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Johannesburg

Thursday, October 30, 2008
Johannesburg is South Africa's largest city and provincial capital of Gauteng. It came about with the discovery of gold in 1885. Thousands of people flocked to the new town to seek their fortunes or to offer their labour. More than half the population was black, most living in multi-racial shanty towns near the mines in the centre of town. Others who had to find their own accommodation often lived in appalling conditions. As the industry developed, the need for labour increased.

These days Gauteng is the wealthiest province in the country. It is the source of an enormous gold and diamond trade, thanks to the mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills.

Johannesburg is a city of astonishing contrasts. A huge metropolis displays opulent wealth and desperate poverty side-by-side. It is the dynamic heart of the turbulent country and is brash, fast-growing and sometimes ugly, but it has energy and a beautiful climate. Its reputation for being a place of crime, poverty and people living in fear means that for many people, Johannesburg is just a stopover en route to safari country.

Most large cities have a seedy side, but if you stay in a good hotel in a safe area, Johannesburg does have lots to offer.

The Melrose Arch in Johannesburg's northern suburbs is part of a gated community and is close to restaurants, nightclubs and glossy shopping.

The five-star hotel has 118 rooms and is modern with quirky features. Its pool has underwater speakers and there are dining tables in the shallow end. The lobby floor constantly changes colour and long drapes hang from oversize chrome coat hangers. Guestrooms feature the latest in technology, wooden parquet flooring, glass-top workstations and exposed brick walls. Bathrooms have deep oval tubs and walk-in rain showers.

The Pool Bar is surrounded by trees planted in enormous metal buckets and it's a popular place to dine. The March Restaurant offers world-class fine dining. The menu presents a fusion of intercontinental flavours and cooking techniques, served in sophisticated elegance.

Rosebank African Craft Markets are open every day between 9am and 6pm. The pulsating rhythm of African drums leads you to the vibrant cultures gathered under one roof.

The experience takes you on a journey from the Ivory Coast to Cameroon, from Zimbabwe to Zaire with skilled African artists presenting a wide range of wares. There are masks, clothing and ceramics, wooden and stone carvings, beaded dolls and exotic jewellery. Rosebank is a great place to practise your bargaining skills.

Melville in Johannesburg's west is one of the city's oldest suburbs. It is close to two universities and attracts a young, student crowd. It's a trendy, arty place and 7th Street is a hub of restaurants, bars and clubs.

Newtown in downtown Johannesburg has a pretty unsavoury past, but has been cleaned up and will be on display when South Africa hosts the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

It is the city's new fashion, entertainment and dining precinct and one of the large inner-city regeneration targets. Its rezoning has made it user-friendly and there are lots of new restaurants, day markets and theatres to enjoy.

Sofiatown is an African restaurant and bar run by the Thaethe brothers. Kippies is Johannesburg's oldest jazz club and Bassline is a popular music venue.

Johannesburg encompasses Soweto, a township the former apartheid government established to accommodate a large number of migrant workers. Its name is a shortened version of South Western Townships.

An estimated 4 million people live in Soweto in various standards of housing. It is certainly not a slum. On the contrary, it is a tourist attraction and South Africa's most visited township. The best way to explore Soweto is to hook up with a guide and wander around.

The drive through Soweto can be a little depressing, but once you get out of the car the people are so friendly, happy and proud, it makes you feel glad you made the journey. Nelson Mandela lived there before his imprisonment and his house is now the Mandela Museum.

Wandies Place is a Soweto institution. It began as an illegal drinking den in 1981, and is now a cosy restaurant-bar in the centre of the township. It is popular with locals and tourists and is a mandatory stop on Soweto tours.

Walls are adorned with foreign currency, business cards and signatures of eminent people. Diners laugh and chat at long tables decorated with red, green and blue tablecloths and enjoy Wandies' food.

Location

Johannesburg in the north-east of South Africa.

Cost

Josh Explorer has five-hour Johannesburg and Soweto tours, including lunch, for around $60 per person.

Melrose Arch Hotel rooms are around $285 a single a night or $320 a double.

South African Airways has flights to Johannesburg.

Fares from:

  • Perth $2264
  • Sydney $2444
  • Adelaide $2497
  • Brisbane $2513
  • Melbourne $2514

Conditions apply.

Prices correct at October 30, 2008.

For further information

Melrose Arch Hotel
1 Melrose Square
Melrose Arch
Johannesburg
Gauteng
South Africa 2076
Ph: +27 11 214 6666
Fax: +27 11 214 6600
www.africanpridehotels.com
info@melrosearchhotel.com

Josh Explorer
PO Box 786678
Sandton
Johannesburg
South Africa 2164
Ph: +27 11 418 8325
Fax: +27 11 822 7194
www.joshexplorer.co.za
joshexplorer@mweb.co.za

South African Tourism
Ph: (02) 9261 5000
Fax: (02) 9261 2000
www.southafrica.net
info.at@southafrica.net

South African Airways
1800 221 699
1800 099 281 Western Australia
www.flysaa.com

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