Hartbeespoort Things to Do Tips by CatherineReichardt Top 5 Page for this destination
Hartbeespoort Things to Do: 40 reviews and 82 photos
Small son and even smaller vulture chick
In an area that has too many animal-focused tourist attractions that give little or nothing back to conservation, the Vulture Rehabilitation centre at Hartbeespoort is a notable (and welcome) exception.
The project aims to rehabilitate injured vultures and return them to the wild: if the animals are are not fit to fend for themselves, then they are rehomed with reputable organisations such as the Johannesburg Zoo.
Sadly there is a constant stream of injured vultures requiring rehabilitation. Historically a large proportion of vultures would have been injured as a result of encounters of too close a kind with electricity infrastructure. Happily this is a reducing threat as Eskom, the power supplier, is working actively with vulture conservationists to develop 'vulture friendly' pylons which are designed to prevent the birds electrocuting themselves by spanning the live wires with their wings on take off and landing. These days, most birds are admitted due to poisoning by farmers who still misguidedly believe that vultures predate on young livestock and refuse to understand the critical scavenging role that vultures play in keeping our ecosystem disease-free.
Vultures are brilliant birds and among my absolute favourites, particularly when it comes to observing their complex group dynamics. Each vulture species has its own specific role for which it is ergonomically designed: the lappet faced vultures use their massive beaks to tear through the skin and open up the carcass, the more generalist Cape vultures weigh in next and the smaller hooded vultures skulk around the fringes, using its smaller sharp beaks to excavate the hard-to-access scraps that their bigger cousins can't get to.
Thanks to a staggeringly robust digestive system whose resilence beggars belief, vultures are able to happily subsist on diseased carrion that would otherwise pose a threat to the health of other animals, thus removing this risk from the food chain - any animal that is immune to anthrax deserves serious respect!
Admission to the centre is by prior arrangement, unless a specific open day has been organised (watch the website for details on these excellent events).
Directions: See website for detailed directions
Other Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Elephant Sanctuary at Hartbeespoort is one of three elephant centres across the country (the other two are in Plettenburg Bay and Hazyview) that offer tourists the opportunity for an 'up close' opportunity to interact with elephants.
Visitors can interact with elephants by walking with them 'trunk in hand', feeding them, brushing them down and riding them (although bear in mind that the elephant back rides are only available for adults and children over 8). Check the website below for the wide range of experiences they offer, which range from a one hour encounter to a full day programme. However, be warned that this is not a cheap experience by South African standards: at the time of writing (December 2011), a 10 minute ride for an adult was a hefty R435, although the combined packages appear to be much better value for money. The website maintains that advance booking is essential, and this would certainly be the case in peak season (in low season, I would just call ahead).
I confess to being somewhat ambivalent about these centres (all of which are located in major tourist areas) because although they undoubtedly have an educational function, I don't believe that there is any significant conservation angle to their operations. Their website states that the Hartbeespoort centre "provides a “halfway house” for young African elephants in need of a temporary home" and that "It is our vision to release all the elephants into an environment where they can be more independent once they are older". However, this is patently nonsense, since it would be downright dangerous to release adult elephants back into the wild that have become to habituated to human interaction, and the only place I would imagine they could go would be to a similar facility.
I therefore suggest that you take these centres at face value, ignore their conservation claims and instead appreciate that they undoubtedly allow you to get much closer to an elephant than you'd ever get in the wild. I fondly recall my late mother-in-law's glee at walking 'hand in trunk' with an elephant, and the bizarre spectacle of our (then) three year old daughter - whose birthday treat this was - with several elephants lined up in front of her as she doled out peanuts one by one to appreciative trunks and that was undoubtedly a very special experience for them both.
However if you're interested in genuine conservation initiatives, rather spend your time and money on visiting the nearby Anne van Dyk Cheetah Breeding Centre or the Vulture Rehabilitation centre, who, by comparison, have rock solid conservation credentials.
The 'Om Die Dam' ('Around the Dam') ultramarathon is one of the most popular events on the South African running calender, and unlikely though it might seem, 7,000 willing participants line up to run this 50km race around Hartbeespoort Dam in mid March each year.
Om Die Dam is an extremely popular race for many reasons, including the fact that it is one of the most scenic road races in the country and is within easy reach for runners from major inland populations centres such as Johannesburg, Pretoria and Rustenburg. It is also a vital component of most runners' training schedule in preparation for the two big road races of the year: the 56km Two Oceans ultramarathon in Cape Town and the Holy Grail of South African road running, the 89km Comrades ultramarathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg (see my respective pages for more detail on these expressions of mass athletic lunacy).
For those who don't feel quite up to 50km of road pounding - however scenic - there are also half marathon and 10km races, as well as a 5km 'fun run' (which always seems somewhat of a contradiction in terms). For obvious reasons, those not interested in the race should avoid the Hartbeespoort area on race day because of extensive road closures.
More details on participating (or, more sanely, watching) this race can be found on the website below.
Crazy Chameleon village, Hartbeespoort
I have to say that Hartbeespoort isn't my favourite place, especially in peak season and/or over weekends when it gets very busy. Frankly I don't understand the allure of flocking to a manmade reservoir whose water quality is so hazardous to health that swimming is actively discouraged, but then I'm not their target market, so maybe I should hold my peace ...
However, I regularly travel through Hartbeespoort on business, and I will concede that there are some really interesting places to visit in the vicinity. From a tourist point of view, it's also on the main route to Sun City and just under halfway in terms of travel time. If so, then the Crazy Chameleon tourist market (and a similar market over the road) make a good pit stop and aren't bad places to go curio shopping.
Just remember that just because it's on sale is South Africa doesn't mean that it's local - there are, for example, large amounts of wonderful Shona stone carvings that come from Zimbabwe - so if buying local is a big thing for you, then be sure to ask about provenance. Otherwise, be sure to bargain (especially for discount on volume).
It stands to reason that for every dam, there must be a dam wall.
In the case of Hartbeespoort, this is a very narrow structure that stretches between two imposing rock buttresses, which was completed in 1923 to provide a reliable source of water for the surrounding farms. It's really rather pretty, especially after heavy rain when water overflows from the dam into the Crocodile River valley below.
It is possible to drive over the dam wall, but bear in mind that this is a single lane road and in peak periods, such as over weekends or over holiday periods, you may have to wait for several phases of traffic light before you reach the front of the traffic queue.
If you are just passing through Hartbeespoort on your way elsewhere, you can avoid these traffic tailbacks (and resultant delays) by taking the R512 through Broederstroom on the southern shore and then crossing the dam via the bridge which straddles its western end.
(work in progress)
Anne van Dyk Cheetah Breeding Station
Of all the wildlife-related activities in the Hartbeespoort area (and there are several), I believe that the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Breeding station - also known as De Wildt - is by far the most worthwhile. It is located about an hour's drive from Johannesburg and slightly less from Pretoria - it is also probably just over an hour from Rustenburg and Sun City if you're staying there (which might be relevant for World Cup visitors).
De Wildt is a genuine conservation project (rather than just a wildlife tourist attraction such as the predator centre at Sun City) and Ann has established an extremely successful captive breeding programme for cheetahs with the intention of reintroducing cheetah into the wild and diversifying the gene pool: cheetah populations are usually chronically in-bred, which makes them particularly vulnerable. De Wildt also proved that the king cheetah - which has much darker markings - was the result of a recessive gene, rather than a separate sub species.
In addition to cheetah, the centre has also got a very successful wild dog breeding programme which gives you a chance to experience this wonderful pack animal with a fascinating social structure (see my travel tip on Victoria Falls - it took me 24 years to see wild dog in their natural habitat - and it was worth the wait!). In the past they have also set up breeding programme for other endangered species - some of which have now been handed over to other organisations to run: the one that sticks in my mind is the hapless riverine rabbit, whose endangered status is partly due to habitat destruction but also owes much to the fact that it only has one young at a time (making something of a mockery of the phrase, "to breed like a rabbit"!).
Opening hours are very limited, but there are a couple of different tour options, detailed below (prices valid from 1 May 2010):
Cheetah Run and 3 hour guided tour
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday mornings;
R345.00 per person, irrespective of age (regrettably no children under 6);
Cheetah run starts at 08h00
3 hour guided tour
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 13h30; Wednesdays at 08h30 and 13h30
R245 per person, irrespective of age (regrettably no children under 6)
Booking is essential for both tours - this is enforced and I've seen them turn people away.
There are also corporate and family tour options available. The family tour is expensive, but is probably worth considering if you are travelling with children under 6 who are interested in animals. The reason for the age restriction that I have heard is that the conventional tours take place in an open vehicle, and both the wild dog and the cheetah consider small children to be snack-sized: I'm not sure if this is an urban legend or not, but the website certainly suggests that the family tours take place in a kombi (minibus)!
Directions: There is an excellent sketch map on the website - I find that it is easy to get lost in the Hartbeespoort area, so I strongly suggest that you use this
Read more: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/136668/21eac9/4/?o=1&i=1#ixzz1OCdVIRgq
Phone: 012 504 9906
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