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I used Johannesburg as my stopover in 2007, when moving from London to Cape Town, but my stopover lasted a year! It seemed all my family and friends had migrated to Joburg in the 5 years that I was away, so it was the only choice for my first port of call when returning to my home country.
I wasn’t very excited about moving to Jozi, as it is affectionately known. It’s definitely not a pretty city, with criss-crossed highways stretching across all 4 corners. But venture into the treelined streets of Suburbia and you’ll see why it’s the world’s largest man-made forest. I spent most of my year dreaming about my move to Cape Town and never really explored.
So when Nikki, a friend from the UK, called to say she was coming to visit me, I panicked! How could I make her holiday unforgettable? What was there to do besides walk around the numerous shopping malls? I found however, once I did some ground work and scratched beneath the surface, there is more to this bustling city than airport hotels & traffic jams. The turbulent history and colourful cultures that are thrown together in Johannesburg give the city a pulse that beats with promise. There are countless variety of activities on offer, covering everything from history, wildlife, entertainment & lots of shopping!
A thing to remember however when exploring Johannesburg; it is sprawled across a large area and you should allow for comfortable travelling time, If you choose to self drive, invest in a new comprehensive map book and a trusty passenger/navigator or better yet a GPS!
My suggestion, to ensure a stress free holiday, would be to hire a private guided tour. You’ll have a knowledgeable driver and vehicle at your disposal to fit in with your schedule. Or you could join a scheduled tour. For more information see our Johannesburg Tours.
Our first port of call was the 1 600 hectare Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve situated in “The Cradle of Humankind”, a World Heritage Site. The privately owned, non-subsided game reserve has a few different attractions if you would like to make a day of it.
The reserve was privately founded in 1985 and opened to the public in 1990. From a modest beginning of two white rhinos, “Ouvrou” and “Bulle”, imported from a zoo in Germany, and some antelope species, the reserve now boasts 600 head of game representing 25 different species.
Emphasis was also placed on breeding and the success of this project is best illustrated by the fact that no less than 18 white rhino calves have been born at the reserve to date. The introduction of lions, cheetah and later, the highly endangered Cape wild dog, formed part of a very successful breeding programme which has led to breeding programmes for Bengal tigers, Siberian Tigers and the extremely rare White Lion (one was born here in 1999).
We mistakenly visited the park at midday, when most of the animals were already sheltered under the shade of trees for the day so our game viewing through the park wasn’t great. That didn’t faze us however as we were headed straight for the crèche where the young tiger, lion and cheetah cubs from the breeding programme are kept.
They do allow people into the enclosures with the cubs, but there are strict rules so as not to frighten or put too much strain on them. If you would like to take photographs with the cubs you pay per person per species enclosure and are only allowed 5 minutes.
First we visited the 5 week old white lions, they had only just been weaned and still a bit skittish, so we took a quick couple of photos and left them to sleep.
Next we visited an enclosure of Tigers and Tawny Lions which were only 10 weeks old, but so playful! As soon as I sat down amongst them, I had a tiger pounce on my lap and start nibbling on my knee! My heart melted! Nikki on the other hand, had a Lion cub suckling on her fingers. We dragged our 5 minutes out as long as we could, but sadly had to leave.
Wondering around the guest centre, we encountered a Shetlen pony and Karibu stork in the kids’ playground which is surrounded by picnic and ‘braai’ areas perfect for a family day out. There is also a restaurant, observatory and be sure to visit the Wondercave which is estimated to be over 5 million years old.
Should you prefer to kick back and let a ranger do the driving, the park does offer Day or night drives, with a duration of roughly two and a half hours, which are conducted seven days a week. These can be incorporated with a braai or a tour of the Wonder caves for that special outing or enjoy the lion feed on Saturdays and Sundays.
Next we visited Lesedi Cultural Village, dubbed the Cradle of Living Africa Culture. The village allows you to experience the rich cultural background of the traditional peoples of South Africa. We were welcomed with warm smiles, a refreshing drink and the infectious song of the women. See our Lesedi Village Tour right here!
We were taken through to the amphitheatre where the Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele people put on a short presentation explaining the differences in their cultures and lifestyles, before being shown around the village.
One of Lesedi’s many differentiating factors is the village’s natural and tasteful incorporation into the surrounding bush, river and forests, with five traditional homesteads of the Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele.
Local families live permanently in each of these five homesteads and visitors are invited to observe the African way of life by either enjoying a short day tour of the villages or you could spend a night actually living among these families in guest accommodation.
Next was the Ingoma Boma, an enclosed amphitheatre of sorts, where we were audience to amazing traditional dances to the rythym of the deep drum beats. Soon we were pulled up to participate in the dances which was amazing fun!
All that activity definitely works up an appetite, and not a minute too soon we were shown through to the Nyama Choma Restaurant, which means the Great African Feast. The enormous selection of African dishes from the far corners of Africa offers meat delicacies ranging from ostrich to unusual fare such as crocodile. The restaurant is divided into three sections, namely East Africa, South Africa and the North African Nile Room, affording visitors a selection of dining experiences where they can absorb the variety of colours, sights, smells, tastes and sounds of different African customs. All this is complemented by the restaurant’s authentic setting and vibrant décor, which includes murals illustrating African heritage and legends.
Lesedi is well worth a visit! Even as a South African, I learnt so much about my fellow countrymen and their roots; highlighting the wonderful diversity we have here!
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Craig Harding is the general go-to guy at Rhino Africa. He's pretty chilled out so he's the right guy to have by your side on an intrepid adventure. He says 'the journey is the destination' so we just all nod and agree - it's better that way...
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