Tourists (and Johannesburgers at the end of their tether) are well advised to visit the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, to catch their breath and recuperate. This well-loved nature preserve may be in Roodepoort, a north-westerly node of the urban sprawl, but it might as well be a world away.
The Garden has long been a popular stop for bridal parties as well as, dare we add, toddlers. Those who like being out in sunny weather are also known to frequent it. People go there for the hiking trails, to celebrate a birthday or, taking their cue from the plant life, just to vegetate.
Ironically, paying a recreational visit to Johannesburg is a tough call. You can be under such pressure to see so much in a limited time, that you forget to relax. And if you are a local student or overworked professional, you most likely don’t remember how to relax or even what to do in a botanical garden. For a start, because of patchy reception, you can reduce your worries by leaving things like tablets and — if humanly possible — cell phones in your dorm or at home.
But probably the best advice to the highly-strung, is found on the website of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. During an online recce, we were lured by the title, “How to Enjoy a Botanical Garden”. Under it, we discovered gems like, “Enjoy the tranquillity away from city noise”; “Take pride in South Africa’s indigenous plants and animals”; and our favourite, “Look at the beautiful surroundings”.
At the physical location, to look is to admire. Visitors may feast the senses on, among others, the succulent rockery garden, the cycad garden, the water garden, the arboretum and the geological garden. If you go, take the time to wander through the fern trail. With its shadowed slopes and footbridges, it feels just like being in one of those forests of fable.
A body named the Environmental Education and Empowerment Division conducts guided tours through the environs. Popular as field trips for students, these tours are also available to the general public, at a cost of ZAR170 on weekdays, ZAR225 on Saturdays and ZAR300 on Sundays for each group of about 20.
If flora and rock formations are not your thing, the Garden protects a diverse spread of fauna. There are examples of wild cat (caracal), various small buck, the South African hedgehog, the black-backed jackal and the Cape porcupine. Some of these creatures are shy or nocturnal. Others just hate people. If you could care less, book your crew a night walk to see the bats, for example, in the warmer months.
Of course, many nature lovers visiting the Garden are birdwatchers. They are drawn by a list of more than 226 species, in habitats including grassland, woodland and veld. The star attractions are the Verreaux’s Eagles nesting in the cliff face below the Witpoortjie Falls. To catch them in flight is enough to make anyone forget their troubles, and unwind.