Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve is one of the largest and most popular wild places in Gauteng, South Africa’s most urbanised province, providing vital environmental education and outdoor recreation to thousands of overworked city dwellers.
Proclaimed in 1974 and substantially enlarged in 2003, Suikerbosrand is managed by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Today it protects 220km² of scenic highveld grassland, rich in flowering plants and grasses, interspersed with areas of thorny bushveld, aloe forests, wooded gorges and marshland. The reserve is named after the Suikerbosrand range of hills (1,545 to 1,917m above sea level), which in turn is named for the Sugarbush (Protea caffra) that’s quite common in the area.
More than 250 bird species have been recorded at Suikerbosrand, and several species of non-threatening indigenous large game animals have been introduced. There is also an abundance of smaller mammals and reptiles, including a few venomous snakes, that find protection here.
Hiking is a big attraction at Suikerbosrand, with day trails ranging from the 800m long Toktokkie trail, accessible in wheelchairs, and the 4km long Cheetah Trail to the 10 or 17km Bokmakierie Trail, while overnight hikes that take up to 6 days to complete along a 66km network of trails, with basic huts to sleep in, can also be undertaken. The reserve is immensely popular with the cycling fraternity, especially so on weekends and holidays, and due care is required wherever vehicles and cyclists have to share the roads. The reserve has a network of approximately 60km good tar road that traverses most of the area’s habitats, allowing good game- and bird viewing. Two picnic areas cater to the needs of day visitors. At the time of our last visit (December 2015), the Kareekloof Resort, which used to offer options to overnight in the reserve in addition to the usual holiday resort amenities, was closed with no indication as to when, or if, it will reopen. Sadly, the same applied to the information centre at Diepkloof, the reserve headquarters.
Suikerbosrand is easily accessible from the N3 highway, just north of the town of Heidelberg, south-east of sprawling Johannesburg.