A Visitor’s View of the City of Gold
Words Fiona Gordon, pics Dean Hutton
‘In the four short years I’ve lived in the city, I’ve watched parts of it change almost as quickly as a stop motion movie’
There’s something seductive about the pace of Joburg, and the access to, well, anything. In a place with edges that are hard to define, geared towards business with two commercial airports and not one but three CBDs, you could be excused for thinking life in this fast lane is all about work and no play. Bringing home the bacon is definitely the name of the game, but locals certainly play at least as hard as they work.
Those who live in Jozi—many of whom are immigrants to the city—are fiercely patriotic, and any ‘Big Smoke’ local will happily brag about the weather. The winter mornings may be flipping freezing—and I do mean freezing in the scientific sense—but the wind hardly blows and every day sees the sun. Summers rival those of the Mother City.
It’s quite normal to drive 45 minutes to anywhere, so malls—generic and predictable—are useful. Sandton City is the original favourite, but it’s rather a minefield to navigate for the uninitiated, and there really are plenty to choose from. But it’s the neighbourhood gems that are worth writing home about.
PARKHURST’S trendy 4th Avenue strip is first on the list. The road is narrow and one can struggle to find parking, but it embraces the sidewalk café vibe and is the place to see and be seen. (www.4thavenue.co.za)
Friends and family who know the Joburg of old can’t believe I choose to venture into Braamfontein or, heaven forbid, over the Nelson Mandela Bridge into the heart of town. But in the four short years I’ve lived in the city, I’ve watched parts of it change almost as quickly as a stop motion movie. I can only imagine the shifts that must have happened in the last two or three decades.
One Saturday I join the JOHANNESBURG HERITAGE FOUNDATION on one of their regular double-decker bus tours led by a local historian. I appreciate the perspective this glimpse into the city of old offers. For a completely different perspective, Jo Buitendach of PAST EXPERIENCES has a story for just about every building, corner or interesting artwork you will come across as you wander with her, through streets where many fear to tread. Jo backs up her exploring experience with a Masters Degree focusing on Joburg’s graffiti. The locals greet her by name. Started as a way to encourage people to enter what were at one point ‘no go zones’, it’s these sorts of initiatives that are driving the reclamation of Joburg’s forgotten areas. (www.pastexperiences.co.za)
With developments such as THE SHEDS @ 1 FOX STREET—a block away from the infamous Johannesburg Central Police Station—locals and visitors alike increasingly have a reason to hang out in places they wouldn’t have dreamed of (ad)venturing into a short while ago. MABONENG is, of course, the most famous of these areas. Sandwiched in an impossible-to-find strip between some highways just south of the city centre, this is a regenerated part of the inner city hipsters and visitors love to love. The Fox Street strip boasts an independent cinema, aptly named THE BIOSCOPE, and a fab little theatre called POPART. Also in the area, you can visit an artisanal market, have drinks at LIVING ROOM, ride a bicycle, get great coffee, visit DAVID KRUT PROJECTS (bookstore and print-making studio), or pick from a variety of non-chain restaurants. (www.mabonengprecinct.com)
Perhaps because of how frequently people meet and eat out, pizza is a big deal here. On the other side of the original CBD is one of my favourites, the increasingly hip Braamfontein. Here you will find 86 PUBLIC—with its name inspired by Joburg’s founding date, 1886—it’s a real ‘city’ spot, spilling out into an open piazza. However, probably the most popular meeting place is around the corner, at THE NEIGHBOURGOODS MARKET. As a weekend staple in these parts, there are plenty of other markets to visit, but this is the one to tick off the list. If you stay in the area long enough, you can catch some world class jazz at THE ORBIT JAZZ CLUB down the road, or party up a storm at GREAT DANE. (www.86public.co.za, www.neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za, www.theorbit.co.za)
A little further north is MELVILLE, the original Bohemian neighbourhood. Having been through a bit of a slump the last few years, it’s reinventing itself as a spot of interesting eateries. Famous for providing the context for the SABC 2 soap 7de Laan, it’s not unusual to spot the odd famous face among the locals. Home to some fantastic charity shops and 27BOXES—the new ‘container mall’—you can still satisfy your consumer cravings here, or at the nearby 44 STANLEY cluster of upmarket boutique shops and restaurants. (www.27boxes.co.za, 44stanley.co.za)
A RED BUS TOUR is a good way to orientate yourself, as there are things you’ll want to say you’ve done. Doing it this way helps tick a bunch of them off the list without having to worry about taking the right highway, in the right direction. It’s also an easy way to visit some key historical sites in SOWETO and/or the iconic APARTHEID MUSEUM, which is at GOLD REEF CITY. Here you can ride a rollercoaster and take a wander through a different version of history, too. Other landmarks on the tour include the CARLTON CENTRE and CONSTITUTION HILL. (www.citysightseeing.co.za/joburg.php)
For something a little less ‘guided’, a (relatively) short drive can deliver some gems. As the largest man-made urban forest in the world, there is no shortage of trees in Jozi. But some open space certainly doesn’t go amiss. Row your boat on ZOO LAKE for R10 for an hour, or walk along the green belts that wind their way through most suburbs. The BOTANICAL GARDEN in Emmarentia are the equivalent of the beach for many Gautengers. With free entry and large open spaces for toddlers and puppies to stretch their legs, or groups of friends to gather for a picnic, it’s a popular meeting spot in the early evenings and on weekends. Driving a little further will take you to the WALTER SISULU NATIONAL BOTANICAL GARDEN in Roodepoort, famous for its pair of nesting Black Eagles. (www.jhbcityparks.com)
With the Kruger Park not far away, it’s not unusual to use Joburg as a stopover on the way to ‘safari’, but the beautiful MAGALIESBERG or PILANESBERG are just a little more accessible for a weekend trip. Even closer is the CRADLE OF HUMANKIND WORLD HERITAGE SITE (home to the famous Sterkfontein Caves), which can offer a different kind of natural adventure. (www.maropeng.co.za)
The combination of West Rand hospitality and possibly the highest concentration of wedding venues in greater Gauteng region, leaves no shortage of great places to stay, or to eat, or adventure trails for cyclists and rock climbers and the like. LEAFY GREENS CAFÉ, the vegan restaurant in Muldersdrift—with views of endless rolling green hills—comes highly recommended. As does INDABA HOTEL, SPA & CONFERENCE CENTRE in Fourways. Here you can expect a blend of business-like convenience mixed with warm country hospitality. With four restaurants to choose from, and a great cocktail menu, you won’t be left wanting. (www.leafygreens.co.za, www.indabahotel.co.za)
For a city known for its public art, there are also an enviable number of COMMERCIAL AND PUBLIC ART GALLERIES—often in clusters—throughout the city to wander through. And regular Art Fairs cater for browsers and buyers of all levels. Major sporting traditions are very much supported with the likes of the FNB Soccer City and the iconic Ellis Park Rugby Stadium, but even ‘alternative’ sports such as kayaking and roller derby receive support. Attendance at a Friday night roller derby bout is certainly a colourful experience in every sense.
There may not be a mountain or the sea, but making the most of the moments in this city will offer you plenty. Despite its history, and what the city’s many immigrants may hope, the roads of Egoli are not quite paved with gold—but there are certainly plenty of gems in this city. It is built on dreams, after all…
Source: Good Taste