Cosmopolitan Gauteng has embraced many cultures and drives the country’s thriving economy with strong links to the lucrative mining industry. It is the smallest of South Africa’s nine provinces and the most dynamic and diverse with the urban sprawl of Johannesburg, the Place of Gold and largest city, is the business capital of southern Africa - multicultural and compact with top restaurants, shebeens, designer shopping and international entertainment. Modern skyscrapers loom over the exclusive residential areas, with swanky shopping malls and luxury hotel and spas. Just a short drive from Johannesburg, one can turn into an adventure tourist with Nature Reserves that are populated by eland, zebra, wildebeest and hyena.
The capital of South Africa’s smallest province, Gauteng, Johannesburg is the economic powerhouse of Africa with its ever-growing suburban sprawl creeping outwards from the central city skyscrapers and ring-road motorways.
The more than 10-million inhabitants live fast and have a restless spirit, which they have imparted into the fabric of the city, also known by its African name as Egoli, ‘the place of gold’. The development of the city, which is just over a century old, has followed the fortunes of the Witwatersrand (White Water Reef), the rich gold-bearing rock reef that stretches across this area of central South Africa. The initial gold rush started in the 1880s and barely ten years later Johannesburg had become South Africa’s largest town and the site of frenzied development that has been ongoing ever since.
Johannesburg today is a city of contrasts, with glass-paned modern luxury high-rise buildings towering beside a few remaining dilapidated Victorian buildings and affluent northern suburbs filled with stunning private homes giving way to the squalid streets and tiny shoebox houses of the massive Soweto township in the south. The chasm between rich and poor in the city has given rise to a high crime rate, evidenced by the fortress-like security that pervades the wealthier suburbs.
Most visitors to South Africa, particularly those intent on exploring the game reserves of Mpumalanga, arrive at Johannesburg’s busy International Airport, which is the main point of entry for the country. There is little in Johannesburg itself to grab the attention of tourists, but a few days can be filled taking in some entertaining man-made attractions before heading off to the game parks of the northeast or the coastal regions. The most interesting diversion in Johannesburg is undoubtedly a ‘Heritage Route’ or ‘Shebeen Crawl’ tour of Soweto, but take care only to venture into the maze of the township with an organised tour or professional guide.
Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli to its friends - the city is a vibrant melting pot of humanity that ensures you won’t walk alone when exploring the city’s many cultural and leisure attractions. The City of Gold welcomes you.
The area where Johannesburg stands was once grassland, but is now one of the biggest man-made forests in the world. The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden at Kloofendal conserves a piece of the original grassland as well as succulents and ferns. It is home to over 120 bird species, including the only pair of nesting black eagles in Johannesburg. The Johannesburg Botanical Gardens off Thomas Bowler Avenue in Emmarentia is famed for its Rose Garden and numerous waterfowl found in the reed beds of Emmarentia Dam.
Cutting through the northern suburbs from the Westdene Dam is the 25 km Braamfontein Spruit, the longest parkland stretch in SA. There are numerous sporting activities like walking trails along the river and adjoining areas, such as Melville Koppies, where an Iron Age village and smelting works are to be found.
Johannesburg, founded in 1886 with the discovery of gold, has had a somewhat turbulent past. Of most interest to the history buff are Newtown, Constitution Hill and Soweto. Mary Fitzgerald Square is also worth a visit in the CBD which includes Museum Africa, the Bensusan Museum of Photography and the Market Theatre in the restored Fresh Produce Market building, as well as the Workers Museum in the revamped Electricity Department Compound and art galleries, craft shops and restaurants.
For contemporary African sounds, try the Bassline in Newtown or head out to one of the funky jazz joints in Soweto. The thriving local music scene caters for all musical tastes. Africa’s most cosmopolitan city, Johannesburg is also the wealthiest and most entertaining city in South Africa’ Gauteng province.