Gauteng was built on the discovery of gold. Even today the province still has an edgy, hard-living, frontier feel to it. It’s the smallest South African province, but is the kind of place where attitude makes up for size. Gauteng is the economic heartbeat of not only the Highveld, but of the whole country.
There are essentially two types of travel experiences in Gauteng: the razzle-dazzle of urban life and the contrastingly natural attractions that lie outside the main cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
As you’ll probably be starting your journey in Johannesburg, it’s a good place to begin a description of Gauteng. The city needs to be experienced in layers, as there are so many contrasting elements to it.
The inner city rejuvenation is big news, with places like the Maboneng Precinct popular among the happening crowd. Here you’ll find the restaurants and galleries of Arts on Main and Main Street Life. It’s a good place to spend Friday nights.
On a Saturday morning take yourself off to the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein, on the outskirts of the inner city. That leaves the rest of the week to explore lifestyle precincts like 44 Stanley Avenue in Auckland Park, Parktown Quarter, and Design Quarter in Fourways. They’re great places to shop, eat, and socialise.
Of course no trip to Gauteng would be complete without a visit to Soweto. Fortify yourself for the day’s outing by visiting authentic restaurant or tavern. You can pull up a bar stool, drink some local beer, have a real township meal and get to know a little more about township life. Having gained some Dutch courage, head off to the Orlando Towers for a bungee jump, power swing or SCAD freefall. If you can’t stomach that, take a more leisurely ride through the township on a guided quad bike tour.
The anti-apartheid struggle sites are really the big drawcards in Soweto. There’s the Hector Pietersen Museum, Vilakazi Street and the Mandela House Museum.
Continue this theme when you leave Soweto, by visiting the Apartheid Museum, Liliesleaf Farm and Constitution Hill. All offer insights into the turbulent past into the country and bring many of the landmark events into stark relief.
Now it’s time to balance these solemn experiences with some light-hearted fun. There’s no better place for this than Gold Reef City. Not only will you learn how Joburg grew from a dusty mining town to become the ‘Big Apple of Africa’ – you can go on funfair rides and gamble at a casino. It’s kitsch and over the top, showcasing an entirely different aspect of Johannesburg.
For yet another contrasting experience, head for the well-heeled suburbs of Sandton, Hyde Park and Rosebank. Here you’ll find some of the city’s finest hotels, shopping malls and restaurants. If you’re looking for a more casual suburban way of life where cafes and coffee shops abound, Parktown North, Parkhurst, Craighall and Norwood are great places to hang out.
Pretoria is situated about 45 minutes away from Johannesburg (by car) and is the administrative capital of the country. Consequently it’s home to many of the international embassies - and for this reason there are good dining options on offer. It’s also a historic city, with Church Street, the Voortrekker Monument, Freedom Park and the Union Buildings the most obvious highlights. Pretoria is famous for its jacaranda trees and boasts fine green spaces and parks, including the renowned Zoological Gardens.
Now it’s time to head out into the country. The mining town of Cullinan offers a mix of history, local restaurants and a few notable spas. Cullinan falls into the Dinokeng tourist route which combines township experiences with historical attractions and places where you can enjoy wildlife.
The one place you can’t miss out on is The Cradle of Humankind, roughly 50km north-west of Joburg. This World Heritage Site is an entire complex built around some of the most important hominid fossil discoveries on earth. The Maropeng Visitor’s Centre is innovatively architected to showcase this important natural heritage site. Once you’ve finished up there, you’ll find lots of other outdoor attractions waiting for you nearby, including the Sterkfontein Caves and the Lion and Rhino Park. There are also excellent hiking trails in the area.