If Johannesburg is your base, you could do much worse. There's plenty to see, do and experience on the doorstep and further afield. Places to eat, evening entertainment, days out and weekend visits
Coming from the UK and having no idea what to expect, my two years living in Johannesburg quickly made me realise that it is a great base for any trip to South Africa.
While many things are very similar to life in the UK, there are also quirky little things you notice every day that remind you that you are in fact, in Africa. For example, you might be driving and suddenly see a farmer leading his herd of cows across the road in front of you! Or you might be stopped at traffic lights and offered one or many different items from hand crafted ornaments to bags and sunglasses, to coat hangers and umbrellas! Take it in your stride, it's all part of the African experience.
Johannesburg - what to do and where to eat
A great place for an evening meal is Moyo Restaurant (1 Prince of Wales Drive, Parkview, Johannesburg; +27 11 646 0058; www.moyo.co.za). It's a fun, cultural experience serving food from the African continent. There’s also a large buffet which includes traditional South African dishes such as pap (a corn based dish) and boerewors (farmer's sausage). Both are delicious! Some of the food is cooked on a braai, a popular South African style barbecue. The African decor is outstanding with indoor and outdoor dining. There are musicians, face painters, singers and you will even get your hands washed for you before eating!
During the day, visit Gold Reef City where you can enjoy the theme park rides, take a trip down a real gold mine, see how gold is made and watch traditional Zulu and gum boot dancers (+27 11 248-6800; www.goldreefcity.co.za). It's a great day out and I have been several times. Entrance to the park is R140 per person (one pound sterling is approximately 11 rand).
The Lion Park is a very popular choice with visitors and locals alike. It's a small park where you be sure to see lions close up, some in enclosures and some within fenced off areas where you will be driven around in a caged vehicle to watch them roaming around and feeding. You can even go inside the enclosure with the cubs to stroke them. There's also a giraffe or two and a feeding platform to hand the giraffes some food. It's quite comical when they stick their tongues out to lick it off your hand! (corner of Malibongwe & R114, Lanseria; +27 011 691 9905; www.lion-park.com; R115 for adults and R80 for children).
There are plenty of places to shop. Sandton City in the northern suburbs (+27 11 217 6000; www.sandton-city.co.za) is a must for this. It has many shops, designer and high street, all within a huge, modern mall. Sandton is the place to 'be seen' in Jo'burg! You can take a break for lunch in Nelson Mandela Square which has a big choice of restaurants with outstanding service. I always found the service in South Africa to be second to none with ever-friendly and efficient staff who can't do enough to help you.
Of an evening, head to Montecasino (corner of William Nicol and Witkoppen, Fourways; +27 11 510 7000; www.montecasino.co.za). There's an enormous choice of restaurants and bars, cinema and theatres, shops, a bird garden, hotel and, of course, a casino. The craftsmanship is fantastic with the whole venue made to look and feel like you are in Italy. There are cobbled streets, the walls imitate the outsides of houses with shutters on the windows, washing lines hanging above the streets and even birds! In the streets there are bikes and the odd permanently parked car. The ceiling is even made to look like the sky! It makes for a great day or night out.
For a weekend break away from the city, drive about 45 minutes out of Jo'burg to Hartbeesport Dam. It's a great place to relax, enjoy some watersports or barter for souvenirs at one of the flea markets. We stayed at a really quaint, family run guest house called The Cobblestones in a Mediterranean-influenced area of the dam with beautiful views (103 Paul Kruger Avenue, Kosmos Village). There are three self-catering cottages and the owners are very friendly and happy to help.
We discovered a fantastic restaurant called The Silver Orange Bistro (Altyd Mooi Farm, off R512; +27 (0)12 253 2136; www.silverorangebistro.co.za). It's an intimate, country style bistro hidden away from the rest of the dam's attractions. The service was excellent and the food was something very special with all dishes being of a South African nature, exquisite and beautifully presented. Truly one of the best meals I have ever had, I can't recommend this restaurant highly enough.
Continue another hour from Hartbeesport and enjoy a weekend in the Pilanesberg National Park (+ 27 (0)14 555 1600; www.pilanesberg-game-reserve.co.za/). You can't visit South Africa without going on safari! I truly believe this should be on everyone’s lifetime ‘to do’ list. It's not something I would have expected to enjoy as much as I did but I have fallen in love with game viewing (R45 per adult , R20 per vehicle).
A favourite place to stay of ours is Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge (Pilanesberg National Park, North West Province). It's situated within the park, which is very convenient but also a fantastic experience to be sleeping so close to nature with some chalets even overlooking the park and just a small electric fence between the two! There's a hide where you can watch the wildlife in the evenings if you can't wait 'til the next day in the game reserve, we even heard the roar of lions from the garden of our chalet while eating one night. That was a moment I'll never forget. Kwa Maritane also has a restaurant, a bar, a shop, two pools and a children’s play area.
Close to Pilanesberg is Sun City resort (Sun City Resort, North West Province, 0316; +27 14 557 1000; www.suncity.co.za), which has its own hotels, casino and restaurants and also the popular 'Valley of the Waves', a man made beach resort within an extinct volcano! The surroundings are stunning with hills in the background where you can even see baboons climbing around. There is plenty of sand in the beach area, a wave machine, water slides and a lazy river. You can walk around and enjoy a more relaxing pool next to the man made forest (which appears very natural), sip on cocktails and purchase food from one of the kiosks. It's possible to visit Sun City for the day while staying at Pilanesberg as it's practically on the doorstep. Prices are R95 per adult and R45 per child.
You will need to hire a car whilst in Johannesburg as walking between places and public transport are not favoured, especially if travelling to some of the areas that are further away.
Weather wise, the summer months (September to April) are fantastically hot throughout the day but this is also the rainy season so there will generally be downpours and thunderstorms in the late afternoon/early evening. The winter months of May to August, are usually pleasant during the day, with no rain and reaching about 15 degrees centigrade on average. Be prepared for very cold evenings and mornings though (below freezing sometimes), especially as they don't have central heating over there!
Whatever the weather, there's always something to do in and around Jo'burg, it never gets boring!