A December 2004 trip
to Johannesburg by Elginah
Quote: After 5 years in another country, I finally made my way back to Johannesburg. It was good to see family and friends again, but even better to see the changes Jo'burg is striving to make.
The flight was included in the package, and on December 17, we took a rather small chartered flight from Johannesburg Airport to the nearest ‘airstrip’ in the area. The plane seated six, plus the pilot and copilot, so it’s not really a flight for the faint at heart. The other option is driving to the lodge, which features a breathtaking and picture-perfect landscape en route. However, it’s a six-hour drive, so make sure you leave in the morning. We were fetched from the airstrip and driven to the lodge, greeted, and made to sign indemnities.
We were pleasantly surprised when we were led to our room: It turned out to have the best view of the watering hole! From the deck, we could see water buffaloes, bucks, and birds coming to drink. The room itself was very spacious and well planned, with colourful South African-inspired, modern motifs and artifacts. One enters via the bedroom through sliding doors, which need to be kept firmly shut at all times, as monkeys and their mischievous ways are about. The floors were lacquered cement with rugs conveniently placed. Every night, the ‘mossie’ (mosquito) netting was placed around the bed and the bed turned down with a little ‘biccie‘ (biscuit) on the pillow. The windows all have netting and a bamboo-type rolling blind. There's air-conditioning and a fan, but no TV. There is a separate toilet, and the bathroom has a huge tub, which fills up pretty fast—and related amenities are freely available. A bathrobe is also made available, together with fresh-smelling towels and slippers. The shower is outside. The water pressure wasn’t that great, so it got a bit nippy sometimes, and then there was the time I could’ve sworn I heard something on the roof (peeping monkey?); there was the "keep-still-it’s-a-wasp" episode, followed by the musing about what kind of buck was staring at you whilst you scrubbed your armpits.
‘Mini-breakfast’ is served at 5am in a small reading/lounge room separate from the main rooms. So once you get your 5am wake-up call, this is where you nibble on some ‘rusks’ (a sort of crunchy, healthy biscuit) and slurp some hot tea/coffee. The positioning of this room is great, because you get a view of the watering hole and the new day as you shuffle your way to breakfast.
The main dining hall had a long table, which managed to seat all of us and some of the employees when they joined us for meals. We had a romantic dinner alone the first night and were treated to kudu meat. Otherwise, meals were pretty restaurant-like—not too much wild meat, though. The drinks bar was basically open all day long and at no extra cost—not an excuse to get pickled, though, as dehydration can keep you bedridden in that type of heat.
All in all, it was a great, semi-luxurious, romantic getaway!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 13, 2005
Djuma Vuyatela Game Lodge
Johannesburg, South Africa
Restaurant | "The Butcher Shop & Grill"
There seems to be three different seating sections: fine dining/business dinner area; outside; and inside, with a floor covered in sawdust. There is an awning, so sitting outside is no problem when the sun is up. We requested a move from the sawdust section because of my allergies.
Once seated, our waitress provided us with menus and bread and the drinks came shortly afterwards. The menu consisted mainly of meat dishes, everything from t-bone steaks to springbok meat. If you didn’t get a chance to nibble on kudu meat on safari—here’s your chance! We ordered crocodile (which tasted like smoked salmon) and buffalo wings for starters. The buffalo wings were different in that, instead of the usual the wing, it was stretched out with a juicy barbeque-style sauce. It’s easy to forget that meat is a large part of the South African kitchen and that one may need to remember to order a "lady’s portion" to get through all the courses. So unless you’re starving, you may want to skip the starter. If you order game, there’s no "medium rare," etc., options as they informed us— they know what’s good for us and that’s that!
My husband and I decided to order the game platter, which consisted of one adequate piece of ostrich, eland, warthog, and springbok steaks. The warthog was a bit like a dry pork steak—not sure if it was overcooked or meant to be like that. The ostrich and springbok had a good consistency but tasted like a normal beef steak. I really enjoyed the eland—very tender meat and juicy, indeed. Side dishes are ordered separately, although some of the main dishes come with a choice of mashed/baked potatoes or chips.
Butcher Shop has an extensive wine menu and gives you the chance to peruse the onsite wine cellar with an expert. If you don’t have a clue, just narrow it down by price and take the expert’s recommendation.
Stuffed as we were, we couldn’t resist ordering some dessert. I had the chocolate cake and my husband the tiramisu—the chocolate cake was very rich… and veeeery good, indeed.
The kitchen closed at 10pm that night (Wednesday), which was rather disappointing as the atmosphere of the place induces one to order a cappuccino long after that. There’s also a theatre close by, so late-night diners were turned away. All in all, it was a pleasant dining experience and certainly worth the cost.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 14, 2005
Butcher Shop & Grill
Shop 30, Sandton Square
Johannesburg, South Africa 2146
+27 11 784 8676
Restaurant | "Moyo - Market Theatre"
Parking was a bit of an issue to find, but there seemed to be some sort of security. A smaller restaurant, the décor at the Market Theatre branch was quite similar to that of the Melrose branch. Once we were seated and the ordering process was out of the way, the ‘storyteller’ came over. One has a choice of a poem or a story—we ended up with both. It’s actually quite an amusing concept, as diners are encouraged to sing along to the drum beat to keep you focused on the story/poem. We heard the ever-so-riveting tale of how Shaka Zulu came to this world.
We were served the usual bread, etc., and we shared a giant salad amongst all six of us. The menu consists mainly of meat dishes with an African touch, from Moroccan to South African Malay. I had a spicy Moroccan dish, Tangine Lamb. For those of you wanting to go with something more South African, the ‘pooitjie’ dishes are recommended.
The concept of Moyo’s is quite unique, in that it’s more of an ‘up-market’ celebration and embracing of African cuisine. They also had a face painter. No, none of that clown’s face or wild animal kiddies stuff. Just some black-and-white dots which resemble those traditionally used by the Xhosa tribe to decorate their faces.
The Melrose Arch branch seemed to cater to a more ‘hip’ crowd, and the menu was a bit limited to bring under-18s along. Otherwise, it’s a funky concept, and I’d definitely go there again!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 14, 2005
Moyo Market Theatre
Johannesburg, South Africa
+27 (0) 11 838-1715
Ciao Baby is located on the banking level--yes, there are lots of banks on the same floor. From the length of the queues that day, it would seem that not everyone trusts Internet banking yet. The front of the restaurant is open, with an open-restaurant feel... yet it is indoors, so you can leave your sunglasses in the car. We had no reservations but were seated immediately–-not bad for lunchtime on a Thursday. The restaurant seemed to have its regulars, as the owner, a lively Italian gentleman, was on hand to affectionately greet them. He led us to our table, and we were introduced to our waiter. The restaurant is licensed and seems to also cater to everything from business lunches to family lunches.
It was only once we got the menu that I saw the name of the restaurant *sheepish grin*--rather amusing in itself and kinda catchy. The menu had that fresh, minimalist, modern look that didn’t quite reflect the décor, which was bordering on typical Italian cucina/ristorante, but not overcrowded with decorative bits and pieces.
After some well-made drinks, we enjoyed a starter. This was probably not the brightest idea, as once again, we were reminded that you get your money’s worth in South African restaurants–-quantity and quality! My main course was an excellent tomato/pasta dish called Americiano. You could tell the sauce had been simmering to perfection all night long.
The pricing wasn’t that bad for a lunch for four adults, plus drinks–-as Norwegian prices go, at least. The owner is friendly to the extent that I had my Parmesan personally tossed into my main course. I think he was on the verge of telling us to stop talking and eat at one stage... well, the food would get cold and lose its sumptuousness! *grin*
All in all, it's a pleasant place to have a relaxed (filling) lunch, business lunch, or maybe a semi-romantic meal.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 27, 2005
Ciao Baby Cucina
Johannesburg, South Africa
Attraction | "Djuma Vuyatela Game Lodge"
We were also treated to the sight of vultures. Now, there’s a bird with all the odds against it–-the lions seemed to only have left enough for a light starter! We did drive past again the following morning, and only bones were testament to the wildebeest’s existence. Not even the obligatory flies were around anymore.
Over the next few drives, we were fortunate enough to track a lone male leopard. That was quite a ride, indeed–-you could feel the ranger’s anxiety and frustration, as we’d been driving for a while without any luck. So we were more than pleasantly surprised when there he was, right in our path. I think an inexperienced ranger may well have driven over the leopard! He was certainly quite an exquisite feline creature--the long strides, the slim muscular torso, and still that pussy-cat-needs-a-tummy-rub cuteness.
Our encounter with a rhino was at a safe distance. These hulking bodies may be blind, but a whiff of homo sapien or other unwelcome visitors can send it in two directions: away from or straight at you!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 11, 2005
Djuma Game Reserve
Johannesburg, South Africa 1363
(013) 735 5118
Attraction | "Constitutional Hill"
We paid for a tour and had a guide named David all to ourselves, as it was a public holiday. David took us through the history of the prison with enthusiasm and passion for the topic. We started at the Old Fort entrance and the barrier that is built around the fort, and we were told how the prisoners were treated when they first arrived. We were taken through the old cells and isolation cells and saw taped recordings of past prisoners. The level of degradation experienced, not only from the prison wardens but also from fellow prisoners, left me almost gagging with disgust. The prison had sections for female and male prisoners, and racial segregation was enforced. This was apparent from the different meals prisoners were given—from basic meals to slop resembling that depicted in Schindler's List; sleeping arrangements were based on prisoner 'rank' (newbies were generally used as 'girlfriends'). This part of the tour ended with an opportunity to note your reactions/thoughts, which could be etched into a plate and hung up with others (including Nelson Mandela’s) that line the complex.
We then moved onto the Constitutional Court itself, an astounding feature of the complex. Part of the prison (known as the Awaiting Trial block) was torn down to make room for the court itself. In order to show that the injustices of the past can be a part of the justices for the future, the bricks were reused in the new courthouse. The stairwells to the building have been preserved, and two are even incorporated in the court building itself.
The Constitutional Court is also a building full of symbolism. The logo itself shows people in shelter under a tree talking - representing African tradition of elders assembling to discuss issues. This can also be seen in the lobby of the courthouse, where pillars are askew to represent the tree trunks, natural light comes in through the ceiling, and the lights are formed like leaves. The door into the court itself is a 9m timber door with 27 human rights carved into the wood. There are some astounding pieces of art within the building – a majority symbolic.
It might sound boring to see a prison and a courthouse, but this was an enriching experience. The fact that this place of terror, in downtown Johannesburg, only shut down about 20 years ago is an eye-opener. I think that it was amazing to see how symbolism has been used in building Con Hill to bring the past into the present and hopefully prevent history from repeating itself.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 17, 2005
Constitutional Court of South Africa
Constitution Hill, 1 Hospital Street
Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa 2017
27 11 359-7400
If you only have one day scheduled for shopping in Jo'burg and you value variety and quality over price, then drop by Sandton City. It's not as exclusive as before, but it does house most of the amenities and more. You may need to be safety-conscious, though—don't walk around with armloads of Armani and Prada bags; rather, dump them in the boot (trunk) as they accumulate. And accumulate they will. Don't feel obliged to pay the guy who 'helps' you park—technically you'd be paying twice as much for parking in a secure area.
Sandton City has the standard high-priced brands names we ‘all’ recognize, from stand-alone Diesel, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton shops to national favourites. Even with a good exchange rate, don’t be expecting eye-poppingly low prices—LV is expensive wherever you go on this planet. However, I can recommend a few local designers and stores that would give brand names a run for their money. Looking for a ball gown, going to a formal wedding, or need something uptight and formal? Try Nicci, Hilton Weiner Classics (my fave), Jo Borkett, Queen’s Park, Donna Claire (for the larger ladies). Matching shoes can be found at Spitz and Preview Shoes (most people wait until these stores have sales). There are department stores like Stuttafords that carry a range of brands (Oaktree being a dependable one). The great thing about malls is the variety, from price to quality, so don’t be shy—browse!
Casual to smart-casual duds are easy enough to find, but may I suggest Woolworths (South African Marks & Spencer, but featuring ZAR designers), Naartjie Clothing (local brand that caters very well to all age groups—comfy, fun, vibrant colours), Hilton Weiner Urban (relaxed, trendy, preppy), Aca Joe (preppy, trendy), Big Blue (jumble of local designers—you’re bound to find something if you look), or Jenni Button (can get something posh personally designed for you)? Need skiing, hiking, or safari gear? Then Cape Union Mart has it all!
Grabbing a bite is no problemo—there's a food court! Old favourites include a chickpea falafel at Anat Falafel and Schwarma or a Burger King-style burger at Steers. There’s a lot to choose from, so it’s a good idea to have something in mind before spending a half-hour frowning at the oh-so-many options.
The mall can also act as a great… ‘babysitter’, if you may; there’s a cinema, open food court, and enough teen fashion stores to keep your kids preoccupied for a few hours. And if hubby comes along, he can also get lost in the gadget and clothing stores for a while. Not quite up for clothing shopping yourself? Well, there’s a myriad of furniture/home improvement stores and a whole ground level dedicated to it!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 2, 2005
Sandton City Shopping Centre
Corner Sandton Drive And Rivonia Road Sandton
Johannesburg, South Africa 2146
+27 11 217 6000
Attraction | "Wonder Caves"
Everybody naturally goes to the Sterkfontein Caves, which are a part of the Cradle of Humankind museum. However, I would recommend a trip to Wonder Caves, as they are truly breathtaking structures that are still being preserved to continue their natural processes, so much so that fines for touching the stalagmite/stalactite structures run into the thousands!
Whilst we waited to join the next tour, we had lunch outside, where we could watch the vultures perched on the electric poles that dotted the landscape. There was also an indifferent ostrich pecking about, and my siblings had fun trying to get as close as possible to the two warthogs waddling about.
The entrance into the cave is quite a steep decline, so wear sturdy shoes. Our guide churned out all the rules that most people ignore, but you may be interested in the part about killer bat droppings. At the bottom of the stairs, we were squeezed into a cage-like lift. The lights were dimmed and we were awed. The magnificence and sheer size of these natural wonders had most of us wide-eyed.
We were led around the cave and informed of the stalactite and stalagmite creation process. The caves also have a 'dark' side in that miners used to work there by candlelight. Hard to imagine but when the guide turned out all the lights and lit a few candles the severity and consequences hit home very quickly.
As an educational trip for the whole family and a day outing, I would definitely recommend the Wonder Caves.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 3, 2005
Wondercave Route A
Johannesburg, South Africa 2040
+27 11 957 0106
There are two courses with 9 holes each, which is more than suitable when it's packed. We were unfortunate enough to get caught in the rain, but they offer 'rain checks' so you can come back twice more to finish both courses.
There's a limit of four players per group, which is perfect in that you don't end up waiting for ages for everybody to play through. The balls come in different colours, so none of that 'is that you or me' business. And the clubs come in different heights, so even the littlest family member can play along.
The course itself is laid with some sort of Astroturf/plastic grass, so it's mostly smooth playing. There is a recommended par for each hole—some of them are actually realistic! Yes, a hole in one is actually possible. Part of the fun is keeping an eye on your oppon... ehh, team players… 'was that 4 or 5 strokes?'. The maximum is seven, which helps keep the game going for the tougher holes.
There are no tricky windmills to deal with, but some holes lead to another on a different level, and you swear you need at least six strokes on a par-three hole. And then there are the giant rocks blocking your view and leading to who knows where.
All in all, it’s a fun time to be had by all members of the family!