Gold Reef City: Johannesburgs's best kept secret
Johannesburg – Jo’burg or Josi for the locals – is criminally neglected by visitors who arrive only to leave immediately for a game reserve. I always stay for a few days, if only to catch my breath between long flights.
Eight reasons to add Johannesburg to your RTW trip
It’s the gateway to Southern Africa
Johannesburg is the major hub for both South Africa and the neighbouring countries. Whether you’re aiming for Mozambique, Namibia, Cape Town, Victoria Falls or the Okavango Delta, chances are you’re going to have to come through Jo’Burg’s Oliver Tambo airport.
The Apartheid Museum
An essential stop for anyone wanting to understand South Africa’s history and present, the Apartheid Museum traces the nation’s route to racial segregation and the post-Mandela attempts to create an equal society.
It fills in the hazy outlines many of us have about Apartheid with a wealth of detail, and many of the videos of key moments in the anti-Apartheid campaign pack an extraordinary punch.
The once notorious townships to the South West of Johannesburg have a very different vibe to them these days. There may still be shacks and enterprising streetside barbers in Soweto, but a burgeoning black middle class has decided to stay in the place they regard as home rather than flee to wealthy Johannesburg suburbs. It feels like a place of hope and pride – and one where outsiders willing to sit in a bar and talk are welcome.
The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum
This focal point of Soweto commemorates all the children who died in the struggle against Apartheid. And, in particular, the 1976 Soweto Uprising which started after police opened fire on schoolkids making a peaceful protest. The use of video and eye-witness accounts is hugely impressive – you’ll walk around with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes.
South Africa has a ferocious love of rugby that makes even rugby stronghold towns in Britain and Ireland look utterly tame. Ellis Park is the high temple of the South African game, and turning up on a Saturday afternoon to watch a game is as genuine a cultural experience as you can get.
If rugby is the game of traditional South Africa, football is the game of the new Rainbow Nation. Huge crowds pile into to watch the teams that grew up in Soweto, but have moved to bigger stadiums just outside to accommodate. The biggest are the Kaizer Chiefs – who play at Soccer City, venue of the 2010 World Cup final – and the Orlando Pirates. The fans are, well, fanatical. If you can get tickets, prepare for a lot of noise.
South Africa’s new Constitutional Court was put in a hugely symbolic position inside the old fort that was once used to detain political prisoners. These included Mohandas Gandhi, who formed his ideas about peaceful resistance whilst in South Africa.
The visitor centre of the old fort has been turned into a mini-museum about Gandhi’s early years, whilst displays go into the horrific treatment suffered by black political prisoners. Oh yes, and the court’s a pretty darned impressive building too.
The Cradle of Humankind
Just outside of Johannesburg are the Sterkfontein Caves, where bones of human ancestors thought to be almost 200,000 years old have been found. Nearby is Maropeng, a high-tech interactive museum/ experience which explores where we came from. It covers DNA, evolution and a bizarre boat ride back in time. It’s fun, it’s educational – and it’s important.
See all deals via Africa here
Riding the Lunatic Railway
Last chance to see endangered wildlife around the world
The Bali tiger and the Tasmanian wolf has gone the way of the dodo. The mountain gorillas, Sumatran rhino and Bengal tiger are not be far behind and unless we, as travellers, are all prepared to take a responsibility in their welfare many more will follow.