How many times have you flown in and out of OR Tambo? Or landed in Johannesburg only to drive straight towards the Kruger National Park in search of ‘the big five’? While you are unlikely to find any big cats roaming the streets of Pretoria, in collaboration with South African Airways, I decided it was time to explore the not-so-hidden beauty of Gauteng.
The second largest city in Africa, Johannesburg is home to nearly 5 million people and has fast become an epicentre for local talent and innovative new businesses as well as a creative hot-spots for young artists. There’s an unmatched diversity in Johannesburg with an eclectic mix of race, ethnicity and culture that is at last beginning to resemble the ‘rainbow nation’ we dreamt of. Not for the faint hearted, Johannesburg has a fast-paced booming business centre, a hustle and bustle unmatched by any other South African city.
Maboneng and Braamfontein
Maboneng, meaning ‘place of light’ in Sotho, is a district in the east of Johannesburg which has undergone huge regeneration over the last few years, transforming an area of the CBD once deemed a ‘no-go zone’ into a thriving innovative hub for urban designers. From trendy restaurants to boutique clothing stores and art galleries, Maboneng is also home to some of Johanneburg’s best coffee with Origin Coffee Roasting located at the heart of the action.
The longer I am in Johannesburg, the more I realise the success of this city is dependent upon sowing into these pockets of creativity, investing in the CBD and thus transforming the area from the inside-out. With easy access to Park station via the Gautrain, there is no reason why Johannesburg’s CBD area can’t be rebuilt and becoming a prosperous hotspot for locals and tourists alike.
Such regeneration can be seen in the youthful neighbourhood of Braamfontein, in the west of the CBD. Here you’ll find not only the peak of high-fashion but a fresh, creative crowd who are changing the narrative of Johannesburg, whether that is students or freelancers. The Neighbourgood’s Market is perhaps the district’s greatest attraction, open every Saturday from 9am until 3pm. Enjoy quality market food on an open air rooftop balcony before crossing the road and stopping off at Father Coffee, one of Johannesburg’s best roasters and coffee shops.
Address: 44 Stanley Ave, Milpark, Johannesburg
Monday – Friday: 7:30AM–4PM
Locations: Milpark, Braamfontein, Cape Town, one in Johannesburg
Johannesburg is home to some of South Africa’s best coffee shops, with ThirdSpace a firm favourite located in Fourways and Dear Maria across the other side of the city in Bedfordview. During my time in Gauteng I finally managed to visit Bean There in Milpark, somewhere I’ve been wanting to go for a very long time. While Bean There also have locations in both Braamfontein and Cape Town’s CBD, Milpark is the staple store and features a beautiful clean, bright interior.
Bean There is a no-frills, unpretentious speciality coffee shop. Roasting and quality bean sourcing takes priority and combined with super friendly, knowledgable baristas, it is highly regarded as one of Johannesburg’s finest spaces. I really enjoyed tasting their latest beans from Rwanda and Ethiopia in a relaxed, welcoming environment.
Once home to the some of the most courageous and memorable leaders of our generation, Soweto is South Africa’s largest township, located in the southwest of Johannesburg. Vilakazi Street is most visitors first point of call upon reaching this remarkable destination, known primarily as the hometown of both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
Constructed as a temporary settlement for workers on the gold mine, Soweto is home to over 1.3million people, now a prosperous and vibrant township with a fascinating history. Since running the world-renowned Soweto Marathon last year, I have been determined to return to Soweto and explore it’s true character further. Undoubtedly, Soweto-style is celebrated across the city, paying homage to afro-chic roots. It’s no wonder that Soweto Fashion Week, which takes place in March of each year, is becoming increasingly popular amongst young adults across Gauteng.
Where to Stay? The Saxon Hotel, Sandhurst (see full post)
Voted the ‘World’s Leading Boutique Hotel’ since 2001, The Saxon is the epitome of excellence. Enter through the driveway and be transported into a vibrant green oasis within the heart of Sandton. Manicured, pristine gardens encompass the Saxon house and villas scattered with bright purple Jacaranda trees gracing the hotel in full bloom during my stay. Lay beside the infinity pool to watch the sunset or relax, taking full advantage of the hotel’s extensive spa offering with an abundance of ways to unwind.
Fit for a president? Absolutely. The primary reason for visiting The Saxon was my longing to experience the place that became home to Mandela after he was realised from prison. It is here that Mandela started his autobiography, ‘Long Walk To Freedom’, a pivotal point in South Africa’s history. I feel super lucky to have been able to experience first hand, the beauty of this picturesque retreat where the history of the nation lay engrained in each footprint, around every corner.
In my opinion, the Gautrain is the fundamental contributor to the growth and development of tourism in Gauteng. Purchase a Gautrain card and gain access to easy, efficient transport around the city from OR Tambo up to Pretoria in under 35 minutes. The system works very similarly to London Underground’s ‘oyster card’, providing affordable travel to all major precincts of Johannesburg with links to Sandton, Rosebank and Park station.
Admittedly, Johannesburg and its surrounds might lack the natural beauty that Cape Town holds in abundance but there’s a vivacious energy to the city which I really enjoyed getting to experience as I explored all corners of this notorious ‘City of Gold’. Partnering with South African Airways has been a huge honour and has enabled me the opportunity to taste what Gauteng has to offer. The beauty of this province lies in the sheer depth of its history and the culture that’s manifested because of that. Johannesburg should no longer be a destination you pass through but a location to explore.