Driving in Johannesburg, South Africa
Johannesburg is South Africa’s largest city, indeed it’s the largest city on the African continent. Often referred to as Jo’burg, it’s the capital of the Gauteng Province, the richest province in South Africa. This is in part due to the city’s location on the Witwatersrand Hills which has rich deposits of minerals including gold and diamonds.
The city will be host to some of the games of the 2010 World Cup in the Soccer City and Ellis Park Stadium.
Prior to the discovery of gold in 1886, Johannesburg saw only the occasional Bushmen and Bantu tribes passing through. And when the Europeans arrived, the Boers and the English just set up farms, but there were no large settlements. After the gold rush Johannesburg grew more and more independent from Pretoria which was originally its mother city. 1910 saw the declaration of the Union of South Africa. At this time Soweto, which was a shantytown, was created.
Johannesburg has enjoyed a stabilisation of racial tensions since the apartheid system was abolished in the early 90′s. All communities have largely become multiracial and the city council has launched various Inner City Revival projects to bring the living conditions in former shantytowns up to standard.
Soweto houses about half the population of the city and has become a popular tourist destination in its own right. Soweto also has the honour of having raised two Nobel Peace Prize winners, both Nelson Mandela (Nelson Mandela lived in Orlando, Soweto for a few years when he was stydying law at university) and Bishop Desmond Tutu lived here.
The Apartheid Museum will educate you on all you need to know about this dark period of history. It’ll take about half a day to review the museum properly but it’s definitely worth a visit. There’s also the Mandela Family Museum which was Mandela’s first home.
If you want to see something from the gold rush era then there’s the Gold Reef City which is an amusement park located on an actual gold mine. The staff are dressed in period costumes and the museum shows the entire gold mining process. In addition you can try out the many great water rides and roller coasters.
There are a number of galleries to visit including the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which is the largest gallery on the continent. There’s also the Chérie De Villiers Gallery which is dedicated to South African artists.
The South African National Museum of Military History houses many items of antiquity but the prize piece is one of the few remaining complete examples of a Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe which was the worlds first jet fighter and it operated in the late stages of WWII.
If you’re looking for something a bit more relaxing then a visit to the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens might be a good idea. It’s one of the few remaining green spaces in the city and it’s home to many varieties of birds. It’s a nice place to have lunch as well, though you may have to ask for directions as the gardens aren’t well signposted.
What to see and do in the area surrounding Johannesburg?
Johannesburg has plenty to see and do but if you feel like getting out of city then there’s a large number of activities/attractions you can avail of.
Located just outside Jo’burg and of interest to adrenaline junkies are the Johannesburg Skydiving and the Magaliesburg Gliding clubs. The skydiving club is located in Carltonville and Magaliesburg Gliding Club is in the town of Krugersdorp, to the west of the city.
Sun City is located about 2 hours drive to the west of Johannesburg. It can make a great day trip or even as an overnight stay as there’s so much to see and do in this resort! The golf courses and the casino are reasons alone to go but that would only be scratching the surface.
The Mpumalanga Escarpment is a good drive outside Johannesburg. It’s the better part of a 2 or 3 day trip out of the city so you may require to book accommodation before you get there. Once there you can drive around the various attractions. The area around Sabie has several spectacular waterfalls each more amazing that the last. Later on you will come across the Panorama Route which includes such spectacular view points as the Gods Window which overlooks the landscape almost 1000 metres below!
The Rietvlei Nature Reserve is a smaller parkland with about 40kms of road open to the public. You can view much of the game and animals roaming free in the wildlife reserve area. There’s also an angling club and the yacht club here. The whole area tends to be quiet so you can happily explore without meeting another tourist. There are hundreds of species of birds and plants that are just waiting to be spotted but also there are plenty of larger animals such as buffalo, hippos, hyenas, jackals, zebra, ostriches, cheetahs, rhinoceros, and a number of antelope species. Just remember there are no restaurants in the park, so you may bring your own food though of course you should NOT feed the animals.
The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve located in Kromdraai, just north of Krugersdorp, is a self-drive park and has all the popular big African animals such as lions, cheetahs, buffalo, rhino, hippos and even some non-native species such as Bengal, Siberian and White tigers. There’s also the reptile house and the animal crèche where you can meet all the baby lions, cheetahs and tiger cubs.
Why not hire a car in Johannesburg?
As you can tell, there is much to see and do in the surrounding areas of Johannesburg. Public transport in the city is limited and the minibus taxis are quite dangerous as they are often involved in road accidents and competitiveness between rival companies. The rail networks in Johannesburg are all in the southern half of the city and are very old – the city has continued to grow in a northerly direction, leaving the rail network behind.
The good news though is that the city has some very good roads including 3 freeways that converge on the city, the N1 (connects Pretoria and Cape Town through Johannesburg), the N3 (connects Johannesburg to Durban) and the N12 bypass to Witbank and Kimberley.
Driving is on the left and most road signs are in English. When buying petrol you can only pay with a special Garage Card that is available from most banks or in cash, but most garages will have an ATM machine, just be careful when using them. Be wary of taxi drivers as they can be very erratic and frequently flout the traffic laws.
Driving in Johannesburg has something of a bad reputation but gladly it isn’t as bad now as it used to be. You will still need to have your wits about you and just remember to keep your windows closed and doors locked. Keep your valuables hidden and always be vigilant when you are stopped at petrol stations, traffic lights and near concealed entrances.
Have you been to Johannesburg? If so, use the comment box below and let us know of any valuable travel tips you may have. Or indeed, if you’ve any questions about car rental in Johannesburg drop us a line.