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south africa

Joburg cycling tour with Kennedy

Cycle Joburg With Kennedy

Over the past couple of months I’ve participated in two Joburg tours with Kennedy Tembo of Micro-adventure Tours. Kennedy offers all kinds of innovative, outdoorsy tours in Joburg and surrounding areas — from Gauteng all the way to the Drakensberg. I am so excited to try them all. I was planning to write about both the tours I’ve done with Kennedy in this post, but actually there is too much to say so I’m taking them one at a time. First up: Kennedy’s coffee and cycling tour through downtown Joburg. I’ve explored downtown Joburg countless times by car, on foot, on a bus, and even on a skateboard. I’ve done cycling tours in Soweto, Alexandra, and Diepsloot. But I’d never done a cycling tour though the middle of the city before, much less a cycling tour focused on coffee. Cycling Downtown Joburg I know what you might be thinking: Riding a bicycle through the frenetic Joburg central business district (what locals call the CBD) is only for cyclists with a death wish. Trust me though — it works. First of all, Kennedy is a great cycling guide. He is calm (in fact he has nerves of steel), navigates the streets […]

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O' Peri Peri restaurant in Edenvale

This Is the East: O’ Peri Peri of Edenvale

Fourth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. The original inspiration for my “This Is the East” series was a giant tub of peri peri chicken livers ordered from O’ Peri Peri, a Portuguese restaurant in Edenvale. Back then I vowed to eat a sit-down meal at O’ Peri Peri and write a proper post about it. Now I’ve finally done that. A Brief Discussion of Peri Peri Before I proceed, I need to explain peri peri and the significance of Portuguese food in South Africa. Peri peri — which means “pepper pepper” in Swahili — is an informal term for the African Birds Eye chili. The Portuguese were introduced to this blazing hot chili pepper centuries ago, when they began colonizing East Africa. Peri Peri became a staple flavor in Portuguese cuisine and the African cuisine entwined with it. Peri peri, which is usually served as a sauce on chicken or prawns, is very prevalent in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. (The hottest meal I have ever eaten was a piece of peri peri chicken at a beach resort near Vilankulo, Mozambique. I will never forget the searing pain that enveloped […]

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Nguni cow at Brahman Hills in KwaZulu-Natal

A Summer Weekend at Brahman Hills

Two weeks ago I spent a weekend at Brahman Hills, a beautiful lodge near the N3 highway in the Midlands region of KwaZulu-Natal. I stayed at Brahman Hills once before in 2016. Read my previous post for all the details on what Brahman Hills is, what the Midlands is, and what I liked best about my stay — it’s all still true. I went back again for a few reasons: First: I loved Brahman Hills the first time and selfishly wanted to enjoy it again. Second: Last time I went to Brahman Hills with a partner, but this time I was invited as part of an all-female media trip. Traveling with girls is fun. Third: I last stayed at Brahman Hills in winter, when the landscape was dry and desolate. I loved the winter feel but wanted to go back in summer, when everything is green and sparkling. Fourth: I wanted to see more of the Midlands Meander, which has become one of my favorite tourism regions in the country. Fifth: Brahman Hills has a herd of the most beautiful cows in South Africa. New Things About Brahman Hills and the Midlands There are a few important things I either […]

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Pasta from Cremalat

This Is the East: Cremalat

Third in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. Cremalat, like many great food places in the East Rand (a.k.a Ekurhuleni), is hidden behind the gates of a bland industrial complex, in a location that’s hard to describe. The place itself is hard to describe as well. In this case the complex is the Greehills Industrial Estate, in a suburb called Elandsfontein, which is kind of close to Bedfordview but also close to Germiston. Cremalat is kind of a shop and kind of a distributor and kind of a restaurant. It’s hard to visit Cremalat if you have a nine-to-five job and don’t live in the East Rand, because it’s only open during office hours and for a few hours on Saturday. Despite all these challenges, Cremalat is worth making time for. Because pasta. And because cheese. Cremalat started out as two Italian-South-Africans — a husband and a wife — selling Italian cheese in a little stall at the Bryanston Organic Market. Eventually they expanded the business and opened a shop in Kensington. Then they expanded again and opened the current store in Greenhill Industrial Estate. Eventually the owners added a small restaurant, […]

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Madiba statue at Long March to Freedom in Maropeng

Join the Long March to Freedom Art Walk

UPDATE: The Long March to Freedom Art Walk is fully booked. Hopefully we can organize another one soon. Last January I visited the Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument in Fountains Valley, Pretoria. I was enchanted by this glorious phalanx of 100 bronze South African freedom fighters, all marching in the same direction. But the Long March to Freedom was hidden in Fountains Valley. No one would ever come upon it without actively looking. A year later, the monument has moved to a much better location at Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind. Maropeng is one of Gauteng province’s top tourist attractions, and the Long March to Freedom is prominently placed right at the entrance. Now thousands of people will get to see the monument every month, which is exactly the attention it deserves. I took a trip out to Maropeng a couple of weeks ago. Not all the sculptures had been moved yet, but there were enough. The army of heroes marched across the open grassland, on this site where humankind was born, in their quest for freedom. The Long March to Freedom Art Walk Maropeng is about an hour north of central Joburg and I encourage everyone […]

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Meruschka at the Oriental Plaza

For Meruschka (a.k.a. MzansiGirl)

Dear Meruschka, Soon after I heard the news last night, I started making a list of all the adventures we’ve had over the years. The list was longer than I realized. I can’t remember for sure the first time we traveled together. It might have been Port Elizabeth in 2013, when we jumped into a mountain of wool. On another trip we spent 10 days traveling the length and breadth of South Africa. You had a terrible cold the whole time. But still I could hardly keep up with you. We slept in tents and grungy youth hostels and fancy hotels. We flew over the Magaliesberg in a hot-air balloon and paddled down the Orange River in a two-person canoe. (You were a far better paddler than me.) We ate hot Durban curry and drank lots of wine. We swam from South Africa to Namibia and back again, then walked back to camp without shoes. The soles of your feet were riddled with thorns. You laughed and winced but never complained. Later we watched the sun set over the Richtersveld. A couple of years later we traveled around Turkey for two weeks. It was the trip of a lifetime for […]

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Cathedral of Christ the King

5 Beautiful, Secret Places in Downtown Joburg

I was on a walking tour today, talking to someone about Joburg. It suddenly occurred to me there are so many insanely beautiful places in downtown Joburg that Joburgers either: a) don’t know about because the places are really hidden; or b) are afraid to visit, or would never consider visiting because they think the place is too dangerous or too trashed or just not worth the trouble. I talk about some of these places until I’m blue in the face, but I still get the same responses: a) blank looks; or b) questions like, “But is it really safe to go there?” So I thought I’d write an article like this, with a really click-baity title, to get your attention. Here are my five favorite beautiful, secret places in downtown Joburg. If you like beautiful, secret things (and who doesn’t?) you should visit them all. 1) Cathedral of Christ the King Yes, it’s in Hillbrow and Hillbrow can be a little daunting. But the Cathedral of Christ the King has a parking lot with 24-hour security and it’s really not very hard to drive to. Inside, the cathedral is pristine and it’s without a doubt the most beautiful church […]

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Inside City Perk Cafe

10 Rad Joburg Things I Didn’t Blog About in 2018

It’s that time again: When I look back on all the cool stuff I did in Joburg last year but didn’t get around to blogging about. There were many such things in 2018 — I didn’t blog as much as normal last year, especially toward the end. But I’m planning to change that in 2019. I think I’m a much happier person when I blog. Anyway, I did a similar post last year and everyone seemed to like it. If I had written ten more blog posts in 2018, here’s what they would have been about. 1) The Moral Kiosk The Moral Kiosk is one of those hard-to-explain Joburg places. It’s part coffee shop (beans from Father Coffee), part vintage clothing shop, part vinyl record store, part live music venue. The Moral Kiosk is whatever it wants to be on a given day, and I love that. I especially love the Moral Kiosk because it’s on 7th Street in Melville, my favorite place. 2) Joubert Park Greenhouse Joubert Park is Joburg’s version of Central Park: a huge green space right in the center of town. I’m not gonna lie — Joubert Park is not the cleanest and probably not the […]

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Thomas and Guy at Wits after their wedding

A December Wedding in Joburg

Wedding photography triggers my imposter syndrome. I’ve been asked once or twice to shoot weddings, and each time an evil little voice inside my head whispers, “Only real photographers do weddings. Don’t try this. You’ll fail — fail miserably, I tell you — and ruin everything. Bwaaaaaahahaha!” But several months ago Thomas and Guy emailed and asked if I would shoot their wedding. They made it clear they wanted me to do it — despite my total lack of wedding photography experience — because they like my pictures. Thomas and Guy also love Joburg. I met Thomas in 2011, soon after moving here myself, when he was writing this cool blog called Urban Joburg. Thomas and Guy have been living in the U.S. for the past couple of years and moved back to Joburg two weeks ago — just in time for their wedding. They are the loveliest of people. So I swallowed my fear and said yes. On 16 December, still wobbly from my own case of jet lag, I shot Thomas and Guy’s wedding. It was the most fun I’ve had taking pictures in a very long time. Thomas and Guy’s Wedding I love these pictures so much […]

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Learning About DNA (and Me) at Health Works in Hyde Park

Check the end of this post for details on how to win a R1000 voucher to Hyde Park Corner. I haven’t blogged much lately. There are a few reasons for this but the bottom line is I’ve been busy and stressed. My brain is moving in ten directions at once and I can barely remember my own name, let alone blog. It’s not the greatest feeling. As recently as 30 minutes ago someone said to me, “Slow down, Heather. Take 14 deep breaths.” But the universe works in mysterious ways. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that amidst all this craziness I was invited, as part of a blogging campaign, to do something I would never have done otherwise: Get my DNA analyzed at Health Works, a funky health shop in Hyde Park Corner. Health Works in Hyde Park Hyde Park Corner is a fancy shopping mall — a Joburg institution, really — filled with high-end restaurants and stores. But Health Works is different. The owner, Linda Weech, is a self-proclaimed “old hippy girl” who used to work in the clothing business but eventually switched over to health food and supplements because “health is more creative than clothes”. Linda opened Health […]

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Inside the Buddhist Centre in Fietas

Meditating at the Buddhist Centre in Fietas

I’ve been in the U.S. for the past three weeks dealing with very frustrating South African visa problems. I’ve been ridiculously stressed. Then yesterday, in the middle of my most recent meltdown, I remembered my recent visit to the Lam Rim Buddhist Centre and instantly felt calmer. The Lam Rim Buddhist Centre is in Fietas (also known as Vrededorp) — a historically non-white suburb in Joburg that experienced forced removals and virtual destruction during apartheid. The building used to be an Afrikaans Dutch Reformed church. It’s not a place where one would expect to find an octagonal-shaped shrine to Buddha painted in every color of the rainbow. But there it is. This is a rough neighborhood and the centre backs up to an informal settlement. But it’s so peaceful there, inside and out. The garden is simple but pretty and there’s a little koppie, or hill, behind the building where the residents of the centre go to have tea. Marie-Lais and I visited on a Thursday evening and met Shayna, who lives at the centre, and Neil, who leads meditation classes there each Thursday at 7:00 p.m. I mostly took photos but tried to meditate a little between shots. I’d like […]

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Fish from Kafe Noir

November Restaurant of the Month: Kafe Noir

In the very heart of downtown Joburg, on a block no one would expect, is a magical corner of African style. Papy Nakuw, acclaimed Congolose-South-African founder of Urban Zulu, has his fashion design business there, as well as a hip backpackers and a hair salon. But this post is about the culinary magic at the corner of Anderson and Van Brandis Streets. The culinary magic of Kafe Noir. Papy, the King of Cool, at Kafe Noir. Kafe Noir is the restaurant attached to Urban Backpackers. It’s been there for a couple of years but up until recently it was more of a small coffee shop; Papy recently expanded the space and it’s now a full-on restaurant. The entrance to Kafe Noir.  Cool people hanging out in Kafe Noir. The menu at Kafe Noir looks quite basic at first — black type on white laminated paper, mostly sandwiches and burgers with a few South African dishes mixed in. But look again. Find the listing for carapau, a grilled Portuguese mackerel, and order it. Don’t ask questions, just do it. Grilled carapau with chips (fries) and salad. This fish, prepared by South African chef Bokang Legele and costing only a few dollars, is […]

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