Not many Johannesburg establishments can claim to have been in continuous existence for 3-billion years. But Melville Koppies can.
Fair enough, Melville Koppies Nature Reserve was created, and the area declared a Johannesburg City Heritage Site with a view to conserving the last of the Witwatersrand's ridges, only after gold mining had largely rearranged the rest. But the rock formations go back 3-billion years.
We know people were living here as long as 500,000 years ago, thanks to a late Stone Age living floor. That's a layer of earth with tools and artifacts that can be dated to that epoch, with items left by later inhabitants lying in shallower soil. These other residents arrived recently, only about 1,000 years ago. Their remaining stonework (thought to have been a complex of cattle kraals) still stands on the northern slopes of the Koppies. In 1963, or in geological terms, yesterday, an ancient iron-smelting furnace was excavated and is on exhibited to the public.
Proclaimed in 1959, the 50 hectares of Melville Koppies central is the oldest part of the reserve. Access through this point is allowed only to organised tours and hikes. Both Melville Koppies east and west are open to the public daily for walks, which are scheduled for the latter. If you enjoy fresh air, a bit of sun and a good climb, then the Koppies are for you.
Vegetation on the Koppies is indigenous throughout, a remarkable example of Highveld grasses, flowers and trees, overlooked by progress and preserved intact, virtually in the city centre. The forest is mainly brack thorn acacia and blue gwarrie. At the crest of the reserve, the city stretches out all around you. Except for the traffic noise below, you could easily imagine yourself hiking in the wild, hours away from Johannesburg.
Flowing along the western boundary of the Koppies is the Westdene Spruit. Together with the Braamfontein and Jukskei spruits, this is one of several streams flowing northwards from the Witwatersrand watershed. The banks of the Westdene create a special environment in the Koppies, where giant stinkwood trees dominate. There are also large bushwillows, wild olive trees and wild peach trees.
The 3-hour guided tours through the heritage site cover about 4km. The cost was R60 per person. At the end of that, you'll be glad so many Melville establishments minister to the thirsty. In contrast to most of Johannesburg, Melville like some of Braamfontein, Emmarentia, Greenside or Parkhurst, still has restaurants and bars giving directly onto the street - which is better for heritage than having them tucked away in some featureless mall. There's also a choice of more than 30 guesthouses around and about, if you need accommodation.
Their contact details:
Phone: +27 11 482 4797
A visit to Johannesburg's Lion & Safari Park is almost like a visit to the Kruger National Park, only without the four-hour drive from Lanseria Airport. Compare this with the 12 minutes it takes to reach the Lion & Safari Park (from the same departure point) along the R512 Pelindaba Road, and you'll agree that for Johannesburgers, there's just no contest.
At the Lion & Safari Park, guests have a choice of guided game drives and self-drives, starting at ZAR195 per adult in your vehicle. On guided tours, visitors may hand-feed the giraffes, ostriches and various antelope species roaming the 600-hectare property. Children aged 12 and under enter free, paying only for activities.
Besides a lion population of more than 80 individuals – including examples of the white sub-species – the Park is home to cheetah, three varieties of hyena (brown, spotted and striped), leopard and African wild dogs. Of course, there’s a choice of guided tours, with plenty of interesting facts from the guides. The tours can take as little as an hour, and up to 3 hours for the Safari. This is billed as the flagship tour, ending with drinks and snacks on the banks of the Crocodile River.
You might think that another advantage of the Lion Park over Kruger, is that the Gauteng lions are quite used to interacting with humans. They are, but this is not to say they are all tame. Lions in enclosures endure stress and boredom. As a result, they sometimes exhibit behaviour not seen back in the bundus, like trying to open car doors. This is because their meals arrive in vehicles, and the juveniles in particular assume that each passing vehicle is a potential meal ticket.
If you or any of your party should fancy a meal during your visit, repair to the Wetlands Restaurant and Bar. Kids will love the choice of sandwiches, samoosas, grilled chicken, milkshakes and other items on the menu. For a less casual experience, the Bull 'n Buck Grill tempts you with venison, veal, seafood and steaks with a wine list to match.
The Park offers the 5 Dome Shopping Experience for the spenders. Here you can browse a wide range of locally sourced arts and crafts, jewellery, clothing and homeware. In case you're wondering what to do with the dozens of pics you'll have on your smartphone by the time you're done, the Park's photographic centre has got you covered. Pop in to have your snaps printed onto key-rings, mugs, puzzles and more.
The Lion & Safari Park is open all-year round, including Sundays and public holidays. But call in advance to confirm closing times, as they vary.