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photography

Wooden Newtown heads in downtown Joburg

The Newtown Heads Are Back in Action

As I float down a canal in the Netherlands, I thought I’d write a quick post about the Newtown heads. If you live in Joburg you know the heads I’m talking about — the hundreds of wooden sculptures lining Mary Fitzgerald Square and several streets in the downtown neighborhood of Newtown. Newtown heads in the center of Mary Fitzgerald Square. The heads, all 500-something of them, were originally erected in 2001. But over the years quite a few of them were stolen/vandalized/cracked or eroded due to weather. Joburg city enthusiasts mourned the heads’ demise. Here’s what all the heads looked like until recently. The head in the foreground is badly weathered and the head in the background is gone completely. The decoration on the concrete plinths is part of a separate project by artist Food Baby Soul.  In 2018, as part of the Newtown Now! festival in July, artist Americo Guambe — who spearheaded the creation of the original Newtown heads — received funding from the Joburg City government and the Johannesburg Development Agency to do a major head renovation. Nearly 100 of the heads have been replaced and/or refurbished, and they look positively glorious. The New Newtown Heads Feast your […]

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Somerset House, Fox Street entrance

JoburgPlaces and the Restoration of Somerset House

About three years ago, I was roaming around downtown Joburg on a drizzly Sunday afternoon with some photographer friends. As we walked along Fox Street near the corner of Rissik Street, just behind Gandhi Square, we noticed an open doorway and walked inside. I didn’t know it then but this doorway led to Somerset House. I had no idea what I was looking at but I could tell this building was special. My eyes went immediately to the dazzling black-and-white checkered floor and the bright green tiles along the walls. I looked up; the building was three stories tall and the two stories above were painted in various shades of red and blue, with ornate wood and iron railings lining the balconies overlooking the atrium. I now know the vaulted ceiling is made of glass, but the ceiling was covered in metal sheeting back then so I couldn’t see it. One end of the building was closed off so I didn’t know Somerset House was actually an arcade, with one side opening onto Fox Street and the other onto historic Gandhi Square. We didn’t stay in the building for long. We weren’t really supposed to be there, and my friends […]

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Mom on road trip in South Africa -- Route 62

The Ultimate Mother-Daughter South African Road Trip

As you may already know, my mother and I took an epic road trip from Cape Town to Joburg. I called it the #2SummersSARoadTrip. Our road trip route (roughly) between Cape Town and Joburg. I’d been wanting to do this for years: Take a full week to drive at a leisurely pace between South Africa’s two largest cities. (In case you’re curious, it takes about 15 hours to do this drive straight through.) There are many different routes to take but we chose a simple one, heading east from Cape Town through the Langeberg and Swartberg Mountains, northeast through the Karoo desert, then straight north through the grassy Free State back to Joburg. We spent two nights in the Robertson Wine Valley (one in McGregor and one in Ashton), one night in Oudtshoorn, two nights in Mountain Zebra National Park (outside Cradock), and drove the rest of the way home from there. As I mentioned previously, I hired a car for this trip through Around About Cars. Mom and our cute little white car, on Route 62 between Montagu and Barrydale. I can summarize this entire post in just seven words: South Africa is a fu*%ing beautiful country. The Naudesberg […]

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Rovos Rail train outside Matjiesfontein

Living It Up on the World’s Most Luxurious Train

I took a ride on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos Rail, which bills itself as the world’s most luxurious train. I don’t consider myself a “luxury travel” writer. I generally blog about everyday places and things I happen to be doing anyway, or things I could at least conceivably afford to do if I wanted to. But every once in a while I receive an invitation to do something so luxurious and fantastic and magical that I simply can’t say no, because it would mean turning down the opportunity of a lifetime. Such was the case for my trip on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos describes itself as “the most luxurious train in the world” and I have every reason to believe this. I rode the train for two days and two nights, from Pretoria to Cape Town, and I can’t imagine how the trip could have been much more luxurious than it was. The old-school Rovos Rail cars on a brief stop outside Matjiesfontein, Western Cape. The best thing about my Rovos Rail experience was I could invite a plus-one. So I invited my mom and it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. Convincing Mom to leave warm, sunny South […]

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Hot air ballooning at Bill Harrops

Hot Air Ballooning Over South Africa

I have a terrible cold, my second in a month. (How is this even possible?) The last thing I felt like doing this morning was waking up at 4:30 a.m. and driving more than an hour through the cold winter darkness. I did that anyway though, because one can’t pass up a chance to go hot air ballooning through the Magaliesberg Mountains at sunrise. This week the South African National Hot Air Balloon Championships are happening at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris in Skeerpoort, near Magaliesburg. I was invited as part of a media contingent to photograph part of the competition — from the vantage point of our own media balloon. Balloons prepare for the air at the start of this morning’s competition. I took a Bill Harrop’s balloon safari once before and blogged about it. I won’t repeat myself now, other than to reiterate that taking a balloon ride over the Magaliesberg is one of the coolest tourism experiences in this area. It’s worth the price — around R2000-R2500, or $150-$185, depending on the package. Anyway, today I just want to show you this morning’s pictures. Up in the Air at Bill Harrop’s Waiting for the balloons to inflate […]

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Downtown Joburg from 120 End Street

On Top of Joburg at 120 End Street

Nothing beats watching the sunset from a Joburg rooftop. Looking down at the crazy evening traffic from the roof of 120 End Street. On Sunday evening, Mark Straw from the Joburg Photowalkers organized a rooftop mission for all of the photographers who contributed their pictures to the recent #JoziWalks weekend. We drove together to 120 End Street, a 26-story residential building in the middle of the CBD, and spent the evening taking pictures there. 120 End Street (center) shot a few months ago from the roof of August House. I’ve always been curious about the view from the top of this building.  On the roof at 120 End. Another Take on the Joburg Skyline I’ve said this a million times before, but Joburg’s skyline is its best asset and I never get sick of looking at it from various angles and heights. Every rooftop provides its own unique interpretation of the city. 120 End Street has a particularly interesting view of Hillbrow and the most chaotic section of the city centre, between Ellis Park and the Noord Street taxi rank. Someone on Instagram asked me which street is in the middle of this frame. I’m pretty sure it’s De Villiers […]

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Yemi and Ladysmith Black Mambazo at MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland

Swaziland’s Bushfire Festival: My Top 8 Tips

Last weekend I attended the MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland. It was my second time at the festival (read about my first Bushfire in 2012) and my seventh trip to Swaziland, one of my favorite countries on earth. But this was my first time doing the full Bushfire experience, i.e. camping out on the festival grounds and staying for the full three days. Crowds at Bushfire. Swazi sunsets are the best. I’m not a hardcore camper nor a hardcore partier, and this generally precludes me from enjoying big music festivals. I went to Oppi Koppi, South Africa’s largest music festival, a few years ago and while I’m glad I did it once and survived, I would never go again. There are far too many people, too much dust, too much ridiculous behavior, and — most importantly — too few clean bathrooms (i.e., none) at Oppi Koppi. Bushfire is different. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a festival and camping is a pain and people are drunk and the whole thing is exhausting and I came home with a stupid cold. But Bushfire is a delightful walk in the park compared to Oppi Koppi. House on Fire, the wonderfully eclectic, funky venue where […]

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Pantsula dance group in Orange Farm

Jaw-Dropping South African Dance in Orange Farm

On Saturday and Sunday I participated in the 2018 #JoziWalks weekend. Sponsored by the Johannesburg Development Agency, #JoziWalks invites people/groups from all over Joburg to organize walking tours in their communities. (Read about last year’s #JoziWalks.) On Saturday I joined the walk through Orange Farm, led by the InTouch Youth Development group. The start of our walk through Orange Farm. Photographer Hymie (left) walks with one of the hosts from Orange Farm. Cute kids who demanded a photograph. Orange Farm onlooker. Orange Farm is a township founded in 1988. It’s an hour’s drive south of downtown Joburg — a perfect illustration of the spacial segregation of apartheid. There are very few jobs in Orange Farm so virtually everyone (I mean everyone able to find a job, which isn’t easy) living there has to make the long, costly commute to Joburg for work. I was excited for this walk as I’d never been to Orange Farm before. It was really interesting seeing a new place, and I was particularly blown away by the dancing. Dancing in Orange Farm We watched three dance groups perform: a Tswana dance group called Jascho, a Pantsula group called Killers Entertainment, and a Zulu dance group […]

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Lascaux rock art painting at Sci-Bono

The Wonders of Rock Art: Now at Sci-Bono

The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is a science museum in Newtown, in the middle of the Joburg CBD. The museum is housed in a cavernous, 110-year-old former electrical workshop. Somehow I’ve never blogged about it before but last week I received a perfect opportunity when I was invited to the launch of Sci-Bono’s “Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Cave and Africa” exhibition. The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre during the opening of the Wonders of Rock Art exhibition. The Wonders of Rock Art The Wonders of Rock Art is a collaboration between Sci-Bono, Wits University, the French Embassy in South Africa, and the French Institute of South Africa. There is a lot going on in this exhibition and I can’t begin to explain it all. But in short, there is a life-sized reproduction of France’s Lascaux Cave, which has been nicknamed “the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory”. The Lascaux Cave was discovered in 1940 (by a bunch of teenagers chasing a dog) and is filled with one of the world’s most stunning displays of prehistoric rock art. A reproduction of Lascaux’s “Panel of the Black Cow”. The reproduction was painstakingly created using the same materials the original Cro-Magnon artists used 17,000 years ago. Reproducing the reproduction. […]

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people walking in 27 Boxes park

10 Places to Visit in Melville’s 27 Boxes

27 Boxes is a retail center made out of shipping containers on 4th Avenue in Melville. The beautiful new children’s play area outside 27 Boxes. I recently wrote a story about 27 Boxes for the Different, which goes into the interesting history of the center and of Faan Smit Park, the Joburg City park that used to be where 27 Boxes is now. So I won’t go into that in this post. I just want to tell you that 27 Boxes has become one of the best places to hang out in Melville. The center didn’t get off to a great start when it opened in 2015; lots of the shops sat empty and Melville residents grumbled that the whole place was an eyesore and would soon go under and close. But new management took over 27 Boxes last year and started fixing everything up. New shop tenants have moved in, and the outside of the center was completely overhauled. It looks fantastic. I go to 27 Boxes all the time and I think everyone else should too. If you want an idea of what to do there, here are 10 of my top recommendations. Ten Great Places in 27 Boxes […]

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Marie-Lais and Lucky cycling through Diepsloot

Cycling Tour Through Diepsloot

Diepsloot is one of those places, like a lot of other Joburg places, where people are afraid to go. A Diepsloot street. Diepsloot, which means “deep ditch” in Afrikaans, is a huge informal settlement in the far northern outskirts of Joburg; in fact, it is so far north that it’s just as close to Pretoria as it is to Joburg. It emerged from nothing on an abandoned farm in the 1990s, as migrants poured into Joburg from rural South Africa and the rest of Africa and had nowhere else to go. Hundreds of corrugated iron shacks sprouted up, then thousands. There were no public services, no police stations or hospitals or shopping centers. Diepsloot was a wild, post-apartheid frontier — one of those places that can only exist in South Africa. Just another day in Diepsloot. Today, hundreds of thousands of people live in Diepsloot and the number continues to grow. The area has more infrastructure than it did a couple of decades ago, but it still has an anything-goes kind of feeling about it. Diepsloot has kota stands, open sewers, vibrant community centers, secret gardens, fashion designers, herds of goats, Rastafarian hair-braiding shops, colorfully painted general dealers, and salons […]

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Skyline from the Sentech Tower

Some Shots From the Top of the Sentech Tower

Last week I got an incredible opportunity to visit the Sentech Tower, a.k.a. the Brixton Tower. A picture I took a few years ago of the Sentech Tower at sunset. While not as tall as the Hillbrow Tower, which is 269 meters (883 feet) high and the tallest structure in Africa, the Sentech Tower is still massive at 237 meters (778 feet). Also, the Sentech Tower is closed to the public and virtually no one gets to go inside. So this was a lucky break. The Sentech Tower was built in 1961 to broadcast radio stations, and later TV stations. It used to have a viewing deck open to the public, but it closed in 1982 due to apartheid paranoia. Same goes for the Hillbrow Tower, which used to have a revolving restaurant at the top. Joburgers live in hope that the towers will both reopen someday. Anyway, visiting the Sentech Tower was cool. I got to see the radio broadcasting equipment on the bottom floor, then took the remarkably fast elevator to the top, and even checked out the hollow inside of the tower on one of the middle floors, with nothing inside it but an elevator shaft. Since […]

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