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Jackal in Dinokeng

A Quick Visit to the Dinokeng Game Reserve

I recently went to the Dinokeng Game Reserve for a quick, one-night media visit. Dinokeng opened officially in 2011 — pieced together from a bunch of private farms — and is the only free-roaming Big 5 game reserve in Gauteng province. (The Big 5 are lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino.)

Sunset in DinokengSunset in Dinokeng Game Reserve.

The most remarkable thing about Dinokeng — which means “place of rivers” in Tswana — is how close it is to Gauteng’s main city centers. It’s less than 90 minutes from central Joburg and less than 30 minutes (even as few as 15-20) from Pretoria. People are always asking me to suggest quick weekend getaways from Joburg; Dinokeng is one.

One Night in Dinokeng

Chris Pieterse, our guide for the Dinokeng media visit, owns the Chameleon Bush Lodge. My colleague Marie-Lais and I loved our night at the Chameleon and found ourselves wishing we could stay longer.

Chameleon Bush Lodge signFun branding for the Chameleon Bush Lodge.

Room at Chameleon Bush LodgeMarie-Lais’ room — each has a different color scheme, mimicking the changing colors of a chameleon.

Dinokeng is still new and doesn’t yet have the established feel of a park like the Kruger or even the Pilanesberg. While we had quite a few nice game sightings — wildebeest, waterbuck, zebra, eland, ostrich, jackal, etc. — we didn’t see any Big 5 during our visit. (Not that I really care — I’m a strong proponent of never expecting anything when I go on a game drive and being happy with whatever I see.)

Jackal in DinokengA jackal spotted during our self-drive. (Note: There are is an extensive self-drive route in Dinokeng but we found the map impossible to interpret. We just bumbled around for an hour or two until we found our way back to the main road, which worked fine for us.)

Ostrich in DinokengOstrich, seen during the guided game drive we took from Mongena Game Lodge.  

Eland in DinokengEland, the largest antelope in South Africa.

Red Hartebeest in DinokengRed Hartebeest, a fairly rare antelope sighting.

Big 5 or not, Dinokeng is a lovely place to visit and I think it will get better and better as the herds grow and integrate more fully with their surroundings.

In addition to the Chameleon, Dinokeng has lots of accommodation of all sorts — B&Bs, guesthouses, larger lodges with conference facilities, etc. We visited a couple of good restaurants and a brewery, and I hear there is a great American-style barbecue restaurant in the reserve.

I’d definitely recommend Dinokeng to those looking for a quick trip to the bush from Joburg or Pretoria. Dinokeng is also very close to Cullinan, a great day trip in itself. The whole area makes for a nice weekend getaway. I especially recommend the Chameleon, a lovely, affordable, self-catering guesthouse with tons of character.

Aloes at the Chameleon Guest House in DinokengWinter aloes bloom outside my room at the Chameleon.

My visit to Dinokeng was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.

Robert Sobukwe sculpture at Long March to Freedom National Historic Monument

The Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument

UPDATE (JANUARY 2019): The Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument has moved, from the Fountains Valley Resort to Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind. Read about my visit to the new location.

In Pretoria, just off the highway in a local park called Fountains Valley, is an army of life-sized bronze men and women walking toward freedom. This hidden bronze army, made up of heroes who fought in the South African struggle for democracy over the past four centuries, is the Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument.

Robert Sobukwe sculpture at Long March to Freedom National Historic MonumentA bronze of Robert Sobukwe, made by artists Louis Olivier and Nkhensani Rihlampfu, on the Long March to Freedom. The woman to Sobukwe’s left is Helen Suzman

I first encountered these sculptures in 2015, when about eight or ten of them went up in Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. I was disappointed when the sculptures later disappeared from Kliptown and someone told me they’d been moved to a field in Pretoria. That didn’t make sense.

It took me a couple of years to get to the sculptures’ new home in Fountains Valley. Now that I’ve been there, and seen not ten sculptures but 100, all marching in the same direction — some with fists raised, one on horseback, one astride a bull, some carrying books or briefcases and others wielding rifles or spears — I get it.

Sisulus at Long March to FreedomWalter and Albertina Sisulu, leading the charge. Chris Hani is behind the Sisulus to their right. (Rather than explain who each person is, I’ve linked to the heroes’ bios on the National Heritage Monument website.)

When viewed separately, these sculptures are just sculptures. But when viewed together, marching as one, they’re not sculptures anymore. They’re real people. Walking among them is like taking a literal journey through the human history of South Africa.

Frances Beard and Trevor Huddleston in the Long March to FreedomFrances Baard marches toward freedom, flanked by Father Trevor Huddleston to her left and Anton Lamdede to her right. 

Tambos sculptures at Long March to FreedomOliver Tambo (one of the sculptures I originally saw in Kliptown) and his wife Adelaide.

The Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument is the brainchild of Dali Tambo, son of Oliver and Adelaide Tambo. (Wikipedia has a pretty good description of the monument.) There are about 100 sculptures in the collection now and it’s increasing all the time. The eventual plan is to grow the army to more than 400.

The Long March to Freedom has commissioned 40 professional sculptors, many of whom partnered with and mentored a group of less experienced sculptors while creating the works for this exhibit.

Visiting the Long March to Freedom

I visited the Long March to Freedom at sunrise — I was tagging along with some people working on another photography project — and arrived at about 5:30 a.m.. It’s really not necessary to go that early, but I recommend going either early or late in the day because: 1) The light is better for photos; and 2) There’s no shade and I’ve heard it gets very hot in the middle of the day.

Although hardly anyone knows about it, the monument is easy to find. Type “Fountains Valley” into your GPS, or take the Eeufees Road exit off Ben Schoeman Freeway (near the Voortrekker Monument), turn right, and drive straight through the Fountains Valley gates. Once inside, there are signs directing you to the Long March to Freedom.

The sculptures are in a clearing next to the old Moyo restaurant. I was annoyed by the ugly metal fence surrounding the exhibit, which creeps into every photo, and could do without the artificial turf the sculptures are standing on. I understand the need though: The artwork must be protected against theft, and mowing real grass around hundreds of individual statues and plaques is totally infeasible.

None of that really matters because this army is so. freaking. cool.

Gandhi and others at the Long March to FreedomGandhi and friends march toward freedom. I love the statue of author Solomon (Sol) Plaatjie, who is riding a bicycle with a typewriter on the back.

Solomon Mahlangu at the Long March to FreedomSolomon Mahlangu.

Haile Selassie at Long March to FreedomHaile Selassie, one of a few non-South-African leaders represented in the Long March to Freedom. Selassie is a controversial figure, as are several of the other people in the monument. But I think that’s part of the point…Heroes can also be villains. 

Fidel Castro in Long March to FreedomFidel Castro, another controversial leader. I love his sculpture.

Bertha Goxwa at Long March to FreedomBertha Goxwa.

Govan Mbeki at Long March to FreedomGovan Mbeki.

Miriam Makeba at Long March to FreedomMiriam Makeba, with Joe Slovo and Ruth First behind her.

Helen Joseph in the Long March to FreedomHelen Joseph.

Charlotte Maxeke in Long Walk to FreedomCharlotte Maxeke.

Basil d'Oliveira in the Long March to FreedomBasil d’Oliveira, who I was excited to see because: 1) I think he’s the only professional athlete in the army; and 2) My friend Nkhensani Rihlampfu made this sculpture and I’ve seen it several times in his studio.

Traveling Back in Time

When I walked through the monument, I started at the front and moved toward the back. Time moved backward as I walked, and when I neared the rear of the army I met the heroes and warriors of the 19th, 18th, and 17th centuries. This was my favorite section.

Olive Schreiner in the Long March to FreedomEarly feminist author Olive Schreiner, the only hero portrayed with her dog.

Queen Labotsibeni Mdluli at Long March to FreedomQueen Labotsibeni Mdluli. This woman looks fierce.

Cetshwayo kaMpande in the Long March to FreedomCetshwayo kaMpande, last king of the independent Zulu nation.

King Maqoma in Long Walk to FreedomKing Maqoma.

Nommoa (Doman) Goringhaiqua at Long March to FreedomNommoä (Doman) Goringhaiqua, the “oldest” hero in the monument, was born in 1618. I’m particularly fascinated by Doman’s story: He was an interpreter for Jan van Riebeeck, the colonial founder of Cape Town, and later led the first Khoikhoi-Dutch War of Resistance. He is also credited, along with other Khoikhoi-Dutch interpreters of the time, for laying the foundations of the Afrikaans language.

Take the Long March to Freedom

I only spent about 90 minutes at the Long Walk to Freedom but I could have spent double that. I doubt I read even half the plaques. Plus the army will be growing all the time and there is a plan to add several other interesting features to the park. (Read more on the National Heritage Monument website.) I can’t wait to go back.

Take the Long March to Freedom now, while it’s still new and not many people know about it. The park is open every day during daylight hours. Fountains Valley admission fees (which are minimal) apply.

Heather at the Long March to FreedomWalking the Long March to Freedom. I felt like I needed a prop, and since Marie-Lais had my camera I chose my phone. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Church in Cullinan

#Gauteng52, Week 44: 9 Things to Do in Quirky Cullinan

Welcome to Week 44 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Cullinan, a historic diamond-mining town northeast of Pretoria.

Cullinan is a classic day trip destination. It’s a quaint little town about an hour-and-a-half from Joburg (significantly less from Pretoria) with just about enough to see and do in a day — maybe two days for hardcore history buffs. Marie-Lais and I were there from about 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and experienced quite a lot.

Train tracks in CullinanTrain tracks in Cullinan.

Diamonds are Cullinan’s claim to fame: Sir Thomas Cullinan discovered diamonds there in 1898 and later founded the Premier Diamond Mine. In 1905, Frederick George Stanley Wells found the 3100-carat Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond in the world. The Cullinan Diamond went on to become part of the British Crown Jewels.

I’m not particularly interested in diamonds, nor is Marie-Lais. So we didn’t do the diamond mine tour, which I think is the main thing most tourists go to Cullinan for. I was, however, interested to learn that the diamond mines in Cullinan are still active and all the land in the town is still owned by Premier, the mining company Cullinan founded 120 years ago.

What We Did in Cullinan

Here’s a brief rundown of the nine things we did during our brief visit to Cullinan. Most of them were pretty weird but pretty awesome. To see where things are located, refer to this handy map.

1) McHardy House

The McHardy House is the oldest house in Cullinan, built for mine manager William McHardy and his family in 1903. Two of the daughters in the family, Evalina and May, lived together in the house until they died within 10 days of each other in 1984.

There are daily tours of the house but we just walked around the outside and explored the garden.

McHardy House and fountain The McHardy House and a beautiful (but sadly non-functioning) fountain, built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII.

2) The Cullinan History Room

This is a funny little museum behind a diamond mine tour office, filled with interesting junk relating to Cullinan and diamonds. I especially enjoyed flipping through the 100-year-old mining log book.

Cullinan History RoomFunny pictures of British crown jewel stuff in the Cullinan History Room.

3) JanHarmsgat se Agterplaas

JanHarmsgat se Agterplaas is the craziest wedding venue I’ve ever seen. I know it seems weird to visit a wedding venue when you’re not going to a wedding. But trust me on this. It’s more like a quirky art gallery.

JanHarmsgat tin cupsTin cup bunting at JanHarmsgat.

JanHarmsgat wedding hallThe wedding hall.

4) Rust in White

Rust in White is a delightful antique shop next to JanHarmsgat. (Both businesses are under the same ownership.) Rust in White has an incredible selection of tin dishes and crockery, beautiful homemade lace, and a bathroom-sink-water-feature where amorous frogs get it on among floating wildflowers.

Frogs mating at Rust in WhiteA beautiful frog bower.

5) As Greek As It Gets

As Greek As It Gets, true to its name, is considered by many to be one of the best Greek restaurants in South Africa. After my lunch there I see no reason to dispute these claims.

Platter from As Greek As It GetsCalamari, fried haloumi, and spanakopita from As Greek As It Gets.

6) St. George’s Anglican Church

I love looking at quaint old churches and this one fits the bill. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, South Africa’s renowned early 20th-century architect, in 1908.

St. George's Anglican Church in CullinanSuch a cute little church. It has a pot-bellied look to it. I wish we could have gone inside.

7) Cullinan Recreation Centre

This massive building, which was used for various sports and recreational activities, has been standing since 1912. The front rooms of the centre are now an antique shop and the room off to the side is a rather seedy bar. We had to walk through the bar to get to the main hall of the recreation centre, where the walls are painted with massive murals depicting scenes from South African history.

The murals were also painted by Italian POWs — those Italian prisoners certainly were busy.

Murals in Cullinan Recreation HallWeird but strangely beautiful murals (reportedly copied from 3D postcards) in a poorly lit recreation hall next to a bar. Because Cullinan.

Murals in CullinanMy photos don’t do these murals any justice and for that matter, neither do my words.  

8) Railway Station Bars

We drove a few hundred meters to the Cullinan Railway Station and discovered a couple of restaurant/bars next to the tracks. We didn’t eat or drink anything but I imagine the vibe would be nice on weekend afternoons.

Cat outside railway station barA funny cat next to a funny statue, next to a funny bar by the railroad tracks.

Bar next to the railway station in CullinanInside the funny bar, which I imagine is more fun when there are customers in it.

9) The Big Hole (sort of)

Driving back from the railway station, we saw a sign for a big hole overlook. We got excited: Even though we weren’t keen on the diamond mine tour, it would be fun to see a big diamond mine hole. We drove to the overlook and it was indeed very cool.

Heather at the not-to-big holeMe pointing at what we thought was the Big Hole.

A few days later, when Marie-Lais was writing her own story about Cullinan, she realized this big hole actually isn’t the main mining hole in Cullinan. There is a much deeper hole somewhere else. Oh well.

So there are my nine things. If we’d done the diamond mine tour then there would have been ten. Has anyone out there done it? Let me know how it is.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

Hindu temple in Marabastad

#Gauteng52, Week 38: Exploring Marabastad

Welcome to Week 38 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Pretoria suburb of Marabastad.

Marabastad, like Sophiatown and District Six, has a history that can exist only in South Africa.

A suburb of Pretoria just west of the city center, Marabastad has always been a multicultural neighborhood populated mostly by Indian and black South Africans. The area experienced forced removals during the 1940s and 50s, when everyone was forced to move out and people of different (non-white) races were relocated to various townships outside the city.

Building in MarabastadA Marabastad street corner.

Muti shop in MarabastadA traditional medicine (muti) shop in Marabastad.

Unlike Sophiatown and District Six, much of Marabastad was never demolished and the people who were forcibly removed continued to do business there. (There’s a decent Wikipedia entry about Marabastad, although the history section peters out after about 1950. Read more about Marabastad here.)

Marabastad was supposedly named for the Ndebele Chief Maraba, who headed a village of the same name in the 1880s. Even today, Marabastad is the place where Ndebele artisans (like the women I wrote about a few weeks ago) come to buy beads.

Which brings me to the reason for my visit: After my recent beading class at piece, Beauty and Eugenie invited Marie-Lais and me to tag along on one of their bead-shopping missions to Marabastad.

Marabastad Today

Marabastad is what South Africans would call “hectic”. It’s noisy and chaotic and haphazard. Marabastad includes a frenetic shopping area called the Asiatic Bazaar, similar to Joburg’s Oriental Plaza but far less orderly, where you can buy African fabric, pots and pans, cheap Chinese toys, fruits and vegetables, traditional medicine, and everything in between.

And of course there are beads.

Glass beads for saleColorful glass beads for sale at Kalbro.

Our first stop was a shop called Kalbro on 11th Street. Harish, the owner, says Kalbro has been open since his grandfather’s time — more than half a century ago.

In additional to piles and piles of colorful glass beads, imported from the Czech Republic, Harish sells African fabric, blankets, pots, walking sticks, and all the other items given as gifts (lobola) in traditional South African marriages.

Spears, pots, and other items for sale at Kalbro in MarabastadPots, spears, and various traditional weaponry at Kalbro.

Shangaan fabric for sale at KalbroBeautiful Venda fabric.

Busy counter at KalbroThe busy shopping counter at Kalbro.

Harsha Kalan, owner of KalbroHarish Kalan, third-generation owner of Kalbro. Note the Ndebele and Basotho blankets behind him.

Beauty and Eugenie bought some silk beading thread at Kalbro, then we walked through the Marabastad maze to another shop called Makkie, Shop D4 in the Asiatic Bazaar.

After some discussion with the manager, who wasn’t too keen for me to take photos at first, I finally received a green light.

Beauty inside MakkieBeauty (center) peruses the merchandise.

Selinah and beadsSelinah, who has been working in this shop for 35 years, shows me some lavender beads.

Selinah and YasinSelinah and her colleague Yasin, who decided to model some necklaces for me.

From Makkie, our band of four women tramped all around Marabastad — up and down various streets, through the fruit and vegetable market, and a final stop for Beauty to buy mopane worms at an outdoor stall.

Mopane worms in MarabastadMopane worms (in the buckets on the right), a type of caterpillar, are a southern African delicacy. They are bought dried, then eaten as is or boiled and topped with sauce. I can’t stomach them, mainly because of the caterpillar-y texture.

The Mariamman Temple

Back in the car, we drove a few blocks to Marabastad’s most famous landmark: The Mariamman Temple. The temple was built in 1905 and is stunningly beautiful and completely incongruous with its surroundings.

Mariamman temple in MarabastadThe Mariamman Temple, surrounded by minibus taxis.

Beauty and I tried to get inside the temple but alas, we had no luck. This area is what South Africans would call “dodgy” and we couldn’t really hang around waiting for someone to let us in. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back another time and get better photos.

The Mariamman Temple is at 23 6th Street in Marabastad. If you want to explore Kalbro and other Marabastad shops, 11th Street is as good a place to park as any. Be sure to hold on to your valuables and be well aware of your surroundings while walking in Marabastad.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

Inside the Prison Museum in Pretoria

#Gauteng52, Week 31: Pretoria’s Prison Museum

Welcome to Week 31 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Correctional Services Museum, or Prison Museum for short, in Pretoria.

In another #Gauteng52 episode of “I Almost Didn’t Write About This Because It’s So Freaking Weird,” I bring you the Prison Museum.

Inside the Prison Museum in PretoriaThe entrance hall of the Prison Museum.

When my friend Ted told me he was going to visit South Africa’s Prison Museum, on the grounds of an actual prison, curiosity got the better of me. I became even more excited when I googled the place and found an article saying museum-goers must walk through the visitors’ area of the prison to get to the museum.

Ted and I drove to the Kgosi Mampuru Prison, formerly Pretoria Central Prison, not far from downtown Pretoria. We pulled up at the gate and drove through after a cursory search of Ted’s trunk.

The Prison Museum building is just inside the prison grounds, to the left of the front gate. The museum, which used to be the prison manager’s house, has its own parking lot.

Next to that parking lot is a small building that looked full of civilians — presumably the visitors’ area. We never got the chance to walk through it. Maybe we would have if we’d arrived on foot? Who knows. I was sad though.

I took very few pictures at the Prison Museum. Halfway through our visit, a stern prison officer discovered us and told me photography is not allowed.

Inside the Prison Museum

The Prison Museum suffers from an identity crisis emblematic of many other South African museums, and 21st-century South Africa more generally.

The moment I walked through the door I could see this is an apartheid-era museum, created before democracy. (Interestingly though, the description of the museum on the Department of Correctional Services website says it wasn’t opened until 1992, just two years before Nelson Mandela was elected president.)

The current government seems to be putting forth some effort to maintain the museum, but not enough to properly update the place so it makes sense in modern times. The result is confounding, especially because there are very few explanations of any of the items on display in the museum.

Weird statues in the Prison MuseumUmmm…huh? The bust on the floor depicts John Vorster, one of apartheid’s most notorious strongmen. I only know this because Ted told me. I have no idea what’s going on with the scary wooden sculpture next to him.

Prison torture deviceThis structure, placed awkwardly in front of a bunch of portraits of early 20th-century prison staff sports teams, is a well-known apartheid torture device: Prisoners were tied to it and beaten from behind. (I know this because I saw one in the museum at Constitution Hill.) With the exception of the handwritten blue paper on the wall that reads, “Corporal Punishment Triangle”, there is no further description of the device.

Prison Museum placards
The placards behind the torture device. There were many photos like this in the museum, portraying all-white groups of prison staff engaging in recreational activities. The most hilarious picture showed a group of guys in bathing suits at a pool, having a pillow fight. The caption read something like, “Prison staff engage in a pillow fight.” I’m devastated I don’t have a photo of that.

With the exception of one small section of the museum with a life-sized replica of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, and a small cabinet with prisoner crafts — sculptures made with melted wax, match-stick houses, etc. — every item on display seemed to be from the pre-democracy era. I saw no other mention of the anti-apartheid struggle and very little mention of black people at all. I did enjoy looking at the wide range of prison guard uniforms worn over the decades, especially the women’s uniforms.

I was also fascinated that an actual prisoner was working in the museum as a janitor. He wore an orange jumpsuit and shot me a friendly smile. I sensed he wanted to be photographed and I longed to photograph him, but I had a strange feeling the stern prison officer would probably notice me doing that and tell me to stop taking pictures. (She did that anyway about three minutes later. Fortunately she didn’t make me delete the ones I’d already taken.) I managed one covert shot of the friendly prisoner.

Prisoner working at museum Blurry shot of the prisoner cleaning the floor. The stern prison officer is on the right.

A Walk Around the Prison

When the stern prison officer inevitably approached to demand I stop taking photos, Ted distracted her with a bunch of other questions about the prison. She eventually warmed up to us and told us about the Gallows, another section of the museum that was supposed to open several years ago but never did.

The Gallows is where many high-profile South African prisoners were hanged over the years. (The death penalty has since been abolished in South Africa.) Ted asked the stern officer if we could see it, but she said we couldn’t because it’s inside “C-Max”, the maximum security section of the prison, and they had just had riots there. But after some prompting, Ted convinced the stern officer to take us for a short walk to look at C-Max from the outside. I’m sure she wasn’t supposed to do that so I’m intentionally not naming her.

The C-Max building is the original prison building and it looks like a red brick castle. It killed me not to take photos of it but the stern prison officer was obviously having none of that. (I did ask.) Ted snuck a couple of shots with his phone.

Castle-like prison building Covert shot of the castle-like maximum security building at Kgosi Mampuru. (Photo: Ted Botha)

As we walked back to the car, a prison van stuffed with men drove past. One man pressed his face against the tiny barred window at the back, and waved. I didn’t have time to wave back.

The Prison Museum is at 001 Kgosi Mampuru Street, Pretoria. Visiting hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Call +27-12-314-1766.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

Retro Rabbit antique shop in Pretoria

#Gauteng52, Week 26: Pretoria’s Quirky Antique Route 6

Welcome to Week 26 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Antique Route 6 in Pretoria.

South Africa has a tumultuous past and a tumultuous present. The only thing that’s consistent here is change. South Africans tend to be constantly on the move, coming and going, accumulating and leaving behind trails of possessions that must be bought and sold, and bought and sold again.

This state of flux leads to many interesting cultural phenomena, one of which is an abundance of antique shops.

Antique shops are everywhere in South Africa but in certain places they concentrate together in clumps. Johannesburg’s Long Street is one example. Pretoria’s Antique Route 6 is another.

Retro Rabbit antique shop in PretoriaThe Retro Rabbit Antique Shop in Pretoria North.

Antique Route 6 is a bunch of antique shops in Pretoria North, not far from the Hatfield Gautrain station, clustered mainly around Pierneef Street and Soutpansberg Road. The route has its own online map, at

I have no idea why this route is called Antique Route 6. Are there another five antique routes somewhere? If anyone knows the answer I’d love to hear it.

I’m not much of an antique shopper. Shops like this are crammed full of a million things, most of which are junk, and I don’t have the patience to sort through it all looking for treasures. But I do love taking quirky antique photos. So I spent a morning browsing Antique Route 6 with my friends Kate and Alessio, who spend a lot of time in Pretoria and are semi-regulars on the Route. Here are the photographic highlights.

Browsing Antique Route 6

Owner of Retro Rabbit on Antique Route 6The owner of Retro Rabbit Antiques, which wins the prize for best shop name, relaxes in the sun on the cluttered stoep.

Dolls in Retro RabbitCreepy cupie dolls at Retro Rabbit. Creepy doll photography is one of my favorite antique-shopping activities.

Creepy mannequin at Bellbottoms AntiquesA creepy mannequin (almost like a creepy doll) at Bellbottoms Antiques. Bellbottoms was my favorite shop of the day.

Dolls at Sinkhuisie AntiquesThe creepiest dolls of all at Sinkhuisie Antiques. Check out the one doll’s hairy ear.

Street signs at SinkhuisieLots and lots of street signs. Kate wondered aloud how they got here…Isn’t it illegal to take these signs from the road? Nonetheless, I’m kicking myself for not buying one.

Kate browses watches at SinkhuisieKate browses watches at Sinkhuisie, which has two locations along Antique Route 6.

Medicine bottles at SinkhuisieAntique bottles with weird stuff still in them.

The Labyrinth House Antique Shop yielded the best quirky antique photo of the day.

Heather outside Labyrinth Antiques
This is me outside Labyrinth House, posing for a shot on an antique gynecological examination table. We were rushing to take the picture before the staff noticed, and Alessio was already walking off in embarrassment, pretending he didn’t know us. But I think the result was worth it. (Photo: Kate Els)

Where to Eat Along Antique Route 6

There are some real culinary finds along Antique Route 6. We managed to sample three of them.

Grounded at Echo

Grounded at Echo (353 24th Ave, Villieria) is a cozy coffee shop/restaurant with a lovely community vibe.

Leonard, server at GroundedLeonard, our server at Grounded.

Cake from Grounded at EchoA slice of pumpkin spice cake at Grounded. Incidentally, while we were there we bumped into my friends Jenny and Ryan, who live in Pretoria North and are regulars at Grounded. Jenny actually baked this cake.

Pure Café

Pure (137 Thomson Street, West Colbyn) offers a unique menu with innovative flavor combinations and good prices. We had lunch there and I loved the dish I ordered, an aubergine stuffed with cheese and pine nuts and herbs.

Lunch at Pure CafeLunch at Pure.

We had a strange service experience at Pure, which I feel obliged to mention. I found a small piece of plastic in my meal — an honest mistake that could happen anywhere, but nonetheless quite serious. The weird part is that no one really apologized or did anything to remedy the problem when we pointed it out, perhaps out of embarrassment. I’m going to chalk this up as a fluke and still recommend the restaurant because the food was otherwise great.

Royal Danish Home Made Ice Cream

Royal Danish (198 Bernard St, Colbyn), in the same shopping center as Pure, is a delightfully retro ice cream shop serving really good ice cream. Great ice cream like this is hard to find in South Africa.

Ice cream cone from Royal DanishA double scoop from Royal Danish.

Find all the locations for the Antique Route 6 shops on their website.

This week marks the halfway point in my #Gauteng52 challenge. Yay! I’m really enjoying it and excited for all of the new places still in store. To celebrate, I’ve created an interactive Google Map showing all of the places I’ve blogged about so far, with photos and links to each blog post. Enjoy. You can also find a reverse chronological list of my #Gauteng52 posts here.

Tswaing Crater and lake

#Gauteng52, Week 18: Tswaing Meteorite Crater

Welcome to Week 18 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Tswaing Meteorite Crater.

About 200,000 years ago, a swimming-pool-sized rock crashed into South Africa. The collision created the Tswaing Meteorite Crater. Two thousand centuries later, the Tswaing Crater is a nature reserve in the far northern reaches of Gauteng Province.

The Tswaing Crater is not to be confused with another nearby impact crater, the Vredefort Dome, which is thought to be the largest impact crater in the world and is about 166 times larger than Tswaing. (The Tswaing Crater is 1.8 kilometers, or just over a mile wide, and the Vredefort Crater is an unfathomable 300 kilometers wide.)

Ray and I had been wanting to visit the Tswaing Crater together forever, and I’ve been really excited to feature it on #Gauteng52. Unfortunately our visit didn’t go as smoothly as planned and we didn’t experience the crater as fully as we’d hoped. I have some valuable tips to share that will make your visit to the Tswaing Crater more fantastic than ours was.

Tswaing Crater and lakeThe Tswaing Crater, looking way less impressive than it does in real life. The hills in the background form the far rim of the crater. The lake in the middle has very high salinity so nothing lives in there. (Tswaing means “place of salt” in Setswana.)

Visiting the Tswaing Meteorite Crater

The Tswaing Crater is 100 kilometers (62 miles) from central Johannesburg. Ray kept telling me we needed to get going, as it would take at least an hour and a half to get there and the park closes at 4:30. I didn’t believe him. Gauteng is a tiny province with great roads, I thought, and nothing is more than an hour from anything else without traffic. I dilly-dallied, returning home at 10 a.m. after a boxing workout and spending way too much time in the bathtub.

By the time we filled up with gas, stopped for snacks, and finally left town, it was well past noon.

There is no direct route from Joburg to Tswaing. We had to drive through downtown Pretoria, fight traffic, then take winding roads another 25 kilometers from Pretoria to the reserve. Tswaing Crater is adjacent to Soshanguve, a sprawling township of a few hundred thousand people, and we had to drive through Soshanguve to get to the reserve. The roads aren’t great. (Although the scenery in Soshanguve is super interesting — lots of goats and chickens and interestingly displayed filleted fish corpses for sale along the road.) Also Google Maps got us temporarily lost.

We arrived at Tswaing after 2:30, which didn’t leave us enough time for the 7.5-kilometer hike from the crater rim to the lake and back. Nonetheless, we made the best of things.

After paying our R30 ($2) admission at the reception building, we drove a few minutes to the trail head. Despite the dense population outside the reserve, it’s very peaceful inside. We saw a couple of zebras and several pretty birds.

At the trail head, we parked and met Alpheus, our assigned security guard. Security in Tswaing has become an issue over the last few years due to the high levels of poverty in the area, so each group gets a security guard free of charge. (Don’t let this worry you — the guards are personable and good at giving guests a proper amount of a personal space.)

We took the short hike to the rim of the crater and back, which takes about half an hour each way depending on how often you stop.

View of Soshanguve from TswaingA distant view of Soshanguve from the Tswaing reserve. 

Ray walking toward Tswaing CraterRay approaches the rim of the crater.

Ray at the craterRay contemplates the crater. It was beautiful, but 3:30 pm. is the worst time to be there. The sun was shining directly toward us, making photography difficult.

We thought about attempting the hike down the rim, but this would mean forcing Alpheus to work late and possibly driving home in the dark on sketchy roads. So we skipped the longer hike but still caught a few interesting sites on our way back to the trail head.

(It so happens that my blogger friend Iga visited Tswaing Crater the day after we did, and got there early enough to take the longer hike. I saw her photos on Facebook and they are way more interesting than mine.)

Ray at Tswaing salt-bleaching siteIn the early-to-mid 20th century there was a commercial salt extraction plant at Tswaing. As this placard says: For a brief time in the 1960s the salt extraction company attempted (unsuccessfully) to whitewash the salt from its natural brown color to white. I find this such an interesting metaphor for apartheid South Africa.

Heather at the old salt processing plant in TswaingWalking through the old salt processing area. (Photo: Ray)

We had a good time on the walk back, chatting with Alpheus and learning interesting tidbits from Ray, an archeologist who knows a lot about really old rocks.

Rocks in TswaingRock in the rim of the crater that shows how the earth buckled and turned downward when the meteorite hit.

Alphas holding pottery piece in Tswaing Crater reserveAlpheus holds a shard of pottery, possibly more than 1300 years old, that Ray picked up along the trail. Ray finds ancient pottery shards like this all over the place. Alpheus didn’t believe him at first.

We got back to the trail head a little after 4:00 p.m., ate our snacks at a picnic table, then began the long drive back to Joburg.

The moral of the story: When visiting the Tswaing Crater from Joburg, leave early in the morning to get there as close to the park’s 7:30 a.m. opening time as possible. This will give you plenty of time to make the drive (allow two hours to be safe), hike down to the crater lake at a leisurely pace, and take beautiful photos of the lake with the sun at your back.

The Tswaing Meteorite Crater is at Plat 149 JR Soutpan, Soshanguve. Call +27-76-945-5911 for more information.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

Freedom Park Isivivane

#Gauteng52, Week 6: Pretoria’s Freedom Park

Welcome to Week 6 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Freedom Park, a monument to those who fought and died in South African conflicts.

South Africa, like most countries, has a complicated and tumultuous history. There are many fantastic, thoughtfully designed museums and memorials commemorating this history and I’ve been to most of them. But somehow Freedom Park in Pretoria eluded me until last month.

S'Khumbuto at Freedom Park Looking out over S’khumbuto, the main memorial at Freedom Park.

Freedom Park was founded in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and based on a mandate by President Nelson Mandela, who said in 1999: “…the day shall not be far off, when we shall have a people’s shrine, a Freedom Park, where we shall honor with all the dignity they deserve, those who endured pain so we should experience the joy of freedom.” The park officially opened in 2007.

I’ve been holding off on writing about Freedom Park because it’s a difficult place to describe. Unlike the more popular historical museums like the Apartheid Museum, the Hector Pietersen Museum, and Constitution Hill, which present South Africa’s story with huge volumes of information, the story that Freedom Park tells is subtler, earthier. Freedom Park tells its story mainly through symbolism rather than words. Freedom Park is also a bit hard to find and doesn’t do the greatest job of selling itself.

These are some of the reasons why lots of people don’t know about Freedom Park, or like me, took years to finally visit it. That was a mistake though. Not only is Freedom park a beautiful, contemplative place, but it’s just important to go.

Protea in Freedom ParkA protea, South Africa’s national flower, blooms on a hillside in Freedom Park.

Exploring Freedom Park

I went to Freedom Park with my friend Kat, a professional tour guide and blogger who knows a ton about South African history and has visited Freedom Park many times. Kat gave me great insight into the park, but for others I would recommend taking a guided tour. Tours take place every day at 9:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m., at no additional charge over the R50 adult entrance fee (R100, or $7.50, for overseas visitors).

If you go to Freedom Park in summer, please do not go at 11:00 a.m. like we did. Pretoria is hot, people. We nearly melted.

Kat at Freedom Park Kat winds her way up one of the lovely paths in Freedom Park. It was way hotter than it looks.

In the words of the Freedom Park brochure: “It stands as a testimony to eight conflicts that have shaped the South Africa of today. These are Pre-Colonial Wars, Slavery, Genocide, Wars of Resistance, the South African War, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Struggle for Liberation.”

Basically, South Africa’s pre-1994 history was filled with violence. Hundreds of thousands of people died in that violence, which, for better or worse, helped make South Africa the country it is today. Freedom Park seeks to honor all the people who died. Among other things, the park includes a massive “Wall of Names” with space for 150,000 names. 75,000 have been inscribed so far.

Freedom Park Wall of NamesA piece of the Wall of Names. This section lists the names of people who died during the South African War, formerly called the Anglo-Boer War.

Wall of Names closeupThe Sharpeville Massacre, one of the most well-known examples of anti-apartheid protests that led to carnage at the hands of South African police. 69 people were killed and 180 were seriously injured.

Freedom Park is designed for rambling. Different paths lead to peaceful gardens and water features where you can sit and think. The park also offers great views of both downtown Pretoria and the Union Buildings to the north, and the Voortrekker Monument to the south.

Water feature at Freedom ParkI love this sculpture. I don’t know who the artist is.

Voortrekker MonumentView of the Voortrekker Monument from the top of Freedom Park. It’s no accident that Freedom Park was built in close proximity to the Voortrekker Monument, which commemorates Afrikaner identity and the Great Trek

If you have a whole day, I would recommend visiting both Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument at the same time. There is a road connecting the two, and visiting them together will provide interesting insight on how South Africa became the country it is today.

My favorite part of Freedom Park is Isivivane, which serves as a sacred and symbolic resting place for all of those who died in South Africa’s conflicts. Representatives of all the country’s ethnic and religious groups came together to design this place, and to cleanse and heal the space to make it welcoming for everyone. Isivivane includes a circle of 11 boulders — one from each of South Africa’s nine provinces, one representing the national government, and one representing the international community — that creates a communal spiritual resting place.

Freedom Park IsivivaneI love the view from this spot, and the way the boulders look kind of like people. 

In many ways, Freedom Park represents all of the best things about modern South Africa. As I said, it’s a hard place to explain. Please go see it for yourself.

Freedom Park is located at the corner of Koch and 7th Avenue, Salvokop, Pretoria. (Use a GPS because it can be tricky to find.) More information at +27-012-336-4000.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

White and purple jacarandas on Herbert Baker Street

The Quest for Pretoria’s White Jacarandas

I’m in America right now and I had really been looking forward to seeing the fall leaves here. I came home at exactly this time last year and the leaves were spectacular. Alas, it’s been a warm autumn on the East Coast and that seems to have slowed down the color change. The leaves have only just begun their transition in Maryland and Virginia.

Not to worry though. While I don’t have any good fall leaf photos yet, I do have good pictures of white jacarandas in South Africa.

White jacarandas looking downThe white jacarandas of Herbert Baker Street.

Two weeks ago I went to Pretoria with my journalist friend Marie-Lais Emond, who writes a weekly column for the Citizen called “Other Side of the City”, to find the legendary white jacarandas. Marie-Lais had known about Pretoria’s white jacarandas for years but had never been able to find them before. Finally this year, someone gave her their exact location on Herbert Baker Street in Groenkloof.

What’s the Big Deal About White Jacarandas?

A bunch of white-flowering trees in early summer might not seem like a big deal to those of you on the American East Coast and in Europe. But if you live in Africa or California or South America or anywhere else jacarandas grow, you’ll understand the significance. Jacarandas are known for being purple; the white ones (at least the white ones in South Africa) are rare and reportedly sterile, meaning they don’t reproduce. Herbert Baker Street is the only place in South Africa where the white trees grow in abundance — there are several dozen of them snaking up the curvy road.

White jacarandas on Herbert Baker StreetWhite jacarandas with a hint of purple on Herbert Baker Street in Pretoria.

Purple jacarandas with a hint of whitePurple jacarandas with a hint of white.

Half purple half whiteHalf-half.

We arrived on Herbert Baker in the middle of a rainstorm and were instantly enchanted by the clouds of white interspersed with purple. I practically ran up and down the street, ignoring the raindrops and thunder, shooting like mad.

White and purple jacarandas with Pretoria Telkom TowerWhite and purple jacarandas with the Pretoria Telkom Tower in the distance.

Marie-Lais marvelingPost-rain, Marie-Lais marvels at the white and purple flower clouds.

White and purple jacarandas on Herbert Baker StreetThis shot is one of my favorites because it includes a yellow-flowering, green-barked fever tree among the jacarandas.

White jacarandas on purpleThis shot is my very favorite.

After roving up and down Herbert Baker for a while, Marie-Lais and I drove a few minutes up the hill in nearby Fort Klapperkop Nature Reserve to check out the white jacarandas from above.

White jacarandas vertical

White jacarandas from Fort KlapperkopThis perspective shows how sparse the white trees are compared to the purple.

Purple-jacaranda-lined streetMiddle Street, a more standard purple-jacaranda-lined street in Pretoria.

Purple jacaranda streetI couldn’t resist including one fully purple street. I have to confess that Pretoria’s jacarandas are much more spectacular than Joburg’s — Pretoria, an hour or so north of Joburg, is a degree or two warmer and the blossoms seem more vivid there.

Read more about Pretoria’s jacarandas in this post by my Pretoria-based travel-blogger friends, the Louwkuls.

Pretoria’s jacarandas peaked earlier in October and I’m not sure how they’re looking this week. But if you hightail it up to Herbert Baker Street immediately, you might still find some white blossoms hanging around. If not, there’s always next year: These white and purple beauties won’t be replanted after they die (jacarandas are classified as alien species in South Africa and it’s against the law to plant new ones) but they’ll probably live another hundred years or so.

White and purple jacaranda blossomsPurple and white blossoms, living together in harmony. How sweet.


Marie-Lais’ column in last Saturday’s Citizen, which was accompanied by my photos, doesn’t appear online so I’ve included the text below.

By Marie-Lais Emond

It’s a dark and stormy few minutes. Lightning cracks; a projectile rain spews. Then, following a thunder roll, they appear in front of us: the almost fabled white jacarandas of Pretoria’s Groenkloof. Here are maybe eighty lined up, branches thrashing in the wind, all down this one road. They were grafted originally, rather than planted, here because they are sterile. Hair and skirt swirling, I rush across the road for the long anticipated better look. A silver car draws up.

“Are you on your way then?” I stop and turn slowly against weather odds, to face the driver.

“Why?” I demand, rather than ask, through lots of hair.

“Oh you look just like someone I know,” she wails. “Enjoy!” Her street gate having glided open, glides back to cover her disappearance.

Heather is on her knees on the wet pavement, surrounded by what looks like flung white confetti. That’s the thing. I’ve seen many pictures of the white jacarandas but they don’t always read as jacarandas without some reference. In this section of Herbert Baker Street, some purple ones oblige as back and side drops. Sun starts streaming though dark cloud and light patches the street.

“It’s like the garden of Eden,” Heather yells above more thunder. She’s looking up at the two different jacaranda colours and a green trunked, yellow blooming fever tree. On the other, loftier side of the road in this part of Groenkloof are one-way mirrored security rooms adjoining the entrances and the gardens look as though they are planted to overawe rather than delight. Soaring palms stand next to soaring cedar trees on tall terraces. Further up and away is Klapperkop.

“We’re actually looking for zebras.” A man with a blond fringe and snor is holding a can of Carling Black Label, surrounded by a crowd of inebriated young Thais, all the males holding Carlings too. I was indicating to them the impressive line down there of the white jacarandas. Heather and I have stopped on Klapperkop next to a capacious four by four. A small girl scampers around with a pink towel to protect her against the faint drizzle. Her elder sister, without a Carling and walking steadily approaches us. The blond points his thumb. “This is my wof.”

As we return I mentally replay the sounds of the street where we were, the white flowers falling with that satisfying “plip” of all jacarandas.

Voortrekker: My New Favorite Afrikaans Word

Joe and I woke up ridiculously early one Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day. Joe had an idea for an outing but wouldn’t tell me what it was. He ushered me into the car and we headed up the M1 toward Pretoria.

When I saw this granite monolith staring down at us, I realized Joe was taking me to the Voortrekker Monument.

Die Voortrekkermonument. (It’s all one word in Afrikaans.) Voortrekker, which means ‘pioneer’, is pronounced ‘FOUR-trecker’, with a rolled R that I can’t replicate.

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Talent-Scouting in Pretoria

Pretoria, which sits just north of Joburg, is smaller and tamer than its neighbor to the south. Some Joburgers consider Pretoria to be a boring backwater, while many Pretorians see Joburg as a crowded, wild place that’s best avoided. (I grew up near Baltimore, Washington D.C.’s northern neighbor. A similar rivalry exists between those two cities.)

Pretoria City Hall, one of many historic buildings in Pretoria.

Pretoria is the capital of South Africa. Well, sort of. The country actually has three capitals: Pretoria, where the president is; Cape Town, where the Parliament is; and Bloemfontein, where the courts are. Sort of. South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, actually sits in Joburg. But Joburg isn’t one of the capitals. Go figure.

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Rugby: REALLY not a Game for Sissies

A few months ago I attended my first cricket match and learned that cricket is not a game for sissies. Yesterday I discovered rugby is not for sissies, either.

I’ve watched rugby on TV before, and I’ve seen Invictus. But nothing prepared me for the moment after the whistle blew, when I watched a guy catch the ball, run for a few seconds, and get slammed to the turf by a 1500-pound mob of muscle. Without pads or a helmet.

My sports photography leaves a lot to be desired, but you get the idea.

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