Gauteng. Urban Powerhouse and Party Playground. For onRoute Magazine.

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My article ‘Gauteng. Urban Powerhouse and Party Playground’ for OnRoute Magazine as it first appears here on pages 4-9, and above. Also included below for easy reading. In their Uncovering South Africa issue, onRoute bring you insight into South Africa’s nine provinces, with me contributing Gauteng, Western Cape and Eastern Cape. Enjoy, and be inspired to explore more of our beautiful country.

‘Gauteng may be the smallest of our nine provinces, but it’s demanding to be recognised as one of the coolest, and with very good reason. Feel the pulse of the world’s largest urban jungle with art galleries, eateries, shopping malls, bars, hotels, casinos and a vibrant cultural and entertainment scene. Uncover the places of historical interest that tell the story of South Africa’s emerging democracy, soak up the cityscape views in Maboneng and visit the world class Sci-Bono Discovery Centre. Take in an aerial perspective and find a place for soulful retreat and a taste of country living.

Not to be missed highlights

The Cradle of Mankind, Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves are located about 50km out of the city. One of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, archaeological finds here include ancient stone tools and fossil sites that tell the story of what the world was like when our human ancestors were evolving some three million plus years ago.

Things to do include exploring the Sterkfontein Caves, where scientists have discovered many hominid and other animal fossils, dating back more than 4-million years. Enjoy time at the Maropeng Exhibition centre, which walks you through the path of humanity with its interactive and fascinating displays.

Hot Air Ballooning, Hartebeestpoort – More an ultimate experience than a destination, Bill Harrop’s Original Balloons Safaris operate out of the Skeerpoort Country Base in the Cradle of Mankind World Heritage site near Hartebeesport Dam, where you gather pre dawn near the Clubhouse Pavilion to watch the pilots and crew ready the balloons for flight on the flood lit field.

Flight by hot air balloon speaks of the adventures of a bygone era. It is silent as you stand in the basket taking in the views below, while regular bursts of hot air lift you to altitude. This should be on all travellers wish lists, and is particularly rewarding in an area where the high veldt plains and rolling hills, as well as winding rivers, greet you.

Things to do include soaring above the clouds in a hot air balloon, fulfilling a dream. Also make a point of meeting the legendary Mr Bill Harrop himself, who is usually present and sometimes even flies one of the balloons.

Maboneng Precinct, the heart of the city

 An area that has been rejuvenated over the past years and speaks of a new optimism and style unique to South Africa that both tourists and locals, need to experience. 

Remodelled buildings with a fresh and progressive perspective, daring tenants opening top art galleries, bioscopes, fashion shops, cafes and restaurants. Street fashion matched in style and colour only to the street art that covers the walls. Bright, clean, vibrant – this is home to a thriving community that embraces and inspires one to believe in the urban dream and the new generation. Meaning ‘Place of Light’, Maboneng is exactly that.

Things to do include a visit to The Bioscope after a stroll around the Museum of African Design, a stop at Kwa Mai-Mai Traditional Healers Market, which is said to be one of the oldest in the city. And time in one of the side street cafes and restaurants to which the crowds flock daily, for coffee or a meal devotedly served by the maker.

The Magaliesberg Playground 

Magaliesburg is a small village at the heart of a beautiful region known for its mountains, rivers and indigenous woodlands, all amid a natural bush veld with excellent birdlife. Here the developed tourist route offers a wide choice of country houses and hotels, good shopping, art and craft studios, working farms, places to enjoy a good meal and very many activities. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, or simply a place to unwind in the country, you’ll find it here.

Things to do include, take a cable car trip on the longest mono-cableway in Africa, which offers visitors panoramic views of the beautiful Magaliesberg and surrounds. Enjoy a Magalies Canopy Tour in one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Take a 1-2 hour hike through indigenous bush up to the summit of Olienhout ridge, or enjoy horseback riding with Saddle Creek Ranch in the Hekpoort.

Seek and Find

Meet the challenge and head downtown in search of the 40m high Shadow Boxer mural of Nelson Mandela in Maboneng, a favourite interpretation of the original photograph by Bob Gosani that depicts a young Mandela sparring. Boxing was the favourite sport of Mandela’s, he trained as an amateur boxer in the 1950s, but did not participate in competitive fights.

The mural is painted by artist Ricky Lee Gordon, and was commissioned by the Maboneng precinct as a gift to the city in honour of Madiba’s legacy. The text at the foot of the mural reads, ‘I am because we are’ and is inspired by the definition of ubuntu, the philosophy of humanity that Madiba subscribed to.

It can be seen driving on the M2 highway going east as well as from Joe Slovo Drive, peering out above the shorter buildings. To get a close up of the mural head to the corner of Staib Street and Beacon Road, where the 10-storey high Shadow Boxer is so big that unless you look up when you turn the corner, you mayrun the risk of walking right past it.

Books glorious books

The Collector’s Treasury Book Shop was founded in 1974 and is housed in an 8 story building in the diamond and jewellery district on the eastern side of the Johannesburg Central Business District on Commissioner Street. The largest used and rare bookshop in Africa, it has over a million items on hand. In addition to books there are maps, old engravings and prints, printed ephemera, periodicals, newspapers and photographica, with over 300 000 vinyl on sale too. Allow yourself plenty of time in this book lover’s place of worship.

Insider Tips

EAT – Be brave, eat at Urbanologi, the epitome of urban gastronomy using live cultures extreme fire and negative temp cooking in a symphony of catastrophe. It tastes even more intriguing than it sounds. For fine dining, look to Marble in Rosebank where under the guidance of Chef David you’re guaranteed to be wowed. 

SHOP – Get your market fix at Market on Main, which is held at Arts on Main on Fox Street every Sunday. A hub for the city’s creative community it was developed in a converted early-1900s bonded warehouse and preserves the historical aspects of the building. Here you’ll mingle with hip beautiful people as you indulge in Ethiopian coffee, organic fruit and veg, delicious pastries and energy boosting juices, as well as a selection of meals, craft beer and spirits. Upstairs, rummage through the vintage clothing and pause to appreciate the art and photography on display. And if after all that you still need some retail therapy – you can always hit the Mall of Africa.

JOL – Enjoy Sundowners at The Living Room rooftop venue in Maboneng with views across the endless city skyline. The lush urban garden gives a sense that you’re sitting in a park, which is the origin of the name. Enjoy tapas, sip on exotic sounding cocktails, chat to the locals and take to the dance floor once the sun goes down, and the volume up.

RIDE – For a Sunday Cycle head out to the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve off the N3 to Heidelberg, 50km from the city. A real hidden treasure with 15km and 70km cycling loops as well as opportunities for the family to also walk, picnic and look out for the wildlife. The reserve is home to zebra, wildebeest, Red Hartebeest and even Brown Hyena. The prominent Ventersdorp and Witwatersrand rock formations make for some steep gradients, excellent for some hard hill training.

HIKE – Go walking in the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, a 58-year old Nature Reserve and Johannesburg Heritage site. Here on the last of Johannesburg’s remaining ridges over 200 bird species have been recorded and a variety of small mammals such as slender mongooses, civets, genets and hedgehogs. Bear in mind that Melville Koppies has controlled access only, so you would do well to book a guided tour.

EXPLORE – Sign up for a Mainstreet Inner City walks with Past Experiences who run a variety of themed tours from shopping to street art and a spicy Fordsburg tour. Recommended is Ka’Ching Tour which focuses on the birth of Johannesburg as a mining and wealth-oriented town. An excellent background to how the city was formed.

REFLECT – Retreat to Satyagraha House or what is more commonly known as Gandhi House, designed by the architect Hermann Kallenbach for Gandhi and himself and where Mahatma Gandhi lived and worked between 1908 and 1909. Satyagraha means insistence on truth and has a new life as both a museum and guesthouse that offers peaceful and contemplative serenity. Restored, cherished and with many lessons to be taken from the curated photos, books and journals on display.

LEARN – Delve into our country’s history with visits to these six museums that offer a raw and real look at our history, from prehistoric man, our cultural position in Africa, and the difficult path South Africa walked into democracy under the leadership of Nelson Mandela – Apartheid Museum, the Johannesburg Fort and Constitution Hill, Liliesleaf House, Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto, the Origins Museum and Museum Africa.

Do subscribe to OnRoute Magazine or get your hands on a hard copy. Always inviting reading. To stay in touch connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more of my Freelance Writing work here.

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