This week, while poking around the Illovo/Melrose area for my SandtonPlaces research, I wandered into James and Ethel Gray Park: a city park just off the M1 highway in the small suburb of Birdhaven.


Sunset dog-walk in James and Ethel Gray Park.

Discoveries like this are one of the reasons why I’m grateful to be working on this book. I’ve driven past James and Ethel Gray Park park before and have heard that it’s nice, but I never would have gone there if I didn’t have a specific reason to do so. I’m so glad I went because it’s one of the loveliest spots in Joburg.

I had trouble finding the entrance to the park at first. Google Maps sent me to Atholl-Oaklands Road, just off the M1, but I didn’t see an entrance there. Eventually I made my way to the traffic circle at the intersection of North Street, St. Andrews Street, and Edgewood Avenue, which is where the main entrance to the park is.

Right next to the parking area is a kind of plateau, with a huge, circular expanse of neatly trimmed grass. I got there late on a Wednesday afternoon and the plateau was teeming with dogs and dog-walkers, children, and joggers.

couple walking

A cute couple walks in James and Ethel Gray Park. I have no idea who James and Ethel Gray were (no time to Google at the moment), but I imagine they looked like this.

A friend of mine who lives in the area says there is often a lot of — ahem — dog poo in the park. I hardly saw any when I was there though. I sat right down in the middle of the immaculate green grass and enjoyed the scene around me.

Then I walked to the other side of the plateau and stumbled upon a dazzling view of downtown Joburg.

People walking in park

Finding this was such a pleasant surprise.

Man walking in park2

My original caption for this photo remarked upon the abundance of “older” people who walk in James and Ethel Gray Park. Some of my readers (including my mom) took offence though, so I’ve removed it.

The grassy plateau is encircled by nicely spaced rocks, which are perfect for sitting on. I found a rock, warmed by the hot sun from earlier in the day, and settled down to eat a sandwich and watch the sunset. Families ambled past and dogs trotted up to sniff my food. I felt really happy to be there.

Clouds and skyline

Those clouds are kinda pretty.

I briefly decided that James and Ethel Gray Park is the best park in Joburg.

But then this morning I went up on the Melville Koppies and realized the Koppies can never be unseated as my favorite Jozi park.

Koppies 29 Nov

Shot with my iPhone on the Melville Koppies this morning. The Koppies are very different from James and Ethel Gray Park — much wilder and more of a challenge to walk on. This will always be one of my favorite places in Joburg.

James and Ethel Gray Park is a close second to the Koppies though, and I also love the little Wrenrose Shopping Centre next to the park. The Voodoo Lily Café is a great place to go before or after a walk, and the café even has a special dog menu.

Voodoo Lily

Voodoo Lily Café at the Wrenrose Shopping Centre in Birdhaven. James and Ethel Gray Park is a block away.

Don’t wait for a reason like I did. Just go to Birdhaven and check it out.

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