This lies within an hours journey of Johannesburg making it an ideal destination for hiking. Separating the bustle of the Witwatersrand from the quiet openness of the African bushveld lies the Magaliesberg, a mountain range rich in wild life, history and scenic spectacle. Here, plants and animals of the highveld blend with those of the mountain and bushveld in a wealth of natural variety. Here too, is the cradle of human evolution where over thousands of years a succession of societies have lived, hunted, farmed and clashed in violent wars.
Sandwiched between the gold bearing quartzites of the Witwatersrand to the south and the platinum rich Bushveld Complex to the north, the Magaliesberg range makes up in mystery, romance and character what it lacks in mineral wealth. It is a place of wilderness and war, a mountain chain linking the magnificence of nature to the turbulent history of South Africa.
Born nearly 2 billion years ago as a shallow sea gradually filling with eroded debris from surrounding granite peaks, the mountains are formed mainly of quartzites that gleam pink and white in the morning sun. Tough, coarse quartz crystals bear testimony to an age of fire. Two billion years ago the original sands were melted and re-crystalised and the whole mass tilted northwards as it was sucked inexorably into the molten void that became the Bushveld Complex.
In the intervening millennia, geology, climate and nature have combined to create the spectacular scenery that exists today. The mountains form part of the northern boundary between the immense grassveld biome that characterizes the central plateau of South Africa’s interior and the savanna biome that extends north and west into the heart of the African continent.
Distinctive faunal and floral components of each biome combine with montane species to create a unique environment, rich in its diversity.
Records exist of sightings of ninety species of mammal, nearly three hundred species of birds and over seventy species of reptile, including thirty five snakes. Over one hundred and twenty tree species have been recognized. Many species of invertebrates, flowers, ferns and shrubs abound in this special area.
Man, from his earliest evolutionary beginning has been drawn to this area by the abundance of food, water and shelter. For tens of thousands of years, countless social groups have swept, or have been swept, into and away from the area leaving but few traces of their presence. Simple graves, tumbled ruins of ancient buildings and disabled fortifications bear testimony to only the most recent episodes of the violence of mankind against itself.
In the nineteenth century, vast herds of game, extraordinary in both their variety and number, inhabited the mountains and surrounding plains and drew European explorers, hunters, traders and missionaries to the ‘Cashan Mountains’, named after the local chieftain. Sadly little remains today of those vast herds but the careful observer will certainly see baboon, rhebok and small mammals such as the scrub hare, rock rabbit and dassie. There will be traces of nocturnal species such as porcupine, jackal, caracal and civet. The very quiet and lucky observer, may catch a fleeting glimpse of the graceful brown hyena or of the clawless otter tumbling playfully in a clear mountain pool.
As with many sensitive areas, the Magaliesberg is under threat from economic and social forces. On one hand, increasing affluence in large urban areas surrounding the mountains has created an increase in the demand for recreational facilities, on the other, the influx of population from rural to urban areas is creating demands for land for residential and small farming use.
Overgrazing and destruction of wetlands and other water resources result from economic pressures on existing farming communities. The future of the Magaliesberg depends critically on being able to create a socio-economic environmental equilibrium. The concept of a protected natural environment, wherein land ownership remains in private hands but changes in land use are managed by an independent specialist body, has been practiced in the Magaliesberg for two decades. Recent re-allocation of provincial boundaries, together with changed budget priorities, is threatening this structure.
The future of the mountains lies in the hands of many hundreds of stakeholders and many thousands of visitors. Together they have the capability, and the obligation, to preserve the priceless asset that is the Magaliesberg.
The mountains are a place where we retreat to away from tensions created by our busy lives.
The Johannesburg Hiking Club wants to preserve the Magaliesberg range for the enjoyment of future generations.