No matter how you slice it, Johannesburg is a big, sprawling city. And as much as we like it here, sometimes we just want to get out of the concrete jungle and amongst real nature. There are a few great parks near us, like the Emmerantia Dam and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, or the grassy Delta park where we went on a 5k Park Run this weekend. But still, I was anxious to get outside to enjoy the spring weather, so on Sunday we packed a picnic and drove 45 minutes out of town to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens.
Apparently, we weren’t the only Joburgers with the same idea. The parking lot was packed, and families and parties were checkered across the main lawn with their picnics spread out.
We started wandering around the various themed gardens (starting with the “geological garden,” naturally), and before long we found ourselves on a rough path in the woods along a creek. We had our lunch on a bench, then kept wandering. Along the way, we stumbled upon a big tortoise who was sharing the path. It was such a nice surprise to see real wildlife so close to the city!Crossing a bridge, we also spotted the nests of Weaver birds hanging over the creek. These birds are so fascinating; they artfully weave their homes with the entrance at the bottom to protect their nest from both rain and birds of prey.
We watched one handsome guy flit to and from his nest carrying grass and twigs, then working away inside to weave it all together.The real highlight of the Botanical Gardens was the waterfall. I was expecting some dinky little trickle of water, but thanks in part to the thunderstorms we’ve been getting for the last week, these were real, gushing falls. They were stunning, actually, cascading off the rock into the green gardens below.
I had heard good things about the park before, and I now I know why. The Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens are a worthwhile escape from the city – the perfect mix of wild nature and manicured gardens.
This little day walk reminded me of another hike we took earlier this year that I never got around to blogging about. The Hennops trail is less than an hour outside of Joburg, but it feels quite remote. There are three routes to take, and we took on the more challenging Krokodilberg Route, 11.33 kilometers of walking.The hike starts off meandering along the river and then crosses a suspension bridge. Soon we were scrambling down gorges on old tires to discover caves, and climbing up rock faces for views. One of the caves we peeked into was used as a field hospital during the Anglo-Boer war.The majority of the walk crosses the wide-open veld (field), giving an idea of what this area must have looked like 150 years ago before the first discovery of gold and the flood of people that followed.Hennops trail ends in a fairly dramatic way. To get back across the river, hikers sit two at a time in a squeaky cable car that zips across the rushing waters. Other hikers standing on the other side help pull it across. The only safety precaution here is a dinky chain across the lap that does, essentially, nothing. This certainly qualified as an “only-in-Africa” experience, which made it all the more fun.