How to be a first-rate curious Muppie tourist (or not)
“You did what? Weren’t you scared? Are you crazy?!”
How to run the gauntlet in South Africa and other random tourist stuff.
From time to time we have had family visit us with friends from other countries around the world. Apart from our family wanting to see us, they wanted to show their friends Johannesburg or South Africa and its cultures and customs. So we become first-rate curious tourists. Then again, maybe not.
A few weeks ago, we had another opportunity to boast about our hometown and country. Whilst there are numerous tourist attractions in Johannesburg and its outskirts and we showed them some, it was impossible to show them all. To hopefully make up for it, we introduced them to a few other unique moments as well.
Before you read any further, some of you may wonder what a Muppie is. Some define them as middle-aged urban professionals and others say they are Millennial-Yuppies. I think both categories could be quite fitting, seeing we were a mix of young and old.
17 Highlights on how to be a first-rate curious Muppie tourist (or not) and entertain your visitors and tourists from overseas:
In no particular order, over time these are some of the highlights we take our tourists/visitors to.
1. Shop at a local shopping centre.
2. Introduce them to a braai.
3. Rub shoulders with Muppies at the Neighbourgoods Market.
4. Show them an international culture of drinking – and how to do it the local way.
5. Explore parts of the inner city. (that doesn’t happen often)
6. Have breakfast like Yuppies or Muppies at 4th avenue Parkhurst.
7. Tour through Constitution Hill.
8. Sip sundowners at one of the best view points in Johannesburg.
9. Enjoy affordable drinks and dinner at a venue with atmosphere and quality food.
10. Hiking at Mountain Sanctuary Park.
11. A quick tour through the Rhino and Lion Park, just outside Johannesburg.
12. Visit Sterkfontein caves, the cradle of humankind & Maropeng.
13. Spend a night at Pilanesberg.
14. Drive to the Waterberg and choose a multitude of places to go to.
15. Watch the sunset from Northcliff hill.
16. Random and unplanned street entertainment.
17. Have a meaty meal at Carnivores.
By hovering over the pictures and clicking on them, they will enlarge.
By hovering over the blue or underlined script, and clicking on it, you'll open links to find out more information about the places mentioned.
Of course you don’t have to do all these things within one visit, or any of them, but it’s a guideline of what we’ve done over the years with our visitors.
Detailed description - This is how we roll:
1. Shop at a local shopping centre.
One of the things I enjoy doing in other countries is to experience everyday shopping at some of the local supermarkets and shops. Not everyone would agree with me, but I love looking at what produce is available in other countries, at least from a consumer point of view. Granted it may be a middle-class pastime, but I think it can is a good representation of retail necessity (or therapy).
2. Have a ‘braai’.
Everyone in South Africa knows what a braai is. Around the world it is known as a barbeque, but many foreigners are getting to know the word too.
It is impossible to visit South Africa without having one. That is a fact. I defy you to tell me of anyone who hasn’t suggested a braai to their foreign visitors or roped them in to have one.
The traditional method is to pack a stack of suitable wood into a pyramid or tower, lighting it and waiting for the wood to burn and produce coals. The main objective of course is to gauge the heat of the coals. A grid is placed over the coals and meat, chicken or fish is grilled - usually. On extremely rare occasions, vegetables are grilled as well.
If you’re experienced (and sober) this is done fairly swiftly, within an hour or two, from start to finish. The coals should last for the entire duration of the cooking period.
On occasion there are individuals who prefer the period preceding the actual cooking of the meat. The social gathering is enjoyed far more and they forget about cooking or eating. Hence a saying has developed in South Africa: Ons gaan nou braai… This means we will start grilling the meat now. This brings to mind another saying typically South African: “now now”. This could mean anything from in a few minutes time or whenever I get the chance. There is no rush in Africa. Don’t expect anything to be on time.
Back to the braai. The delay fueled by more wood being added to the fire, then waiting for the coals to be just right. Of course this could be a vicious circle if someone constantly tosses wood on the fire. Just relax and go with the flow.
Naturally, to pass the time, another beer is opened, or a glass of wine is poured to pass the time… Nevertheless, usually a good time is had by all. If you’re lucky, your host/hostess will provide you with a few snacks like biltong and Simba chips to keep those hunger pains at bay.
Of course from time to time, we like to do it in style and take our guests to a restaurant who will do it all for us:
Snoek braai (fish over the coals), a potjie (3 legged black pot with a stew) and potbrood (bread baked in black pot)
Neighbourgoods market is a vibrant, bustling food market. It is open on Saturdays only, from 09:00 to 15:00. If you don’t feel like cooking, this is the place to go. Our plan was to have lunch there, but we arrived rather early and opted for #5. More about that later. We rubbed shoulders, literally and figuratively, with the trendy people from Jozi. We elbowed our way around the food stalls, sampling the produce available. It was difficult to decide but the nosh was good.
Take a tour of SAB World of Beer where you’ll sample beer. The tour provides some insight into the culture and history of beer, including its ancient African origins where you’ll sample Umqombothi, a home-made brew. Is this South Africa’s first original craft beer? It could well be, long before craft beer became a trend.
5. Explore parts of the inner city.
Back to #3. Because we were too early for lunch and wanted to go to the World of Beer afterwards, we changed our plans. We’re flexible like that.
We wanted to walk across the Nelson Mandela Bridge. That was easy, because it was a few minutes’ walk from the Neighbourgoods Market, so it wasn’t a challenge.
The World of Beer was just a short walk from there. That was more of a challenge. Not the distance, but walking there.
We ran the gauntlet in our own hometown or actually Newtown. It was indeed short - 1.5 km – about 20 minutes’ walk. No big deal. Unless you took a detour to the Bree street taxi rank and Johannesburg Metro Mall, where we were gaped at. Why you may ask. It is not an area that is frequented on foot by people with a lighter tone of skin. You could see the questioning looks on their faces. What were we doing on their side of town?
Most people would take a guided tour, but of course we do it differently. After all we have our own ‘tour guide’ – an ex student from one of the universities in Johannesburg who frequented the streets while studying architecture, to learn about the history of the city and its buildings.
We weren’t surprised to be accosted by a beggar. Fortunately he left us alone after a while, when he saw he wasn’t going to get much from us. Luckily he didn’t have a whole entourage following him either.
Once we left the mall and crossed the streets of Newtown, we then had to dodge gaping holes with missing man hole covers or inspection covers, while checking our directions to the World of beer on Google Maps. In places we leapt over squalor and litter (or at least I did). Occasionally there was a cloud of stench hanging in the air. This was all done at great speed, of course, because you don’t want to linger too long around there, for safety reasons.
Bree street taxi rank & Johannesburg Metro Mall.
So why would we go to a taxi rank? Not because we needed transport. For one, it’s the biggest taxi rank of its kind in South Africa, where hundreds of minibus taxis converge to take you to your destination.
There is a shopping mall, but very different to your average upmarket mall with polished floors, coffee shops and international brands. You will be astounded at what you see.
Apart from finding transport, not that we wanted any, you can find just about anything. Commuters walk through narrow passageways with vendors selling just about anything, from cheap vegetables to sim cards and possibly some illicit substances as well.
It’s worth knowing you should have a strong stomach though, because your convulsive reflexes could kick in. In places a cloud of foul smells hangs in the air. It’s also a place where you can test your streetwise capabilities.
When we told other family members and friends that we walked around that part of town, the mutual exclamation and consensus was “You did what? Are you crazy?! Weren’t you scared?”
In the early days when we first came to Johannesburg in early 1981, we used to walk the streets quite happily. Now it is a mix of poignant images with many stories to tell. At least, it was enlightening.
South Africa features as the world’s 17th dangerous country and Johannesburg is not excluded. Was it dangerous? No, not at that time. Would I do it again? Yes, but in the right circumstances. Would I walk around on my own? Unquestionably and with certainty I would say most definitely not. However, if you can take an appropriate guided tour it is well worthwhile. Someone who is knowledgeable about the area and can give you a safe experience will make it a valuable experience.
Did I have a warm fuzzy feeling while trotting around at high speed? Not really, but I picked up the everyday city vibe (of which I’m not totally oblivious to). You might find it could challenge your perception of what real life is like in the largest city and capital of our nation.
If you ever find yourself in those areas, I would advise you to keep your belongings safe, don’t wear anything valuable and be alert.
Want to try your luck at the most common public transport in South Africa?
It’s filled with information, right down to all the hand signs.
NB: After all that, we didn't even get a decent photo of the Nelson Mandela bridge.
A great place to browse some boutique shops and restaurants is to walk around 4th Avenue, Parkhurst. See how the young and trendy spend their Saturday and Sunday mornings eating breakfast or browse around the shops for a couple of hours. Unfortunately no photos of that, I don’t do selfies, not even with a smartphone. Oh, wait, then I’m not a Muppie (or a yuppie)!
Here’s a solemn part of our culture and one that all South Africans and tourists should see. But be warned, when you walk out of there, it may feel like you are carrying a crate of shackles and chains on your shoulders.
Constitution hill represents the dark past and the optimistic future of our Rainbow Nation. There is still a tremendous amount of colouring in to do. I’ll let the pictures tell their own story, because I for one could not do it justice. Suffice to say, I am glad I have walked through there, but I did not walk out smiling.
For such an iconic landmark that bears horrific physical evidence of our tumultuous past and our rocky journey to democracy, I am somewhat unwilling to show it to others. Not because they should not be privy to the history witnessed inside and outside its relatively insignificant walls. Indeed, they should.
Here’s why. Firstly we struggled to find the entrance to the museum, and after three attempts of vague instructions issued, we gained access – to the parking area. Upon exiting the parking garage, we weren’t encouraged to go to the information centre. Directions were once again given to us in an indistinguishable manner. Eventually we found our way there.
The surrounding pavements and properties created its own inadvertent implication that we still have a long way to go to resolve the problems of the country. The filth and lack of maintenance knocks you like a punch in the stomach. For such a significant landmark I was embarrassed at the state of the area around it.
On the other side of the road from Constitution Hill & Museum:
After that we need something to lighten our minds. Onto #8.
Another iconic building of Johannesburg is the Four Seasons Westcliff Hotel. A Grande Dame that was given a face lift, and is draped on the hillside. She provides panoramic views over the suburbs of Johannesburg. Here your eyes will sweep over one of the largest man-made urban forests that once used to be savanna. You seriously have to be a yuppie or muppie to eat here though. That leads us to our next destination.
There are many reasonably priced restaurants in Johannesburg and its suburbs. Jolly Rogers, an English style pub in 4th Avenue, Parkhurst is one of them. Yes, that’s right, we went back to Parkhurst. Although a bit cramped it is a good place for a relatively inexpensive meal. Reminds me of a mix of haunts that I used to frequent in my early twenties.
This of course is a favourite camping spot of ours but you can also see it as a day visitor. What is a visit without seeing some of the best scenery just outside Johannesburg? This blog tells you all about it.
The Rhino and Lion reserve is a place worth going to if you only have a couple of hours in Johannesburg and you want to see some wild animals – after all, everyone wants to see a wild beast from SA. The reserve falls within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. It might not be the best reserve in Johannesburg, but you’ll satisfy your curiosity for wild animals.
The Sterkfontein caves is where you will be introduced to Mrs Ples, the oldest lady in Johannesburg, or at least part of her. Her 2.1-million-year-old skull was found at the cradle of humankind. The reserve falls within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, so there is plenty more to see.
When your budget and time is limited, the Pilanesberg is worth going to. There is a variety of accommodation, to suit your pocket. We’ve often camped here.
The Waterberg is north of Pretoria and about 2 to 4 hours outside the city. An interesting biosphere with various options to choose from. Here’s one of our favourite places.
Many a time we’ve taken our visitors up to Northcliff hill to see a 360-degree view over the city of Johannesburg. On a clear day you can even see some of the landmarks of Pretoria, that is about 70 km away.
16. Random and unplanned street entertainment.
At most traffic lights there are often beggars or homeless people, wanting donations. Sometimes we are surprised by a few entrepreneurs who have a unique idea to collect money. Take a look at the unexpected entertainment:
As the name suggests, Carnivores is an experience only suitable for meat eaters. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t bother to go to the restaurant, unless you want to eat all the salad supply that your companions would want to eat. Trust me, there isn’t much. You will get some ‘Phutu Pap & Sauce’ though, which is a porridge made with maize and usually a tomato-based sauce. That’s right, we eat porridge with our main meal.
If you consume too much meat, you might just end up digesting your meat for the next twenty-four hours, so take it easy. You can surrender by hoisting your flag when you’ve had enough. Here’s the thing though, it’s not just your average beef, lamb or pork. This is where you can indulge your taste buds by eating various varieties of venison, right down to crocodile. It’s brought to you on an enormous skewer and they slice off as much as you want.
Do we do enough to satisfy the curiosity of our overseas visitors? There's certainly a whole lot more to see, but we think it's a fairly good mix of showing the essence of a part of South Africa.