About Heather M
Lives in Johannesburg, South Africa
Since Mar. 2010
35-49 year old female
I write a travel blog which is about 80% devoted to Johannesburg. I've also co-authored a guidebook on Johannesburg's northern suburbs, called SandtonPlaces, and write about Joburg frequently for various magazines and websites. I love exploring quirky, out-of-the-way places in Joburg and showing the world why I love living in this crazy city.
Nature & Wildlife Areas
Flea & Street Markets
Gift & Speciality Shops
One of nine national botanical gardens around South Africa, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens is Johannesburg's most beautiful park. The only problem is that the park is quite far from the city center — about 30 minutes' drive into Joburg's West Rand. Still, Walter Sisulu is worth the journey: The park features a huge number of plants indigenous to the South African highveld, including a collection of rare cycads. The grounds are huge (large enough for a strenuous hike), and include a beautiful waterfall, a dam (pond) with a hide for birdwatching, a small cafe, and numerous picnic spots.
Unlike Soweto, which has become a popular tourist destination, Alexandra Township ('Alex' for short) still holds a reputation among many locals of being too dangerous to visit. This is an unfortunate misconception. Founded more than 100 years ago, Alex is Joburg's oldest township, and one of the most historic parts of the city. In fact, it is the first place Nelson Mandela lived when he moved to Johannesburg in 1941. Thanks to Jeff Mulaudzi's bicycle tours, visiting and exploring Alex is quite easy for locals and visitors alike. Jeff meets his cycle tour participants at the Marlborogh Gautrain station, just outside Alex, and then everyone heads to his headquarters to select bikes and start the tour. You'll enjoy an in-depth perspective on this notorious township, which is impossible to gain without help from a local. Jeff has lived in Alex for his entire life and knows the township like the back of his hand. Tours last for several hours and include stops at half a dozen historical/cultural sites, as well as a traditional township lunch.
In the 1960s, Liliesleaf Farm was the underground meeting place of the South African Communist Party and Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress. Nelson Mandela lived at Liliesleaf disguised as a gardener in 1961 and 1962, and a police raid on Liliesleaf in 1963 led to the arrest of most of South Africa's leading anti-apartheid activists. This raid resulted in the infamous Rivonia Trial, in which Mandela and many other anti-apartheid leaders were sentenced to life in prison. The historic farm fell into obscurity for several decades before being opened as a museum and research center in 2008. Today, Liliesleaf is one of Johannesburg's best-kept secrets — even most Joburg locals don't know about it. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the far northern suburb of Rivonia, Liliesleaf still feels much as it must have felt 50 years ago when Mandela lived there: quiet, peaceful, and hidden. All the original farm buildings are there, and look just as they've always looked from the outside. Inside, the buildings are filled with interactive exhibits telling the mysterious story of Liliesleaf, as well as various theories about how and why the police raid took place.
Besides being one of the best restaurants in town for Portuguese-style prawns and calamari, the Troyeville Hotel also has a unique, locals-only vibe. The rundown bar is usually populated by regulars and hardcore sports fans (it's a great place to watch rugby), and the sunny adjoining restaurant is a hangout for artists, journalists, intellectuals, and people who like great food in a lively yet civilized environment. In addition to beautiful views of the Joburg skyline, Troyeville Hotel offers a legendary all-you-can-eat Sunday braai (barbecue) and regular book evenings featuring local authors.
Built in 1915, the beautiful Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) is one of Joburg's most historic buildings, and is the largest art gallery in sub-Saharan Africa. JAG's collection of African and European art is stunning, and the museum features frequently rotating exhibits of cutting-edge art. The challenge, however, lies in JAG's location in the frenetic neighborhood of Joubert Park, where the traffic (which can be truly insane) puts off many potential visitors. However, it's worth fighting the traffic for this gem — once inside, away from the honking taxis, you'll feel like you've entered a peaceful, cultural oasis.
The Melville Koppies ('koppie' is an Afrikaans word for 'small hill') is a Johannesburg Heritage Site and one of the best places to experience nature near the city center (Melville is a 10-minute drive from downtown Joburg). Here you'll find brilliant views of Joburg's iconic city skyline, beautiful indigenous plants and animals, and Iron-Age archaeological ruins. It may not be immediately obvious how to access the Koppies, but the good news is that once you know, it's relatively easy. In fact, the eastern section is walking distance from Melville's popular restaurant/shopping area on 7th Street!
Fordsburg is one of Johannesburg's most culturally vibrant neighborhoods, and Fordsburg Square is the area's cultural center. Every weekend from Friday through Sunday, the city-block-sized square fills with vendors selling South Asian street food, clothing, jewelry and DVDs. Try the spicy chicken tikka stall next to Albertina Sisulu Road, or the roasted mielies (maize) stand at the back of the market near Central Road. The market also houses a sugarcane juice shop, where you can watch raw sugarcane being pressed into juice that goes straight into your cup.
According to its owners, the Collectors Treasury is the largest secondhand bookshop in the southern hemisphere, with more than two million books and collectibles. Exact numbers aside, this shop — which is actually an eight-story building, filled to the brim — is a sight to behold and a book lover's dream. It is sometimes difficult to walk through the front door, as stacks of books clutter the entry hall!
Hidden on a residential street in the suburb of Auckland Park, Lindfield House looks like any other stately Joburg house on the outside. But inside, this house/museum is furnished and decorated like a Victorian-era English mansion, right down to the tiniest detail. Catherine Love, the owner/curator/tour guide/occupant of Lindfield House, has spent her entire life researching the Victorian era and collecting Victorian furniture, books, art, kitchenware, and collectibles. Catherine conducts all tours herself, wearing a Victorian maid's costume, and serving a delicious afternoon tea prepared in her authentic Victorian kitchen.
The Radium Beer Hall is Joburg's oldest continuously running pub. This bar looks as if it has changed very little over the last century, with original pressed-tin ceiling tiles and old-school wood finishing. Every day of the week, day and night, the Radium is filled with locals shooting the breeze over beer and tasty pub food. It's also a great venue for live music, attracting top local musicians.