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Johannesburg tours and excursions

Johannesburg tours

Historical tours

Historical tours of Soweto with JMT Tours visit several local landmarks, including the evocative Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, named after a 13-year-old pupil, who was one of hundreds shot by police during a 1976 uprising against apartheid. Other highlights include the Regina Mundi Catholic Church, which still bears the bullet holes left by police who fired on students who had taken refuge there and the Walter Sisulu Square of Independence, which marks the site where the Freedom Charter, calling for equality for all, was presented by the ANC. Visit Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's house, built by Nelson Mandela for his estranged wife soon after his release from prison in 1990, and the former residence of Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Tel: (011) 980 6038.
Website: http://www.jmttours.co.za

Walking tours

Walktours organises guided walks, lasting four to eight hours. Routes include exploring Sandton, Africa's richest shopping, business and residential areas, a walk along the Braamfontein Spruit (stream), the Central Business District, Melville Koppies, Constitution Hill, Alexander Township, Zoo Lake to Emmarentia Dam and back, and for groups of 10 or more, dinner and a nocturnal tour of Johannesburg Zoo.

Alternatively, for self-guided tours, pamphlets are available from Northwards, 21 Rockridge Road, Parktown, (daily 0900-1300). The 'Mansions & Minor Masterpieces' walk explores the stately Sir Herbert Baker-designed 'mining-magnate' homes of Parktown and the artworks that decorate them. 'From Cliff to Forest' starts at Westcliff (another historic suburb) and ends in Forest Town, where the zoo and Military History Museum are located. 'Northcliff and Melville: Pre-History to Present' covers the ancient Stone Age sites on Melville Koppies, the heights of Northcliff, the Louw Geldenhuys farmhouse, Emmarentia Dam and the Botanical Gardens.

Tel: (011) 444 1639.
Website: http://www.walktours.co.za

Bus tours

Dozens of tour operators in Johannesburg offer full- and half-day tours. Most use minibuses, have registered guides and pick up from all hotels. Destinations include Soweto, Gold Reef City, the Lion Park, Newtown, the viewing platform at the top of the Carlton Centre, Lesedi Cultural Village and Pretoria.

Tel: (011) 869 6629 ; (011) 325 7125.
Website: http://www.moratiwa.co.za

Shebeen tours

Irish miners may have introduced the word to South Africa but shebeens, outlawed by the apartheid regime, have become synonymous with the often raucous social life of Sowetans. Ranging from a few stools in front of a shack to stylish, flashy nightclubs, the shebeens are increasingly popular to visit as part of a guided tour. Discover Wandi's Place (Dube), which serves traditional dishes, such as umngqusho (stamped corn and bean stew), morogo (wild spinach) and chakalaka (chilli and bean salad). B's Place (Orlando East) is decorated with newspaper clippings documenting events in Soweto during apartheid. Sorghum beer is accompanied by township specialties such as mogodu (tripe) and pap (maize porridge). At Pinky's Place, drinks are still served in the lounge of a house.

Tel: (011) 331 6109.

Gay-friendly tours

GALA's 'Queer Johannesburg' tour takes in sites of past and present significance to the struggle for gay rights in South Africa.

Tel: (011) 717 1963.
Website: http://web.wits.ac.za/library/gala/cultureandeducation/queerjohannesburgtour.htm

Balloon tours

Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris offers sunrise tours over the majestic Magaliesberg Mountains in a huge colourful hot-air balloon. The flight lasts for about an hour and is followed by a superb hot breakfast with champagne. Balloon excursions depart from the Balloon Safaris Country Base in the Magalies River Valley, near Hartebeespoort Dam, 65km (40 miles) north of the city.

Tel: (011) 705 3201.
Website: http://www.balloon.co.za

Johannesburg excursions

Cradle of Humankind

his 47,000 hectare (117,500 acre) site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its limestone caverns have produced remarkable fossil finds including Mrs Ples (the first complete Australopithecus skull to be discovered) and Little Foot (a 3.3-million-year-old hominid skeleton).

The Sterkfontein Caves, 50km (30 miles) west of the city, are open daily with tours run every half hour, 0900-1600. Visitors are led along walkways within the caves.

The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve is open daily 0800-1545 and is home to 600 head of game from 25 different species including, rather obviously, rhino and lion.

Maropeng is a superb cutting-edge exhibition centre concentrating on the theory of evolution and what impact man has made on the world. It is 7km (4 miles) from the Sterkfontein Caves and is open daily 0900-1700. A boat ride takes you through a series of tunnels describing the formation of continents, the emergence of mankind, human development and environmental and climate change issues. The heritage area also encompasses hiking and horse trails, craft centres, country markets and restaurants.

Website: http://www.valleyofancestors.com

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens

Against the backdrop of the magnificent Witpoortjie waterfall, this garden covers 300 hectares (750 acres) of both landscaped and veld (open savannah) areas, with 600 naturally occurring plant species. There is also the chance to see a breeding pair of majestic black eagles nesting on the cliffs. A restaurant (Café Clivia) is situated in the shade of two magnificent white stinkwood trees. The gardens are less than an hour by car from Johannesburg, about 25km (15 miles) west of Sandton. Open daily 0800-1800.

Tel: (011) 958 1750.
Website: http://www.sanbi.org/gardens/walter-sisulu

Johannesburg Lion Park

This 200 hectare (500 acre) reserve and breeding research station features more than 80 lions. Other animals include wildebeest, gemsbok, impala, blesbok, zebra and ostrich; from 1200-1500 you can feed a giraffe from a specially built tower. For an extra fee, you can cuddle a lion cub at Cub World. The Lion Park is not far from Lanseria Airport. Open daily 0830-1800 in summer, 0830-1700 in winter.

Tel: (011) 691 9905.
Website: http://www.lion-park.com

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The Palazzo Montecasino

This extravagant Johannesburg hotel is part of the Montecasino gambling, leisure, entertainment and shopping complex in Fourways, just 30 minutes from OR Tambo International Airport. Styled like an Italian palace, its luxurious accommodation overlooks lush, landscaped Tuscan gardens. All rooms have one king-size or two double beds, custom air-conditioning, internet point, hairdryer and refreshments. There is also a fully equipped fitness centre, outdoor swimming pool, plus the 1,900-seater Montecasino Theatre.

The Westcliff

This claims to be Johannesburg's most luxurious hotel and with unique features such as the city's best sunset and moonrise viewing spot, it probably is. It clings to a steep mountainside, with breathtaking views of the Magaliesberg Mountains and of elephants in the zoo below. The rooms and suites are individually furnished; most also feature charming terraces, balconies or private courtyards. Facilities include a magnificent hilltop heated swimming pool. The Westcliff is conveniently near upmarket shopping districts and golf courses.

Faircity Quatermain Hotel

The epitome of gracious living and a home-from-home atmosphere, The Quatermain, located in the upmarket suburb of Morningside, provides a convenient and tranquil base close to Sandton and Johannesburg. Set in manicured indigenous gardens with oak trees and swimming pool, The Quatermain offers Zimbabwean teak furniture and queen- or king-size beds in all 114 rooms.

Sunnyside Park Hotel

Built in 1895 as a gracious country residence, the Sunnyside Park Hotel is a National Monument. Set in glorious English gardens, it retains its original magnificent balustrade, wood panelling, historic fireplace and glittering chandeliers, but has been extensively refurbished to provide modern touches. Located just off the M1 freeway in exclusive Parktown, it is a few minutes' drive to the Killarney Mall, Rosebank and Sandton City and 30 minutes to the airport. Its restaurant, Milners, is all starched linen and quiet elegance with a British bent in food, tempered to suit all tastes.

StayEasy Eastgate

This ultra-modern hotel in Johannesburg fits into the budget bracket but is surprisingly well equipped, with air-conditioning, a swimming pool and secure parking. Situated 15 minutes' drive from OR Tambo International Airport and 10 minutes' walk from the Eastgate Shopping and entertainment complex (10 cinemas), it's just off the start of the N12/R24 freeways, within easy reach of Sandton, Pretoria, Durban and Kruger National Park. Continental breakfast is available in the lobby and guests can order meals delivered from local restaurants.

Indaba Hotel

Set in a 30 hectare (74 acre) country estate featuring indigenous flora and fauna, the white-walled, thatched buildings of this well-equipped hotel are minutes from the N1 highway. There are 210 very reasonably priced en-suite, air-conditioned bedrooms, three popular restaurants, a swimming pool, tennis courts, volleyball, outdoor chess, a beauty therapist and a jogging track.