Johannesburg’s Ponte Tower is infamous, notorious and really really interesting. It embodies the former decadence, ensuing decay and current regeneration of the City of Gold. It’s a brutalist, concrete hollow cylinder of a building in the city’s Central Business District (CBD). The tallest residential building in Africa, it rises 55 stories tall and along with the Telkom tower is an instantly recognisable feature of Joburg CBD’s skyline.
Glamour: Ponte started life in the mid 1970’s as luxury real estate dubbed the ‘Vegas of Africa’, where the plushest apartments spanned three floors and had built in jacuzzis. To see a smattering of photos from those bygone I only found this one article: Buildings are Geological Agents. There are only a couple of images and you have to scroll most of the way down through the post.
Garbage: When decay set in and the original hipster residents moved out, the empty buildings were broken into and hijacked. Ponte became a complete no-go zone. It was an overcrowded den of iniquity with a direly severe rubbish problem in the 90’s. There was no running water, no electricity and when the rubbish collections stopped, residents would lob their waste into the central void. Unfortunately, there it stayed until it rose a festering 14 stories high (or 2 or 3 or 5 – I’ve read different things and I’m not sure which is factually correct, but 14 is the number given by our guide on the day). Ponte was a slum in the sky.
Gritty Regeneration: In recent years, Ponte has changed again. The illegal tenants evicted, the rubbish has gone and the building has been refurbished to a good standard and is now home to a mixture of families, students, working and middle class residents. It is possible to tour both the inside (marvelling at the views from the top) and the eerie core with a circle of sky high above. Continue reading →
For a city as gritty as Johannesburg, you might be surprised to find out just how many fab hiking spots there are in and around it. My friend, American expat Becci Monge has kindly written a guest post with her top local hiking picks.
Becci got hooked on hiking last year when she decided (and by the way successfully succeeded – enormous kudos to you Becci and the rest of the Jo’burg based She-Trek team) to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. In preparation for Kili, the She-Trekkers explored (and continue to explore) the best hiking spots on offer in our local area.
Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) was once the heart of gold rush pioneer town Johannesburg. This is where all the biggest, best and most beautiful buildings were built. Many years later, after first the rise and then fall of apartheid this area deteriorated significantly. Residents and businesses moved out in droves as buildings were hijacked quickly becoming overcrowded with squatters. The area became a dangerous and crime ridden no-go zone in the 1990’s.
But what’s it like today? I joined an inner city walking tour to find out more. Continue reading →
Maybe it’s because Halloween is approaching, but I’m finding Johannesburg a bit spookier than usual at the moment.
First of all we encountered this toxic creature basking in the sunlight. It is a Koppie Foam Grasshopper, a type of bush locust. I reckon its body was about 10cm long. This nightmarish apparition feasts on the poisonous milkweed plant and stores the poison. If threatened it secretes a noxious foam, which is harmful to pets (and I guess to humans) if ingested. Shudder.
It can be tough being the Trailing Spouse on an expat posting, there are times when you feel like you are the excess baggage. The life and career you had built before is almost certainly on hold or possibly gone forever, particularly if you are not permitted to work in your host country and the goal posts move even further apart if you decide to start a family while you are overseas. There are two choices – bemoan the doors that have closed to you or go out and unlock some new ones. There are many inspiring expats who have used their time to do something new and go in unexpected directions.
Fellow expat Debi Beaumont is one of them. She had a busy and successful career in London and when she landed in Johannesburg as a shiny new expat, suddenly career-less and also pregnant she slowly realised that her hobby was becoming a passion that opened new avenues up to her…
“When I arrived in Johannesburg for the first time (we’ve been back and forth a lot!) I was new to the expat thing, I knew nobody in the city and I was so extremely nauseous with my first pregnancy that it could take hours to drag myself out of the flat each morning. How on earth was I going to meet anybody and make friends, I wondered. Continue reading →
We went to see the Lippizaner show in Kyalami, Johannesburg. Lippizaners are beautiful and usually (but not always) white-coated stallions first bred in the 1500’s for military purposes. The horses are highly trainable and are the modern day rockstars of the dressage world.
Knowing very little about horses though, I went along expecting to see people riding rearing horses (as per the logo on the tickets). I was anticipating War Horse on steroids, flaming hoops and circus tricks.
I am THAT woman. I don’t know how it happened, but I am the mug that runs our local expat Facebook group. I assumed there would be one (an expat Facebook group, not a mug) when I arrived in Johannesburg. After all, I’m sure every major city has had at least one of these groups for ages. I searched for it before I arrived, I asked around when I got here. I got tumbleweed. So eventually, I stepped up to the plate and set one up. It took all of 10 minutes to pick a name, write a description, add a photo, select the settings and add a few friends. I think I started off with about 10 people.
On the back of the initial 10 minutes that I invested, not much happened for the first couple of weeks. Then a lot happened. It’s become a bit of beast. A much needed and generally much appreciated beast, but a beast nonetheless.
Here are 10 things I’ve learnt from running an expat Facebook group (and yes, there are links at the end of the post).
There are a few quirks to mile high living. I covered the zombie skin we get in Jo’burg’s crackling dry winter months in the post High Altitude, Dry Altitude, but there are are other things about life on the Highveld that you might be interested to know about.
In addition to zombie skin, dehydration is something to watch out for. Unlike more humid climates where you find that your sweat glands have sweat glands, the dehydration here is stealthy. Because your sweat evaporates so effortlessly (rather than running down your back or into your eyes) you probably won’t realise how much moisture you’re losing. Dehydration IS very real though, so be sure to drink plenty of water, especially if you are enjoying any of the local wines or craft beers. If you don’t, you will look AND feel like a zombie. Continue reading →
The ancient Wonder Cave is North of Johannesburg in the Cradle of Humankind and was discovered by Italian miners in 1898.
This is South Africa’s third largest cavern and there are plenty of beautiful rock formations to see. There are stalagmites (the ones that grow downwards from the ceiling) and stalactites (the ones that grow upwards from the floor). One formation looks like a giant mushroom, another like a praying Mary.
There are 87 steps from ground level down the lift, which isn’t too taxing, but it does of course mean that when you’re done, there are 87 steps back up. Continue reading →
Gold is the magic that pumped through the earth’s veins giving life to Johannesburg on land that was otherwise not suitable to attract and sustain a large human population. Primarily, it is unsuitable land because there is no natural water source to support the consumption needs of a vast landlocked city and the joke runs that the only reef to be found anywhere near here is the Witwatersrand Gold Reef.
Johannesburg sprang up virtually overnight when the first gold rush started after the discovery of gold in 1886 and is known as the City of Gold. It now looks like we could see a second gold rush 130 years later….
On Easter Sunday we went to an Easter Egg Hunt at Birnisan Farm to the North of Johannesburg. What we actually found (or rather what Pickle found) was far, far more exciting.