See and do
While the rest of the country is sleeping, surfing or just chilling, Joburgers are working – hard. The financial hub of the country, Joburg is a gritty urban jungle with pockets of art, culture and hip that will have you buzzing to their beat in no time.
At the heart of Joburg lies Newtown, accessed by the dramatic Nelson Mandela Bridge. It’s filled with sights and landmarks such as Mary Fitzgerald Square, two art galleries and the Market Theatre. A visit to the hard-hitting and excellently installed Apartheid Museum offers an insight into the dark days of South Africa’s history. Cnr Northern Parkway & Gold Reef Rds, Ormonde. +27 11 309 4700. $6.30 adults.
Meanwhile the urban regeneration of downtown the Maboneng Precinct is worth a visit: here local designers and artists live, work and sell their wares in this new hub. Central Johannesburg. +27 10 007 0080. Joburg is also known as a serious shopper’s paradise, and its mall culture will melt any fashionista’s credit card.
Joburg’s food scene is very localised, with suburban, and often ethnic (from Greek to Asian) restaurants keeping punters happy. One of Joburg’s top chefs, Marthinus Ferreira, is making modern gastronomic waves at DW Eleven-13, while his new adjoining tapas spot,the Grazing Room, offers popular wine-tasting evenings. Dunkeld West Shopping Centre, Cnr Jan Smuts & Bompas St, Dunkeld West. +27 11 341 0663.
A happening venue, filled with cafés and eateries, is 44 Stanley Avenue: a previous industrial area, now a hub for on-trend folk. Milpark. +27 11 482 1082.
While Joburg can’t boast the views that South Africa’s seaside cities have, there are a few elevated spots where you can see the city skyline, dotted with purple flowering jacaranda trees in early summer. The Polo Lounge, Terrace and Bar is a favourite for celeb-spotting, in the grand hotel tradition. The Westcliff, 67 Jan Smuts Ave, Westcliff. +27 11 481 6000. If you want to step back in time, the Radium Beer Hall dates back to the days of the gold rush. 282 Louis Botha Ave, Orange Grove. +27 11 728 3866.
While Joburg’s hotels are predominantly geared to business travellers, there are some boutique gems too. Just outside the Gautrain Sandton station is Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel,which offers modern comfort in this business hub. Rivonia Rd, Sandton. +2711 286 1000. For more exclusive opulence, head to the Saxon Boutique Hotel, voted the World’s Leading Boutique Hotel since 2001. 36 Saxon Rd, Sandhurst. +27 11 292 6000.
Johannesburg: out of town
For a fascinating look at mankind’s origins, head to the Cradle of Humankind (Off R563 Hekpoort Rd, Sterkfontein, +27 14 577 9000, $14 adults Maropeng Visitor Centre, $22 combined Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves). This World Heritage Site has ancient fossilised remains of animals, plants and hominids and the cutting-edge museum rises like a grass-covered monolith from the stark surrounds. If you don’t get claustrophobia, also stop in at the Sterkfontein Caves down the road where the 2.15-million-year-old skull of Mrs Ples was found.
This area is also home to animal experiences, and game reserves such as Madikwe Game Reserve and Pilanesberg Game Reserve. A great spot for a day trip is the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Sanctuary (R513, outside Hartbeespoort, +27 12 504 9906, $28 per person for 3-hour guided tour) where you’ll see cheetah, wild dog, caracal and African wild cat.
If you feel like a different view, Magalies Canopy Tours (Rietfontein, Rustenburg, +27 14 535 0150, $46 per person, includes meal) has you hooked up and swinging over Ysterhout Kloof on 11 platforms. It’s a fun way to see one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, the Magaliesberg.
One of South Africa’s premier dining destination hotels is located near the Cradle of Humankind. Roots Restaurant at the Forum Homini Hotel (Letamo Game Estate, Kromdraai, +27 11 668 700) offers diners African-inspired cuisine with a touch of Asia and France thrown into the mix. The setting boasts natural design elements of stone, metal and reeds while the hotel suites are all earthy glam.
For more traditional surrounds, De Hoek Country Hotel (Off R24, Magaliesburg, +27 14 577 9600) offers seasonal cuisine in a stately stone manor house. Mount Grace Country House & Spa (Rustenburg Rd, Magaliesburg, +27 14 577 5600) is an award-winning country getaway set within gardens in the heart of the Bushveld. It’s old-world luxury in the décor of the suites and the setting of the Rambling Vine restaurant.