Staying Home in Gauteng and Loving It
By Lisa Johnston
Any self-respecting Gautenger knows that the best time to enjoy the province is over the December holiday period. The mobs and their hyperactive offspring have packed their buckets and spades and headed to the coast. The roads are blissfully uncongested, reducing an hour-long commute to a mere 20 minutes, and the weather is pure bliss. The characteristic grisliness of overworked office folk is replaced with easy smiles and long languid lunches at any number of pavement cafés or outdoor restaurants. This is the time of year when city folk don their party gear, forget the woes of what might have been and enjoy the best that Gauteng has to offer.
Go wild at the zoo
Living in the country of the Big Five has slightly different connotations for city dwellers in Gauteng, where the word ‘animal’ is usually used with the connotation of ‘party’. There are, however, a number of places to view wildlife outside of nightclubs. Most notable are the province’s two major zoological gardens in Johannesburg and Pretoria. It’s difficult to recommend one over the other as both are proactive in ensuring a good mix of exhibitions and tours.
Pretoria’s zoo is South Africa’s largest and was initially created with larger enclosures and more ‘naturally’ landscaped habitats – 15 years ago it would have won my vote hands down as the better of the two. There’s no land left for it to grow, while Johannesburg Zoo is constantly revamping and enlarging its enclosures for the benefit of the public and, more importantly, for the comfort of its animals.
The zoo is set in Saxonwold, one of Joburg’s loveliest old suburbs with leafy avenues and beautiful old homes. The entire property is 81 hectares, so don your walking shoes if you want a good workout; alternatively wait at demarcated spots and catch the mini train, which makes regular loops around the zoo. There are about 2 000 animals across more than 320 species and my favourite spot is the bench in front of the lemur enclosure – the energetic antics of these primates will keep you giggling for ages. Keep an eye on the website for specialised day and night tours and holiday programmes. Entrance is R58 an adult and R36 a child. Tel +27 11 646 2000, email [email protected], www.jhbzoo.org.za.
The roar of the city’s traffic is muffled by grunts, growls and giggles as kids race from enclosure to enclosure on the 85-hectare property to see various beasties (there are 3 117 animals across 209 mammal species). Among the most impressive attractions are the magnificent Bengal tigers; the feel-good factor of spotting these guys is enhanced by the fact that they need only be seen when they choose, thanks to their large artificial habitat. The country’s largest inland marine aquarium and a reptile park also form part of the zoo. Entrance is R60 an adult and R40 a child. Tel +27 12 339 2700, www.nzg.ac.za.
The Lion Park
If you haven’t been to the Lion Park about 30 minutes from Johannesburg the holidays are a good time to go, when the over-congestion of weekend guests is dispersed over the week.
Visitors can self drive or take a guided game vehicle through the park, which claims to be neither a game reserve nor a zoo. The park is split into two parts; the larger area is where zebra, giraffe and antelope run free and, luckily for the herbivores, a separate lion and hyena camp is divided into different territories. The carnivores are so well fed and used to vehicles that the park has become a popular venue for amateur wildlife shutterbugs to practise their craft. Self drives are R150 an adult and R75 a child. Guided game drives are R225 an adult and R140 a child. Tel +27 11 691 9905, cell +27 87 150 0100, email [email protected], www.lion-park.com.
The Montecasino Bird Gardens
The open-air aviary is the most beautiful I’ve come across and the height of the netting and spaciousness means you can enjoy all manner of birdlife with a sense of openness and freedom. There are also glass-walled terrariums stocked with reptiles. Wander the walkways through a cooing, squawking, chirruping menagerie of more than 60 species of birds. Buy tubs of birdy treats and feed the tame rainbow lorikeets or catch a Flight of Fantasy educational show. Entrance is R48 an adult and R27 a child. Tel +27 11 511 1864, www.montecasino.co.za.
Get high in Gauteng
There are a number of ways to get an aerial perspective on Gauteng,the choice very much dependent on personality type and budget. But whether you’re an adrenaline junky or peace seeker, there’s a range of offerings from sundowners and dancing at a rooftop bar to picnicking on Africa’s tallest building and swan-diving from a cooling tower in Soweto.
Don your dancing shoes
It didn’t take long for Main Street Life (aka the Maboneng Precinct) to become a Sunday afternoon institution among Joburgers. After hitting Market on Main in the morning for great food and design, many walk down the road to the 12 Decades Art Hotel’s rooftop bar where popular local DJs help them to enjoy the last hours of the weekend. This is the perfect spot for a sundowner, overlooking the city. Cell +27 83 245 1040, email [email protected], www.mainstreetlife.co.za.
Sundowners from a roof
Sandton City is probably the last place you’ll want to be around this time of year, but if you find yourself rushing around and doing the inevitable last-minute Christmas shopping there is a way to soothe frazzled nerves. The Sandton Sun Hotel, which forms part of the centre, has the most wonderful outdoor section to its restaurant. Sip Chardonnay on one of the comfy couches and let the post-purchase depression melt away. Tel +27 11 780 5000, email [email protected], www.sandtonsun.com.
Picnic in the sky
Main Street Walks is a relatively new concept reintroducing people to the beauty and diversity of inner-city Johannesburg through a number of educational walks and activities. For a fabulously fun day out, join them for a rooftop picnic. They provide a picnic basket and utensils and give you half an hour to wander through Sunday’s Market on Main, selecting whatever delicious goodies you want to buy. You’re then taken by shuttle to Africa’s tallest building, the 223-metre high Carlton Centre, where you can enjoy your meal from the 50th floor Top of Africa observation area. Picnics take place every Sunday and cost R150 an adult and R70 a child. Tel +27 11 780 5000, cell +27 72 880 9583, email [email protected], www.mainstreetwalks.co.za.
Golden city flights
Sky Africa offers a bird’s-eye view tour of the golden cities and surrounds through a range of flying safaris. Aside from being highly entertaining, the pilots are great guides, pointing out areas of interest and doing their utmost to get good photographic angles on popular sites. I took the two-hour Flight of Two Cities, which not only takes in Joburg and Pretoria, but also offers an aerial view of Soweto, Hartbeespoort Dam and the Magaliesberg mountains. It’s a really interesting way to get perspective on a province of highly populated areas contrasted with swathes of green agricultural land. Rates for the Flight of Two Cities are R3 692 a plane (max three) for a two-hour flight. Cell +27 82 563 3314 or +27 82 563 3318, email [email protected], www.skyafrica.com.
This isn’t for anyone with a healthy sense of self-preservation or the faint-hearted, although I’ve been assured it’s perfectly safe. If you’re going to fling yourself from a high space attached by a bit of elastic cord it might as well be from one of Gauteng’s most iconic landmarks: the Orlando Towers in Soweto. Jumpers take an open-air lift to a platform, then climb a ‘floating’ stairway to the rim before getting onto a sky bridge suspended between the towers. You’ll jump from here if you haven’t already had a panic attack by this stage. The views over Soweto are awesome. Other adventure activities such as paintball and rockclimbing are also available. It costs R480 a person for a bungi jump. Cell +27 71 674 4343, [email protected], www.orlandotowers.co.za.
Make your kids love you more
Summer is the season for family bonding, so do yourself and your kids a favour: avoid the malls and make an effort to explore some of Gauteng’s more interesting attractions.
Gold Reef City
The turn-of-the-century theme park is a fun, educational outing for the whole family. Based on the site of an old mine, which closed in the 1970s, the highlight of a visit is to don mining gear and take a lift down Shaft 14 into the belly of the Earth. You can also watch gold being poured. The actual ‘city’ is a recreation of quaint Victorian shops and buildings and there’s a host of belly-churning rides. Entry is R160 for adults. Tel +27 11 248 6800, email [email protected], www.goldreefcity.co.za.
Unlike many establishments that try and up their kid cred by squeezing a jungle gym or two into a corner, Bambanani in Melville is a children’s paradise. The restaurant has been purpose built with youngsters in mind, which means it’s an absolute pleasure for their parents too. The extensive menu suits all tastes and offers food from toddler’s meals to tapas. The outside area features two separate play areas, so that toddlers are kept safe from the bigger, more boisterous kids, and trained child minders are on hand. There is also foosball and games for pre-teens and teens. Tel +27 11 482 2900, email [email protected], www.bambanani.biz.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Although the drive through the taxiand pedestrian-crowded King George Street in a dodgier part of the city can be a little hair-raising, this is a great place to educate children about art. The gallery houses an impressive collection of local and international work. Take along a sketch pad and pencils and get them to copy from the grand masters. Secure parking is available. Entrance is free. Tel +27 11 725 3130.
The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens
The Roodepoort park is truly one of Gauteng’s loveliest and this accounts for why it’s so packed with picnickers over weekends (avoid the crowds and visit during the week). A popular attraction for young children is the mini train, which does loops around the gardens. There’s also a play park and older kids will enjoy looking out for the breeding pair of Verreauxs’ eagles nesting in the cliffs above a waterfall. The gardens boast a massive diversity of plant species, making it particularly popular among amateur photographers, who arrive as the gates open at 08h00 to catch the last of the glowing morning light. Entrance is R27 an adult, R12 for scholars and children under six are free. Cell +27 86 100 1278, [email protected], www.sanbi.org/gardens/waltersisulu.
Source: Getaway Magazine