A view of Central Sandton from the pool deck of Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel, available from 220 dollars per night
Demola Ojo relives here his experience and the leisure time he grabbed during a weekend in Johannesburg, South Africa…
Imagine twisting, turning and plunging down dizzying heights through rocks like a giant anaconda at speeds of 90 km/h; being flipped upside-down, legs flailing through the space of your seat with the metal bar clasped in front of you the only protection against being thrown through the air like a ragdoll; all for close to two minutes. The only sound you hear is that of wind whooshing by, or that of metal clanging against metal. There were hysterical screams by fellow riders on this rollercoaster with a fear factor rating of 9/10 and rancorous laughter, which this writer indulged in.
The aptly named Anaconda Rollercoaster at the Gold Reef Theme Park in Johannesburg affords visitors the opportunity of experiencing this totally unforgettable adventure. Admittedly, not everyone is intent on an adrenaline overdose, so there are more pedestrian rides for those who would rather a more leisurely afternoon. The activities at the park are varied, a microcosm of the city also known as the place of gold. As one of the world’s leading financial centres and the economic hub of Africa’s largest economy, Johannesburg is a destination more associated with business than pleasure. This is understandable as the city is the source of a large-scale gold and diamond trade, due to its location on the mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills.
Another factor that skews perceptions in favour of Jo’burg being a soulless business destination or a mere stop-over towards more tourist-friendly destinations like Cape Town and Durban is the fact that it’s the largest city in the world that is not situated next to a coastline, river or lake. But Johannesburg offers its own attractions, which are basically around cultural and shopping experiences. Forget a few edgy moments like what you experience when you go for the theme park rides, and you get a destination which offers as much fun as work for the business traveler. If like yours truly, you are part of a group of young professionals heading to Johannesburg for the weekend, either because you have a business deal to tie up the following week or as a transit point to one of South Africa’s other famed tourist destinations, your weekend itinerary starts in the early hours of Friday as you disembark from an overnight journey from Lagos, Nigeria. And it goes on like this:
The first thing is to find a hotel central to the major activities in Johannesburg. No better place than Sandton. Tagged “Africa’s richest square mile,” it is Jo’burg’s leading business centre and home to the Sandton Convention Centre and the second largest shopping mall south of the equator, Sandton City.
There are numerous five-star hotels in Sandton including the Radisson Blu Guatrain, which is a walking distance from the Sandton City Shopping Mall, Nelson Mandela Square and the Guatrain terminal. The Guatrain is a rapid transit railway system that runs from the OR Tambo International Airport through Sandton, Johannesburg to Pretoria. It zips at 160km/h and makes it to Sandton from the airport in 15 minutes.
The five-Star Radisson Blu Guatrain is a modern hotel that was opened just in time for the 2010 World Cup. The décor at the hotel is tasteful and sophisticated, while the Central One Bar and Restaurant attracts the city’s in-crowd. There is free high-speed internet and for the security conscious ones, the hotel has a unique touch: the room keycard allows access to your floor only apart from public areas like the reception and fitness centre. Best of all, the pool deck on the third floor allows a view of central Sandton with the iconic Michelangelo towers visibly kissing the horizon in all its majesty. Treating oneself to a full body massage goes with the territory if you’re fresh from a six-hour plane flight. There are few better places to get a therapeutic rubdown than the Sandton Sun spa, deep in the bowels of the mall. The spa’s offerings are based exclusively on touch with the signature ”Sea Whisperer” treatment, which is a fusion of massage styles from around the world taking gold. The 60-minute treatment is sure to rejuvenate body and mind. The rest of Friday afternoon can be spent shopping at the Sandton Mall where international brands ranging from Woolworths and Edgars to high-end design houses like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Gucci, Bally, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Guess Zara as well as Apple’s iStore can be found. Being a Friday, there’s hardly time to catch one’s breath after shopping before hitting town for the night.
Our group was invited to a VIP cocktail party at the Inanda Polo Club and it turned out to be the perfect start for the evening. A stopover at one of the many restaurants at Nelson Mandela Square preceded an exhilarating night at Club Icon, one of the leading clubs in Sandton, with the added advantage of having a distinctly Nigerian influence. At Icon, entrance is free if you book in advance on the condition you buy a bottle of alcohol on their list for every table reserved. So in essence if you book four tables you need to buy four bottles of Vodka (Belvedere or Skyy), Champagne (Moët et Chandon, Veuve Cliquot or Dom Perignon) or Whiskey (Johnny Walker Gold or Blue).
Kick off Saturday at a leisurely pace by visiting the Apartheid Museum, a complex dedicated to illustrating apartheid and the 20th century history of South Africa. The museum illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid with the use of pictures and videos that document South African history. Within the museum are a coffee shop and a bookstore. Right next to the museum is the Gold Reef Casino and Theme Park, where activities described at the beginning of this write-up can be undertaken.
After the fun activities at the park, jump on a Harley Davidson bike for a ride to Soweto and enjoy a scenic view of the house Nelson Mandela lived in, that of fellow Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, the Hector Peterson Memorial, Soccer City – the venue of the final match of the 2010 World Cup – and a taste of township food at the Sakhumzi Restaurant. A repeat of the previous night – dinner then club – is again on the cards but this time celebrity style. First off is the Kream Restaurant in uptown Brooklyn, Pretoria; by limousine. There are special wine-tasting nights at Kream, so you might just be lucky to walk into one.
After dinner, Club Taboo in Sandton beckons, again by limousine transfer. Of course the limo comes with drinks and your choice of music so you can get the club mood going right from the car. Just like Icon, entrance is free once tables have been booked in advance. Taboo is a bit edgier than Icon though and if pole dancing is to your taste, it’s the place for you.
Sunday is usually a laid-back day but one can still lay back in style in Jo’burg. There are many sporting events that double as social events. The Inanda Polo Cup is one of them. While the polo players show off their skills on horseback, the social elite display the latest trends in African fashion, arts, crafts and jewellery.
Considering the high rollers of Jo’burg society were in attendance complete with their Bentleys and Maybachs, it was very difficult making an impression. But our group managed to pull it off by showing up in a convoy of vintage cars-One more reason to spend the weekend in the city of gold.
Turn more eyes than a Porshe or Ferrari in one if these vintage cars for 440 dollars per vehicle based on range and duration