Travellers taking cheap flights to Johannesburg may not know that an Australian prospector called George Harrison struck gold here in the 1880s. Harrison may not have appreciated the significance of his find as he sold his stake for paltry sum, but the majority of visitors last year knew exactly how valuable and sought after the gold FIFA World Cup Trophy is.
Johannesburg is South Africa’s largest city and economic hub, and it has an exciting, pioneer-type vibe. Its more recent past is laid out for all to digest. The landmarks of Apartheid Tourism in Johannesburg are sobering, but also uplifting, as they demonstrate that South Africa is facing up to its past and working towards a future for all.
Synonymous with apartheid is Soweto, the resilient and colourful township to the south-west of Johannesburg. It was at the centre of political campaigns aimed at the overthrow of the apartheid state. Today, Soweto is being redeveloped and township tours are popular with tourists, stopping off at Vilakazi Street, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, two Nobel Peace Prize winners, both lived, the memorial to Hector Peterson, the 12-year-old boy shot dead during the riots in 1976 and Soccer City, the 94,000-seat stadium where several of the games will be played this summer.
Africa’s greatest draw, perhaps, is its wildlife, and there are several reserves within easy reach of Johannesburg, including the Krugersdorp, Magaliesberg, Plumari and Rhenostersprutt. The Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site consisting of more than 200 caves containing the fossilised remains of human ancestors and animals, is a 45-minute drive away. Of these, the best known is Sterkfontein Caves, open year-round.
Johannesburg has a fantastic climate. The sun shines year-round – average temperatures are about 26 degrees in January, 16 degrees in June – and humidity is not a factor. The winters are mild and short and snow is very rare.
November to January (summer) is high season. Easter is another peak time; schools are out and families take holidays. Many Joburgers take their holidays in December.
April to September (winter) is the low season.
September-November and April-June are shoulder season months.
Johannesburg’s layout lends itself best to driving. There are several car-rental companies with desks at the airport. There are city buses and informal minibus services. The Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit System offers cheap, reliable transport. Buses run in dedicated lanes and smaller, feeder buses bring people from the outer areas to the stations on the trunk routes. There’s also Metrobus, which offers scheduled bus services around the city. Minibuses are probably best avoided unless you are with a local. Routes can be confusing. There are plenty of taxis, but try to settle on a fare before you set off to avoid arguments with the driver when you arrive at your destination.