Walking on the Roof of Johannesburg

by | Mar 4, 2016 | Hillbrow/Yeoville, Johannesburg, Museums and Buildings, Tours | 16 comments

On a tour with Dlala Nje last weekend, I visited some high-rise rooftops in Berea.

Pigeons and Ponte CityPigeons enjoy a view of Ponte City from the roof of the Metropolitan building in Berea.

I’ve written about Jozi’s rooftops before (read here and here and here). And here’s the thing about these rooftops: They’re the greatest places in town to enjoy the city, and yet a huge proportion of the city’s population never visits them. Because the best rooftops tend to be in the parts of town where people are scared to go to.

Berea is one of those parts of town. It’s adjacent to Hillbrow, and most Joburgers consider Hillbrow a no-go zone. Fortunately tour companies like Dlala Nje and JoburgPlaces and Past Experiences are helping to change things, encouraging people to come into town on tours like this one.

I, for one, jumped onto this tour as soon as I saw the listing. I can never have enough Jozi rooftopping in my life.

The tour concept was simple. We met at Dlala Nje’s headquarters in Ponte City, walked through Berea to the first building, walked some more to the second building, then went back to Ponte for the best Jozi skyline view in town.

Before the tour started, my friend Fiver and I made a quick visit to Ponte’s core.

Inside the core of Ponte CityI never get tired of this shot.

Once the whole group was gathered, we headed out of Ponte and up a steep hill to the Metropolitan.

I can’t remember how many floors the Metropolitan is, but I think it’s about 20. The building seems to be fully occupied and very well-run.

On the roof of Berea's Metropolitan BuildingThe Hillbrow/Berea area is where all the hip young Joburg professionals lived in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It’s the only part of town where you have dozens of high-rise residential buildings packed in closely together. The huge cylinder in the background is the Hillbrow Tower.

View from the Metropolitan BuildingPonte dominates the skyline. The tall, bluish building on the right is the Tygerberg, where we went next.

We spent 30 minutes or so on top of the Metropolitan, then squeezed into the elevators to get down and walked several blocks to the Tygerberg.

Housing advertisements in BereaSpotted on the way to the Tygerberg: Hillbrow/Berea’s version of Gumtree.

The Tygerberg — which used to be one of the hottest residential addresses in Joburg — is bigger, more crowded, and more chaotic than the Metropolitan. It took us about 20 minutes of waiting in line to finally get on the elevator to the 23rd floor.

Fiver takes photos from the stairwell of the Tygerberg Building.Fiver looks out at the inner city from the 23rd-floor stairwell at the Tygerberg.

When I got to the roof of the Tygerberg, the first thing I noticed was Ponte.

View of Ponte from the TygerbergI hate the fact that I’m giving free advertising to Vodacom, but oh well.

The second thing I noticed was the fantastic school choir lined up with the skyline behind them, performing for our group.

The Barnato Park High School Choir performs on the roof of the Tygerberg.The Barnato Park High School Choir.

Barnato Park High School is in Berea; our Dlala Nje guide, Franck, attended the school himself and arranged for the choir to perform for us. (A portion of the proceeds from our tour were donated to the Barnato choir.) We listened to the choir sing while munching on roasted mielies (corn on the cob) and taking photos of the sunset.

Heather and Ponte from the roof of the TygerbergPonte and me. If you look very closely, you’ll see that I still have mielies in my teeth. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

A spectacular sunset from the roof of the Tygerberg.Jozi.

Fiver and I were the last people to leave the rooftop.

Heather photographs Hillbrow from the roof of the Tygerberg.Photo: Fiver Löcker

Fiver photographs Hillbrow from the roof of the Tygerberg.Fiver really didn’t want to go.

We made our way back to Ponte just after sunset. Although we didn’t go to Ponte’s actual rooftop (I hope to make it up there someday, though), we got the next best thing — a visit to one of Ponte’s rad penthouse apartments in the 51st floor.

Hillbrow at night from the top of Ponte CityAnd this, my friends, is the way to end a walking tour in Joburg. (I couldn’t decide which top-of-Ponte photo to post here. Check out a slightly different version on my Instagram account.)

This Dlala Nje tour was a “special edition”, meaning it was a once-off. They’ll be doing a different special edition tour every month from now on. (Check out Dlala Nje’s Facebook page for event updates.)

I’ll have more rooftop posts coming soon, I’m sure. I always do.


  1. Gail Wilson

    Oh I wish I had gone on this if not purely to visit my old building Tygerberg. I was not into photography when I lived there nor did the view move me much as I saw it everyday, now I wish I still lived there.

    • 2summers

      Oh Gail, you would have loved it. Hopefully they’ll do it again eventually.

  2. roxannereid1

    I used to work in both Hillbrow and Braamfontein. It’s good to see some good things happening in the area – a rooftop tour is such a great idea. Almost sorry I now live in Cape Town! 🙂

    • 2summers

      Haha. But only almost! ??

    • 2summers

      Have you been on their tours? I’ve done them all and they’re all great.

  3. autumnashbough

    That shot up the Ponte’s atrium is amazing. Kind of even more amazing than the sunset shot (I can’t believe I’m saying that).

    I love that there was a choir. 🙂

    What is the white residue on the last roof?

    • 2summers

      Hmm, good question. I have no idea! Again, I’m embarrassed.

      Yeah Ponte is amazing. I think many photographers in Joburg have become blasé about it because we’ve taken photos there so many times now. But the architecture is really insane.

      • autumnashbough

        Not being from Joburg, I am thoroughly awed. As for the white residue, well, you were looking up and out, not down. Concentrating on the BIG PICTURE. Easy for me to look at a photo later and be like, “Hey, that looks like snow. Can’t be snow. MYSTERY!”

        • 2summers

          Hahaaaa. I’m guessing it looks a lot more like snow in the picture then it did in real life. Because I thought the same thing after I read your question and looked carefully at the picture.

  4. GC

    Hi Heather, I really enjoy your blog. I am planning a trip soon and it has been immensely helpful. I’m doing my best to learn about the city before arriving – especially the past. I noticed on your third photo the caption reads, “The Hillbrow/Berea area is where all the hip young Joburg professionals lived in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.”

    Was this a particular area where all races could live? I thought it was Whites only during those decades.

    • 2summers

      Hi GC, thanks so much for your question and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. This is good question. Yes, Hillbrow was originally a white area, as was Berea and neighboring Berea. But due to the denseness of the population and progressiveness there, it was one of the first areas to go ‘grey’ in the 1980s, meaning that people of all races started living there even though it wasn’t strictly legal. This is my simple understanding of a very complex issue. Hope that helps!

    • angela

      This was a whites only building and area. I lived in Ponte. My flatmate had an Indian boyfriend and we were constantly harassed by the police because they were tipped off by residents. She married her boyfriend against all apartheid laws and now have grandchildren …..married for more than 30 years….

      • 2summers

        What a great story! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. david

    Wow. What a rot Hillbrow has become! Roof residue should be silver and be part the waterproofing



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