Other than a brief visit to Hillbrow, I hadn’t gone to downtown Joburg city since before the pandemic started. Also today is the ten-year anniversary of my arrival in Joburg and I wanted to do something special. So I decided to devote the whole day yesterday to Joburg city explorations, and the whole today to blogging about it.

Joburg City as seen from the Wilds
A view of Joburg from the Wilds.

To my relief, other than all the face masks, downtown Joburg looks much the same now as it did five months ago. There is a lot less traffic, which makes driving through the inner city downright pleasurable. Parking is easier to find than before.

My Day in Joburg City

Stop 1: Jewel City

My first stop was Jewel City, a new development emerging between Anderson and Commissioner Streets on the eastern side of downtown, built on the site of what used to be the city’s diamond district. The old Jewel City was a mysterious, foreboding place, surrounded by high walls. If you’ve ever been to Maboneng, you probably parked next to it without realizing.

new Jewel City development in Joburg City
Jewel City as it looks now.

The new Jewel City will be a mixed-used development with apartments, retail stores, offices, and plenty of public space.

New building in Jewel City
New apartment buildings in Jewel City.
This new Jewel City mural by Dbongz is already becoming a favorite Joburg city Instagram backdrop.

Most of the Jewel City buildings aren’t finished yet, but I did stop into the newly opened Clicks (South Africa’s version of Walgreens) for some contact solution. I can confidently say it’s the friendliest, most well-stocked Clicks in the city. There’s a new Postnet about to open; Shoprite, Steers, and several other South African outlets are on the way. I’m not normally a fan of big retail chains but these stores should bring a much-needed boost to the area.

Stop 2: The Thunder Walker

From Jewel City I headed west to Gandhi Square to check out recent developments at the Thunder Walker. Inside historic Somerset House, this JoburgPlaces venue has become one of my favorite city spots in recent years.

Looking down on the ground floor of the Thunderwalker in Joburg City
Looking down on JoburgPlaces founder Gerald Garner in the “Town Treasures” hall at the Thunder Walker.

Running a tourism/hospitality business in the CBD is challenging at the best of times, and now is the worst of times. But Gerald, Charlie, and the rest of the Thunder Walker team are rising to the occasion. They have reopened the restaurant with mostly outdoor seating, refashioned the trendy bar to be completely non-alcoholic, and opened a beautiful new shop selling Joburg-sourced products and books.

Thunder Walker manager Siphila Hikwa behind the bar.
Lunch at the Thunder Walker
Outdoor lunch at the Thunder Walker: Cape Malay chicken curry and a “Tocktail” made with non-alcoholic aperitif and soda. It was lovely.

Stop 3: Bridge Books

Next I walked two blocks to the new Bridge Books, my favorite independent bookstore. Bridge Books has moved across Commissioner Street to a new location on the back side of the Rand Club. I love the space — it has a very “quaint bookstore in Paris” feel to it.

Inside the new Bridge Books in Joburg City
Inside the new Bridge Books.
My friend Griffin, owner of Bridge Books.

Stop 4: JHB Culinary and Pastry School

After a nice chat with Griffin, I walked across the street to 85 Commissioner. This space was once home to the original Bridge Books and the City Central food court, but it now houses the JHB Culinary and Pastry School.

JHB Culinary and Pastry School at 85 Commissioner Street
The JHB Culinary and Pastry School at 85 Commissioner Street.

I had been meaning to visit the culinary school’s new location before the pandemic hit. My friend Bulelwa Princess Mbonambi, who used to be the head chef at the Thunder Walker, is now a teacher at the culinary school.

Bulelwa took me on a tour of the school and I took pictures of her in her awesome chef’s hat.

Students hard at work in the kitchen. The school is open to the public for breakfast and lunch.
Bulelwa Mbonambi at the culinary school
Chef Bulelwa.

The school sells delicious pastries so I picked up some chocolate truffles and a Mexican churro for later.

Stop 5: The Wilds

I saved the best for last and ended my day at the Wilds, which I hadn’t been able to visit for nearly five months. Like Emmarentia Dam, the Wilds is a city-run nature reserve and hence didn’t re-open until this past Saturday.

Aloe in the Wilds
A perfect aloe bloom in the Wilds.

I can’t overstate how wonderful it was to walk around the Wilds again after all these months. There is something other-worldly about the place. It was nearly empty and I wandered slowly up and down the stone paths, munching my churro and gazing at James Delaney‘s animal sculptures, which I now consider old friends.

An owl in the forest.
Kudu in the Wilds
Hello, Mr. Kudu.
Which one doesn’t belong?

All in all, it was a perfect day in Joburg city. Happy ten years to me.

Ostriches at the Wilds
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