There are an abundance of reserves and parks in Gauteng, a province known more for its industry and commerce than for its nature, animals and bird life. You do not even have to leave Gauteng for your African landscape or wildlife filming requirements - it�s all here within an hour or so from Johannesburg (Joburg). From the cliffs and waterfall of the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens; to the open grassland of the Suikerbosrand reserve; to the formal rose gardens of Emmarentia reminiscent of an English country garden; and finally to the Big Five at Dinokeng.

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From Top Left to Bottom Right: Game Viewing, Johannesburg Botanical Gardens (pic courtesy of Johannesburg City Parks), Marievale Bird Sanctuary (pic courtesy of Nigel Business Directory), The Lion Park (pic courtesy of The SA Lion Park)
Joburg, with its unusual claim to fame of being one of the largest man-made forests in the world with an estimated over 10 million trees, has a plethora of public parks (visit cityparks for information on all Joburg�s parks). One of the city�s biggest green lungs, Delta Park (tel +27 (0)11 888-4831) offers 13 hectares of grassland and woodland to explore. There are many walking trails, which link three beautiful tree-lined dams.

 

Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary incorporated in the park. The south-east corner of Delta Park is one of the most tranquil retreats and there are delightful picnic spots. The spacious park is also the home of the Delta Environmental Centre, a wonderful example of art deco architecture. Another green lung is Emmarentia Dam and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, planted in 1969 and covering 148 hectares, featuring a bonsai collection, herbal garden, medical and literary garden, and a rose garden. The water features spurting water from crocodile, baboon and lion heads trickle down through the formal rose gardens and peach blossoms ending at large beautiful fountain spurting fronds of water in the centre of large pool.

Bezuidenhout Park, located to the east of the city centre, was built on a 100-year old farm. The original farmstead and graveyard are still intact. Joubert Park was established as a botanical garden in 1891 and is Johannesburg�s oldest park. This Inner City park is well frequented by residents of the surrounding flatlands. Rhodes Park is situated in the eastern suburb of Kensington and has a lake, water features and terraced gardens. The Wilds is an 18-hectare park that includes two rocky ridges, where a variety of indigenous plants grow. Zoo Lake of course has as its main feature its lake with a fountain in the centre, and rolling green lawns.

Perhaps Joburg�s most beautiful park is the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (tel: +27 (0)86 100 1278) surrounded by sheer cliffs and exquisite scenery. A highlight is the Witpoortjie waterfall. The oldest part of the gardens, the Rose Garden, contains a lovely collection of 4 500 roses. Another interesting feature is the section with culinary as well as indigenous medicinal and exotic herbs. Since 1940 there has been a breeding pair of Black Eagles (or Verreaux�s eagles) nestling in this bountiful natural setting. They are one of the few breeding pairs of eagles anywhere in the world to live in an urban environment.

Melville Koppies (tel: +27 (0)11 482 4797) was declared a nature reserve in 1959 and is a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. An added attraction is the flora in the area � 80% of floral species recorded on the Witwatersrand grow here. The highveld grasses, flowers and trees of the Koppies are entirely indigenous and its ridges have looked like this for hundreds of years.

Tshwane has one of the oldest reserves in the country and one of the world�s largest urban nature reserves. The Groenkloof Nature Reserve (tel: +27 (0)12 440 8316 or (0)12 341 5204) was proclaimed by President Paul Kruger in February 1895. The reserve features low, broken ridges varying in steepness. The wildlife on the reserve includes zebra, jackal, duiker, kudu, impala, blue wildebeest, blesbuck, red hartebeest, ostrich, giraffe and sable.

The Rietvlei Nature Reserve (tel: +27 (0)12 345 2274) is 3 800 hectares of mainly open grassland in extent, situated south of the city but still within the city limits. Animals found include the world�s largest antelope, the Eland, Burchell's Zebra, Red Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Springbok, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, Ostrich, two of Africa's �big five� Buffalo and White Rhino, Bushpig, as well as a number of Black-backed Jackal, Mountain Reedbuck, Oribi, Grey Duiker, Steenbuck, Brown Hyena, Porcupine, Springhare, Aardwolf and Banded Mongoose. Recently a family group of five hippos as well as cheetah were introduced. 

South Africa's national bird, the Blue Crane, is seen here from time to time, the Secretary Bird is a regular visitor and Rietvlei is home to a breeding pair of Fish Eagles. In addition, many other species of bird can be seen including the Orange-throated Longclaw, the Little Egret, the Darter, the Reed Cormorant, the White-breasted Cormorant, the Goliath Heron, the African Finfoot and the Green-backed Heron. The reserve offers superb sightings of the wildlife of the South African highveld. There is a bird hide and an area set aside for picnics at Marais Dam upstream from Rietvlei Dam.

The National Botanical Gardens (tel: +27 (0)12 843 5172/3/4 or (0)12 843 5104) has over 1 000 species of indigenous trees and about 800 indigenous flowering plants. It was declared a national monument in 1979. A 50 metre high quartzite outcrop divides the Garden in two sections. Its frosty south-facing section and the north-facing, warmer section present two different worlds. Paved nature trails give access to the fascinating natural vegetation on the ridge. Fifty hectares of the total area are devoted to developed garden, using almost exclusively South African plants. The Gardens offer a variety of biomes including savanna, forest and fynbos. It is home to more than 198 bird species and a number of reptiles and small mammals such as the common duiker. Special features are the avenue and collections of medicinal plants, cycads, aloes, tree species, succulents and natural ridge vegetation. The green lawns and spreading shade trees in summer and the massed aloe collections that blaze into flower during winter, are just some of the seasonal features.

Sedibeng is best known for its Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve (tel: +27 (0)11 904 3930/3/7 or (0)716027581), only an hour�s drive from Joburg on the N3 highway. At the entrance gate there are a number of small dams off to the left and you may even spot a pair of white-backed ducks on the first dam. The reserve includes a range of habitats and varied topography � flowering proteas, clumps of acacia trees. In addition to its bird-list of more than 250 species, the reserve protects a number of large mammals as well and the drive usually provides good viewing of impala, blesbok, black wildebeest, eland and grey rhebuck (if you are lucky). There is a 60 kilometre drive through the reserve. The first part of the circular drive takes you up to the highest part of the reserve through montane grassland. As the drive descends, so the habitat slowly changes to grasslands and then to Acacia thornveld. The picnic spot is set in Acacia savanna. The drive gradually climbs back up to montane grassland.

Metsweding has the Dinokeng Big Five Game Reserve. The Reserve has reintroduced Africa�s �Big Five� into a bushveld area of nearly 100 000 hectares � all within an hour�s drive from Johannesburg International Airport and 20 minutes from Pretoria. The Big Five are, of course, lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino. There's also a �Small Five� that few people know about and these can also be found in the reserve, the lion ant, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, buffalo weaver and the rhino beetle. The vegetation varies from a dense, short bushveld to a rather open tree savanna

A smaller reserve, the 1 800-hectare Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve, has as its centrepiece the large Bronkhorstspruit Dam itself and surrounding reedbeds. The reserve is stocked with black wildebeest, steenbok and blesbok, and also boasts a large variety of bird life, particularly waterfowl. Adjoining the Premier Mine, the Premier Game Reserve forms part of the mine property and wildlife includes the endangered tsessebe and sable antelope, as well as giraffe, zebra, blue wildebeest and various other species of antelope and nocturnal animals, such as the aardwolf and aardvark. Over 200 species of birds and more than 400 species of plants have been identified in the park.

Planes and airports aside, Ekurhuleni is also a space where nature is nurtured and protected to provide visitors with dramatic examples of Africa�s fauna and flora. The Rondebult Bird Sanctuary along the south-eastern border of Germiston provides shelter for many indigenous and migratory water birds and ducks. The sanctuary covers 95 hectares of �vlei� (marshland) and has seven well-constructed (roofed, carpeted and cushioned) bird hides, all overlooking the water. The hides are considered to be among the ten best bird hides in South Africa. There are ibis, purple gallinule, African snipe, black-winged stilt and avocet. The 1 000-hectare Marievale Bird Sanctuary (tel: +27 (0)11 364 1101) is a well-known wetland area. The sanctuary is on the Blesbokspruit and is home of some 300 species of birds. Three well-organised hides have been built in the Sanctuary. Birds that have been spotted in this wetland area include waterfowl, flamingo, African spoonbill and some of the rare wader migrants from the northern hemisphere.

A park with interesting features is the Pioneers Park (tel: +27 (0)11 435 0425) located around an ivy-covered mine shaft and featuring a tree-fringed lake. It has lovely aloe gardens, a stone bridge, streams and fountains and a functioning, true-to-life Dutch windmill � a highlight is the magical musical fountain.

The West Rand is home to The Cradle of Humankind and the amazing story of our human origins is encapsulated in the fossil record of the Cradle of Humankind. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1999. Only 45 minutes from Johannesburg, nestling in the peaceful Sterkfontein rural valley, the Cradle of Humankind is the world's richest hominid site. This 3 000-hectare reserve is home to more than 12 species of antelope and two very rare species of raptors - black and martial Eagles. Situated in �The Cradle� is the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve (tel: +27 (0)11 957 0349/0106/0109) - the place to visit if great mountain vistas are what you are after. This privately owned Gauteng game reserve covers approximately 1 200 hectares of land. Game species include white rhino, lion, buffalo, hippo, wild dog, cheetah, crocodile plus abundant bird life.

The Lion Park (tel: +27 (0)11 691 9905) offers amazing close-up views and other experiences with lions, as well as rare white lions. There are also other large predators at the Lion Park including cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs and jackals. Terrific filming and photographic opportunities are possible. There is an antelope area set in African grassland replete with a watering hole.

Now that you know just why Gauteng can meet your landscape or wildlife filming requirements! In the next issue of In Focus, we�ll provide details on permit requirements, as well as an interview with an animal handler.