As promised, here is the second part of my South African photo diary. For the last two days of our adventure, South African Tourism UK took us away from central Johannesburg and into the surrounding districts. We also changed hotels for the two nights; the Protea Fire and Ice hotel providing an even more contemporary accommodation choice in the heart of the very upmarket area of Melrose Arch.
The first stop on the itinerary was the aptly named 27 Boxes in Melville, a suburb of Johannesburg. As the name suggests, this one-stop destination for culture, coffee and shopping rivals Shoreditch’s Boxpark; 27 individually crafted coloured boxes providing the perfect structure for artisanal cafes and stores. The structure itself was an ideal place to snap creative architectural shots, with streams of light and strategically placed shadows providing the opportunity for some great photoshoots. The highlight for me had to be on-site Countess Coffee; an uber cool old school coffee shop with enough brass and metalwork to make any hipster envious. The freshly-ground Americano I had was great too.
The surrounding area of Melville, a favourite amongst the student crowd of Johannesburg, also had a few other hidden gems. If you ever get the chance to visit then Poppy’s is the ideal place to grab a mountain-sized lunch, while Six Cocktail Bar serves some of the most ludicrously affordable, and well-made, cocktails we had on the trip. On 5th Street there are thrift shops that contain every item imaginable and I was even able to get a pair of tailored Shwe Shwe trousers made within 24 hours thanks to the local seamstress. It was difficult to find a reason to leave, even after just a few hours in the town.
The final part of the trip saw us in more familiar territory. Soweto is a place with an incredibly rich history and this vast, sprawling township is easily recognisable thanks to the huge cooling towers that now house a very tall bungee jump. For our trip, we looked to cover as much of the 200 square-kilometres as we could on two wheels. The local Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers had organised a cycle tour of the township which would see us mix with the local community of schoolkids as well as visit Nelson Mandela’s old house.
The entire experience was one of raw noise, colour and emotion. The trip to the local community playground was definitely a highlight; the local 5-year olds quick to ambush and climb all over us for a photo opportunity, which certainly put a smile on all of our faces. I’ve only included a few of the snaps here, but there were hundreds of demands for photos to be taken. Of course, we duly obliged. In contrast to this, we then visited the more politically charged area of Soweto that witnessed the rise to power of Mandela as well as plenty of bloody conflict. For me, it was all captured perfectly in the traditional gumboot dance that greeted us outside the former President’s old house; a wall of noise, of defiance and determination, that will live with me forever. Having visited South Africa ten years ago and been more aware of these issues, this certainly resonated with me. Now it is very different; the scars of yesterday have certainly been healed and the country as a whole felt more positively charged and moving forward in the right direction.
My only gripe with this trip was that it was over before I knew it. Having to head back a day early, I said goodbye to the group over one last meal of fillet steak and Pinotage (what else?). This time I had an overnight flight back to the UK but thankfully had booked an aisle seat with KLM. The legroom was more than generous and chair reclined enough that I had a good few hours of shut eye. For the short hop between Amsterdam and London I was even lucky enough to nab a Business Class seat right at the front. While not long enough to properly enjoy the benefits, the expertly poured gin and tonic and deliciously prepared club sandwich certainly gave me a taste for the high life. I landed back in London suitably refreshed.
The visit to Johannesburg was the most incredible experience and I would like to thank KLM and South African Tourism UK for hosting us all on this trip. Having been to South Africa twice before, I saw Johannesburg only as a transit point, not as a destination. I left the City of Gold with an entirely different perspective and completely fell in love with the streets and its people. We felt very welcome everywhere we went and there was always something to catch your eye and plenty of noises to attract your ears. I would highly recommend it as a destination if you love history and culture or, like me, you just love the winning combination of a fillet steak and Pinotage for lunch and dinner.