Post written by Laura
Arriving a day early enabled my daughter Zoe and I to spend a short time exploring Johannesburg before embarking on our Intrepid adventure!
We took the Gautrain, a sleek and modern train from the airport to our hotel, the Holiday Inn in the upmarket Rosebank area of Johannesburg. As we sped through the city we could see the mix of modern trains with the older local trains which were crowded with people hanging out of the doorways.
At 1753 metres above sea level I hadn’t realised that Johannesburg is a relatively high altitude city. Combined with the timing of our visit (August 2017) which is winter in the southern hemisphere and the cold weather front sweeping through the region, the mid morning temperature was a chilly 7 degrees! (Which felt particularly cold having arrived directly from Dubai’s intense oven-like 45 degrees!)
To make the most of our short visit we decided the best way of getting an overview of Jo-burg, or Jozie (as the locals call it) would be on a hop-on hop-off city sightseeing bus.
The cost was the 190 rand (around £12) each and we purchased the tickets from the ticket office which fortunately was located right next to our hotel at the Rosebank Mall. We did the combined Green tour and City tour.
We were given a set of earphones each which enabled us to listen to the fascinating history of Jo-burg as we followed this timetable…
The notes in this post were taken from the hop-on hop-off bus commentary!
Jo-burg is one of the most wooded cities in the world and the first stop was at the park where the city zoo is located. We didn’t disembark here but this is apparently a lovely place for summer picnics.
Indeed, Jo-burg is one of a few of the World’s cities which has no source of water, i.e. no river and not next to the sea. Jo-burg has only been in existence since it was first established 1886 and exists because of the gold rush. Since then it has grown steadily into the sprawling metropolis it is today.
As the bus drove along its route we learned many interesting facts about the city. For example, Nelson Mandela once called Richard Branson to ask for assistance in saving the nations fitness clubs. This resulted in a significant Branson investment and a successful South African chain of Virgin Active.
Thanks to the gold rush the former name of Johannesburg was ‘City of Gold’ (or Gauteng as named by the first Africans) but while there is a rich history of mining most of the locals didn’t get rich. 15 years ago Jo-burg suffered a significant financial slump but thankfully is now reviving.
We disembarked the bus at the Carlton Centre where a bus representative escorted us to the ticket office of ‘Tower 50’. We took the lift to the top of the 50 storey building which is the tallest building in Africa. The views across the sprawling city were interesting and it gave us a good perspective of the surroundings. However we both felt this was something of an odd place… possibly as it was far less touristy and far less blingy than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa which we had visited a couple of days before. The viewing area was pretty deserted, slighty dingy and had an old fashioned 70’s feel.
We left with the bus representative and walked back through the shopping centre below. This shopping centre had an entirely different feel from the glossy upmarket Rosebank of earlier that morning. We felt a little unsafe and it definitely felt a ‘watch your bag’ kind of territory.
So we continued on our way through the next stops including the Gold Reef City Casino Hotel stop (as above). This is where you can switch buses to do the optional minibus Soweto tour.
We did disembark at the next stop, the Apartheid Museum, established to show the rise and fall of Apartheid (segregation according to race). This was fascinating, shocking at times and incredibly humbling. We were not allowed to take photographs inside the museum.
We began by being segregated into different entrances, a powerful way of enabling us to have a small feeling of the discrimination experienced throughout the apartheid regime.
There is a vast amount of information to read and while we stayed for a couple of hours you would need far longer if you wanted to read everything. Overall a visit to this museum at the start of a trip to South Africa puts the country into a good context.
We continued along our bus journey with more interesting Jo-burg facts and had to change buses to the Green route again at Constitution Hill. Almost everything we heard had a ‘black’ or ‘white’ story behind it.
Indeed everything about Johannesburg is related to the years of racial and political divide. We heard that the southern suburbs are working class and more humble than the affluent north. There are areas of Jo-burg where even the police don’t venture.
The hop on/hop off tour was a safe and excellent way of catching a glimpse of this fascinating city during the short time we had there.
We finished off the day in a pizza restaurant nearby the hotel. Surprisingly Zoe was able to order a *vegan pizza and I enjoyed a lovely South African red.
*We later heard from our South African Intrepid tour leader that, growing up on a farm, he had never even heard of vegetarians until he started working for Intrepid!