significant scientific importance, over 45km long. The fossilized skull itself is estimated to be 2.5 million years old, and has attracted much debate. The skull supports the theory that humankind originated in Africa, and had been in Africa for more than a million years earlier than previously thought. The place where the Taung skull was discovered is now part of the UNESCO Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

15. Vredefort Dome

This is actually a huge meteor crater site, but the central part of the impact crater is confusingly called a dome because the rock layers were bent into the shape of an upside-down bowl 90km across. Incredibly, the entire site is about 300km wide (or, Johannesburg to Welkom). It is actually the biggest meteorite impact yet found on earth and is twice the size as the impact that is thought to have killed dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Because of its huge importance and significance, it is also a World Heritage Site. By studying the entral crater, scientists think the meteorite itelf must have been 10km across and travelling at 10km a second (or, 36,000km per hour!). Stand in the crater at Vredefort Dome and feel the weight of these statistics.

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