The eyes of the world are about to focus on South Africa as it plays host to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The mammoth event will run between June 11 and July 11. Footballers from 32 countries will be playing their hearts out at 10 stadiums across the country.
There's nothing like a major sporting event to whip people into a frenzy and it's also the perfect time for a facelift. Since 2004, when South Africa won the right to host the tournament, airports, stadiums and hotels have been built, refurbished and brushed up in preparation for the 64 matches.
Natalie Gruzlewski visited Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, and found World Cup fever had already hit and was casting positive vibes. The city's troubled past has been left behind and locals are looking towards a brighter future. Crime is on the decline but as in most cities, it's always best to be cautious.
Hosting the World Cup has meant a construction boom and nothing has been spared on infrastructure. Huge amounts have been spent on the redevelopment of Johannesburg's World Cup centrepiece: Soccer City Stadium.
It will be the centre of action with the opener, final and biggest matches being played there. It holds around 90,000 people and who knows how many millions will be watching on television. Considering world time zones the planet is about to be full of sleep-deprived football fans.
Soccer City Stadium is South Africa's largest but that's not the only reason it was chosen as the major host. It has important historical value. Nelson Mandela gathered with the ANC there after he was freed from prison in 1990. It is hoped the 91-year-old will attend some of the matches.
Despite being a big bustling city, Johannesburg is green and very much an outdoor-living place. It has a wealth of trees and 2328 parks. There is much cultural wealth and it is a truly African city with the melding of descendents of the original Tswana and Ndebele inhabitants and European, Indian and Chinese settlers.
There are lots of air-conditioned shopping malls but if you fancy taking home something different, Rosebank Markets have everything from traditional instruments to clothes and wonderful arts and crafts. It's right next to the Mall of Rosebank, a feast of shops and entertainment, restaurants and coffee shops. Between 9am and 5pm every Sunday they have a popular rooftop flea market.
To get a feel of the real Johannesburg and the day-to-day life of the majority of its residents, it's a good idea to get yourself a guide and head to Soweto, 20km south-west of the city.
The township of Soweto is the most highly populated black urban area in the country. It was the former home of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It's also believed to be where the country's obsession with football was born.
With 11 languages spoken in South Africa, there seems to be just one spoken by the 3.5 million residents of Soweto the language of football. Love of the game is a great uniting force.
Times have changed dramatically there. Once a renowned danger spot, it is now a safe place and tourists are warmly welcomed. Living conditions are cramped and it's still a poor area but visitors are always moved by the positive attitude of those who live there.
There are countless restaurants where you can enjoy delicious traditional food and you should visit an African shebeen. The once illegal watering holes sprang up in apartheid days when legitimate drinking places were for whites only. Now they are packed with locals drinking, dancing and generally letting their hair down.
If you're still thinking of visiting South Africa during the month of play, hopefully you've booked your accommodation. Natalie stayed at the five-star Michelangelo overlooking Nelson Mandela Square, a secured area with restaurants and boutiques.
It has 218 rooms, 24 suites and is Johannesburg's premium hotel. Piccolo Mondo Restaurant and Cocktail Bar and Il Rotrovo Lounge provide meals and drinks, there's a health and fitness centre with sauna and steam room and heated indoor pool.
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Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city.
Michelangelo Hotel rooms start at around $418 a night and deluxe rooms $475.
Emirates has flights to Johannesburg from:
- Perth $1732
- Melbourne and Adelaide $1735
- Sydney $1753
- Brisbane $1758
These prices are available only online to the first 100 people to book.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
The Michelangelo Hotel
Nelson Mandela Square
Ph: +27 11 282 7000
Fax: +27 11 282 7171
2010 FIFA World Cup
Visas: A passport is needed but no visa is required.
Electricity: 220V to 230V at 50Hz. Most plugs have three round pins.
Time zone: GMT +2.
Telephone code: +27.
Travellers to South Africa should be "in date" for the standard Australia and New Zealand immunisation schedules. Depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au