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Rising from the smoke

“For all the bad press that Johannesburg receives, its undercoat proves to be a burgeoning brush of colour, just waiting to be experienced for its rich history, diverse culture, interesting cuisine and friendly locals.”

The big smoke … multinational mining companies, mine dumps, grey suits and corporate banks built on Johannesburg’s gold wealth do little to appease the abuse the city has copped from its coastal siblings who, on the contrary, effortlessly attract tourists to their pristine beaches and easy-going way of life.

As much as this egotistical older brother may fire back with arrogant claims of being “the financial capital of Africa” and proceed to flaunt that wealth like the kugels who stroll through Sandton city, the truth of the matter is that no one (yes, nobody!) wants to visit a financial capital for recreational purposes… It’s dull, grey and dreary and unfortunately, the brush Johannesburg has been painted with for far too long.

It is not until you engage with the people that call this city home that you realise the hidden vibrancy and streaks of colour which should paint the city’s profile.

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What better place to start than an eagle-eye view of the city from the top of Carlton Centre, which claims the bragging rights as Africa’s tallest building. For just R15 you can experience both the thrill factor of riding an elevator 50 floors up in just 50 seconds and some of Johannesburg’s most impressive views, which seem to stretch out endlessly in a 360-degree panorama.

In a city that ceases to stop the imagery of ants marching in the collective buzz down below adds to the frenetic nature of a city I am now even more eager to explore. Telescopes line the circular walk and give one the chance to zoom into some of Johannesburg’s more famous landmarks. It is from this very point that I focus on the Nelson Mandela Bridge which links New Town to Braamfontein.

A R200-million development project in 2002 was one of Johannesburg’s first real attempts at urban regeneration and Braamfontein is now a dynamic part of the city centre.

Hipsters and trendsetters flock to the coffee shops, restaurants and art galleries which seep colour onto streets which have long been seeking these festivities. The Neighbourhood Goods Market, a melting pot of culture and cuisine, has set the tone for the entire district.

It is the lesser known Maboneng Precinct that intrigues me as we carry discovering the Johannesburg ‘renaissance.’ In a similar fashion to Braamfontein, Maboneng has evolved into a collaborative hub of culture, business and style with so much on offer you really need to visit to discover it all and appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit which has set this precinct alight.

The Living Room, set in a rooftop garden, offers great views over the city. Their Sunday parties have become the talk of the town with a variety of entertainment on hand, so don’t spend too long being mesmerised by what’s happening down below and make your way up to the rooftop for what will surely be an unforgettable party.

During the week, this health food restaurant offers a break from the hustle and bustle of life in the financial capital. So whether you are enjoying a sundowner after work or just a bite to eat in the exquisitely designed forest-like setting, this is the perfect place to watch the sun settle between the corporate skyscrapers lining the horizon.

For those with a slightly sweeter tooth, be on the lookout for an old truck stationed on the side of the Maboneng streets. Cocobel’s truck is filled with delicious treats presented elegantly and the perfect way to finish off a meal before heading towards an intriguing night at the cinema.

Cocobel

The Bioscope is Johannesburg’s only independent cinema. It comfortably seats 62 guests and the cosy ambience provides exposure for great documentaries, cult classics and the best of local cinema which would otherwise go unnoticed in today’s age of mainstream cinemas.

There is something rather enigmatic about the experience. You can catch a film here on any night of the week, and on occasion, may experience the privilege of attending one of the outdoor screenings, which are hosted at different venues across the city. You will need to check their website for any upcoming events before snuggling up under the blankets and on a luxury beanbag, under the city lights to enjoy these shows.

There is always more than one way to explore a city, and Johannesburg is no different. Alexandra Township plays host to various intriguing sites such as the houses of Nelson Mandela and famous musician Hugh Masekela.

It also offers some incredible cultural cuisine options like Shisa nyama (informal braai or barbeque) and Mogodu (tripe) served up in the most remote locations. Unfortunately, it’s a place that has been too easily overlooked by visitors in the past. Whether it stems from safety concerns or a general lack of knowledge of the area, it would be a shame to miss out on one of South Africa’s most poignant cultural tours.

Jeffrey Mulaudzi was born and raised in the Alexandra Township and in 2010 started Alexandra bicycle tours. He now shows people around this township he calls home and gives an insiders perspective on life and experiences from his years growing up.

Perhaps the greatest highlight of the experience is the comradery and sense of community experienced as you make your way through the streets of Alexandra and engage in the rich culture of a place Jeffrey is only too eager to showcase.

As we venture towards the outskirts of Johannesburg, lying in the shadows of the Magaliesberg is the small resort town of Hartbeespoort, a place which draws adventure enthusiasts interested in paragliding, hang-gliding and various adventure water sports.

Only an hour’s drive from Johannesburg’s city centre, the Magaliesberg is also a world heritage site and home to the Cradle of Humankind, a landscape famous for its vegetation, wildlife and oldest fossil remains.

In 2010, the old cableway system which had fallen into disrepair was re-established using the latest technology and resources to produce what is now known as Harties Cableway. As you float towards the top in your green bubble pod, which comes to rest on the wooden deck, be sure to take in the picturesque views on offer before completing the “Dassies Loop” and learning more about the area through the point of interest boards scattered on the loop.

This offers the perfect opportunity to appreciate a picnic basket, neatly packed for you, on the grass overlooking the exquisite landscape. It is definitely a trip the whole family will enjoy, offering educational value and relaxation in one afternoon.

If you are feeling brave enough to take to the skies, this area provides the perfect backdrop for an early morning hot air balloon ride. Air to Air Africa offers balloon trips from the banks of the Crocodile River.

The serenity of the silence only broken by the puffs of hot air keeping the balloon afloat is complemented by the scenic views below of the game and nature reserves. Whilst take-off is restricted to the early mornings, a sunrise captured from a floating basket up high is certainly one of the better ways to get the day started.

As you make contact with the ground and head off to a buffet breakfast, the stories from a morning’s adventure will flow as easily as the French champagne as you celebrate creation at its finest.

For all the bad press that Johannesburg receives, its undercoat proves to be a burgeoning brush of colour, just waiting to be experienced for its rich history, diverse culture, interesting cuisine and friendly locals.

As Johannesburg reinvents itself at such a pace, it seems even its local rugby franchise, The Lions, have begun to follow in its footsteps and perhaps even they may be able to bring the region even more glory and success.

From the ashes of a city calling out for recognition, Johannesburg certainly has begun its rise from the smoke.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

Carlton Centre: For just R15 you can experience views from the Top of Africa. It is located in Johannesburg’s downtown central business district at 150 Commissioner Street.
The Maboneng Precinct: Be sure to check their website, for up-to-date events in this hip and happening part of the city. www.mabonengprecinct.com
The Bioscope: Whether you want a romantic night out or an educational movie, be sure to check out www.thebioscope.co.za to see what is showing.
The Living Room: Sunday is without a doubt the day to visit this exotic forest, so keep a lookout for whats happening at www.livingroomjozi.co.za

Alexandra Bike Tours: There really is no better place or way to experience the daily life within one of Johannesburg’s more famous townships. To book a tour go to www.alexandratours.co.za

Air to Air Africa: Soar high into the skies to experience incredible views over the Magaliesberg and Hartbeespoortdam. Book your flight and buffet breakfast with www.airtoairafrica.co.za

Duane Stacey

Duane spent much of his student years guiding overland trips through Southern Africa where he developed a deep love for adventure, travel and good food. He is a committed Christian who loves exploring God’s creation be that on foot, bike, vehicle, boat or plane. He has run with the bulls in Pamplona and swum with Whale Sharks in Mozambique and is always looking for the next escapade. With a passion for snowboarding, mountain biking, surfing, skydiving and scuba diving adventure is never far off. He enjoys finishing a day by combining his culinary skills with his cultural experiences to dine on a dish fit for a king.

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