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Finding a green heaven in Joburg Print E-mail
Johannesburg is filled with leafy trees and has dozens of spacious green lungs

Far from being a dusty, concrete-filled city, Johannesburg is filled with leafy trees and has dozens of spacious green lungs. Each region has its own flagship park, among the many smaller ones.

AS little as 150 years ago, there was little else on the Johannesburg Highveld other than rolling grassland with the odd grove of shrubs and trees sprinkled across the landscape. A scattering of ridges and koppies through which a number of streams and rivers meandered completed the picture.

But with the discovery of gold in 1886, Johannesburg was born. Folk living in the booming mining town soon realised the need to set aside areas where nature could flourish and residents could enjoy outdoor activities. Joubert Park, proclaimed in 1906, was the City's first park.

Today, City Parks oversees 2 328 parks, all actively serving the communities in which they lie. Parks are essential green lungs for Johannesburg, but they are also priceless environments where residents can relax and revitalise body and soul.

Below is a list of 21 of Johannesburg’s top parks. Each facility offers convenient and unique opportunities for hosting events and functions - from exhibitions and concerts to photographic and movie locations, from corporate team building days to being a favourite family picnic venue – these parks are the pride of Johannesburg and City Parks.
 




Region A
Rietfontein Nature Reserve
Rietfontein Nature Reserve is some 24 kilometres north of the city in the small suburb of Paulshof. This 25-hectare indigenous green space with its quartzite koppie evokes in all visitors a feeling of being in the country. As the bush is completely indigenous there is a marvellous array of birdlife, but the reserve has no historical features.

Still, it offers some great small game sightings with blesbok, mountain reebok, duiker, klipspringer and steenbok abounding, as well as smaller creatures such as mongoose, tortoise and genet.

It is also the home of the animal welfare organisation, Free Me, which raises, rehabilitates and releases injured suburban wildlife back into the wild.

 

Take your picnic basket and blanket and find a quiet spot on the lawns, or walk up to the top of the ridge, and spy out Johannesburg's landmarks from these natural surroundings.

The park also offers environmental educational tours, conducted in the mornings and afternoons. An on-site educational centre specialises in hands-on outdoor environmental classes for school children of all ages. These activities must be booked, however. They cater for groups of not more than 30 people.

Rietfontein Nature Reserve is at 138 Hokham Road, Paulshof, off Witkoppen Road. Phone the City Parks environmental unit on 011 712 6600 for bookings.
 




Region B

 

A view of Joburg from Delta Park
A view of Joburg from Delta Park

Delta Park
One of Johannesburg's biggest green lungs and an ambler’s paradise, Delta Park offers 103 hectares of grassland and woodland to explore. Thousands of people enjoy the myriad of walking trails, which link three beautiful tree-lined dams. Many of the pathways are paved and offer easy access for wheelchairs.

A comfortable walk around the perimeter of the park could take the better part of the morning, pausing to study the different plants. If you prefer a longer walk, go right down to the park's southern border and walk along the Braamfontein Spruit trail, Johannesburg's major stream bordering Delta Park.

Within the park there is also a sensory trail and bird viewing spots as it incorporates the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary.

The spacious park is a busy one, with girl guide and scout troops training there. It is also the home of the Delta Environmental Centre, where a wide range of fascinating wildlife-related courses are offered to adults and children.

There's safe parking at the centre and main entrance, reached via Road No 3 or Road No 5 off Rustenburg Road, Victory Park, or at the corner of Pitcairn Road and Penelope Avenue in Blairgowrie. Phone the centre on 011 888 4831 for further information.

See map
 


 

Emmarentia Dam and Johannesburg Botanical Gardens

The combined area of the dam and its gardens is over 100 hectares, which is fortunate as this glorious emerald of a park, with its contrasting areas of activity and serenity, draws an inordinate amount of visitors on a daily basis. The park is only six kilometres from the city centre.

Located at the northeast side of the park, the dam is a popular destination for energetic canoeists and small-boat enthusiasts. Sailing, canoeing and diving club facilities are housed on its eastern embankment.

The vast green surrounds are equally popular with dog walkers, cyclists and runners, while on weekends the sloped grass embankments are filled with picnickers.

Emmarentia and the gardens date back to 1886, when the farm Braamfontein was established by Frans and Louw Geldenhuys. After the South African War Louw contracted landless Boers to build the dam, which he named after his wife, Emmarentia. On the dam geese, dabchicks, moorhens and other water fowl share their home with canoeists and kayakers.

In the northern section, take a pleasant stroll through a rose garden, indigenous herb patch, or view an amazing collection of succulents at the Johannesburg Botanic Gardens. The gardens have terraced ponds and fountains and a Shakespearean garden, with herbs and roses. It is a favourite spot for wedding photographs. There is also a chapel garden catering for the many wedding groups that use the park as a formal venue.

There are 2 500 specimens of succulents and more than 20 000 indigenous trees in the park. It is open from sunrise to sunset, and there is safe parking from different access points in Thomas Bowler, Orange and The Braids roads. The main entrance is in Olifants Road.
See map. For more information contact City Parks on 011 712 6600.

 


 

Innesfree Park
In the heart of busy Sandton is a park with two tranquil dams and wide open spaces to calm the busiest mind. Easily accessible, the parklands of Innesfree can be seen from the adjacent Grayston Drive and the M1 and offer unbroken views of the Sandton skyline.

The size of the facility lends itself to large events - music concerts, motor shows, arts and culture exhibitions and other outdoor shows.
The park is bordered by Katherine Drive and Harris Road in Sandown and charges an entrance fee. Contact City Parks on 011 712 6600 for more information.

Melville Koppies Nature Reserve
Take a walk up the koppies and be delighted by the panoramic views over northern Johannesburg offered by the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve. This magnificent reserve, divided into three sections, offers something for everyone with an interest in nature, geology or history.

Melville Koppies is situated five kilometres northwest of the city centre and has been declared a national heritage site and nature reserve. It contains a Stone Age camp with artefacts dating back 50 000 years and an Iron Age Furnace, discovered in 1963. The iron-smelting debris found next to the furnace was carbon-dated to around 1600.

Besides its historical value, Melville Koppies is a refuge for small animals, including tortoises, civets, mongooses and chameleons.  It abounds with a variety of grasses, indigenous trees, shrubs and spring flowers. The striking Wild Pear with its puffy bold blooms is unforgettable in early spring and bird song from over 200 species fills the air.

Some of the oldest rocks on earth have also been found here: the greenstone is estimated to be 3 000-million years old. The central Melville Koppies section, with its Iron Age furnace and criss-crossing paths, is open four Sundays each month for three hours. The gates are open from 8.30am to 11.30 am on the first and third Sunday, and on the second and fourth Sunday from 3pm to 6pm. You can park opposite the entrance at Marks Park Sports Club in Judith Road, Emmarentia.

There is a myriad of paths in Melville Koppies west open from sunrise to sunset, with great views and walks of up to four kilometres along grassy slopes and rocky ridges. An entrance to this section is at the end of Third Avenue, Westdene.  Melville Koppies east is also open daily from dawn to dusk.  This is public open space so take normal precautions for your safety. 

Phone Wendy Carstens on 011 482 4797 for more information. See map

 


 

Zoo Lake and Hermann Eckstein Park
Zoo Lake is a favourite of Joburg residents and is the venue for the annual Jazz on the Lake and Carols by Candlelight events. It is also the monthly venue for the Artists under the Sun open air art exhibition.

It also boasts the Coronation Fountain, a Johannesburg heritage symbol. Zoo Lake is a popular spot for picnicking, walking your dog or taking a leisurely boat ride. It has its own information centre and has one of the popular African themed restaurants, Moyo. The Zoo Lake Sports Club is another favourite with residents, offering a variety of sports amenities, a restaurant and pub.

Zoo Lake is in Saxonwold on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Westwold Street. It is next to Johannesburg Zoo, which forms part of the greater Zoo Lake area. The land was donated by Beit and Co in 1904, with a stipulation that the park be divided into a public park and a zoological garden. It opened for the first time to the public in 1908. For more information contact City Parks on 011 712 6600.

 


 

Region C
Golden Harvest Park
Tucked away between Sundowner, Sharonlea and Northgate this picturesque park is a delightful surprise and a secret treasure about which many Johannesburgers are unaware.

Anticipating residential growth in the area and showing great foresight, the old Randburg Municipality established the park in 1972. It is filled with unspoiled indigenous bushveld and is a breath of fresh air in a region carpeted with townhouses and cluster developments.

Take a field identification guidebook and spend some leisurely time exploring this natural area with its original grasses and trees. There is a footpath to a dam with resident water fowl.

Another path leads to a historical koppie, once an ancient iron smelting area. The park is completely fenced and charges a small entrance fee. A lapa can be hired. It is situated in Northwold with access from Hunters Road, corner Maple Street. More information can be obtained from City Parks on 011 712 6600.

Kloofendal Nature Reserve
Nestled along Galena Avenue, just north of Horison and to the west of Christiaan de Wet Road in the Roodepoort suburb of Kloofendal, the Kloofendal Nature Reserve offers urbanites a retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The 150-hectare reserve was one of the first game reserves in Johannesburg. Just 25 kilometres from the city centre, it is home to a number of small mammals such as zebra, black wildebeest, reedbuck and other small buck.

With a lovely stone amphitheatre tucked into the western corner, this scenic ecotourism reserve is ideal for a morning ramble before attending one of the many open air events hosted here.

Two circular trails twist between distinctive silver leaf proteas, which speckle the quartzite outcroppings, and Highveld bush. There is a dam with a hide, but most birders will be looking out for rare migrating warblers and the world famous black eagles, which nest in the nearby Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens.

Although the reserve is small it protects a transition zone between three ecosystems: bankenveld, Drakensberg and savannah and is thus an important ecological area.

An interesting stop is the old 1884 Confidence Gold Mine, now a national monument, which can be viewed by appointment. Qualified guides conduct interesting walks and talks on everything from medicinal uses of plants and the history and geology of the area, to butterflies.

The potential for veld fires means the reserve is closed between 1 May and 31 August.

For visitors, the park offers various activities, mainly organised by Friends of Kloofendal, a voluntary organisation dedicated to its preservation. For bookings, call 011 674 2980 or 072 595 6991.

 


 

Large, cool shade-bearing trees dot the lakeside of Florida Lake Park
Large, cool shade-bearing trees dot the lakeside of Florida Lake Park

Florida Lake
Large, cool shade-bearing trees dot the lakeside of this popular Roodepoort nature spot. Numerous small craft can be seen on the water over weekends while people from Joburg’s flatlands come to soak up the sun, turning the dam and its embankments into a colourful canvas of outdoor living.

Besides taking part in water sports such as sailing and canoeing, residents use the park for picnics, braais or simply taking their dogs for a quick walk. A number of outdoor facilities can be rented, while a children’s playground and putt-putt course provide additional entertainment. For the birding enthusiast there is a wide range of aquatic birds to delight in as the dam is situated next to a bird sanctuary, with the dam serving as a natural habitat.

The municipal pool at the lake is undergoing repairs and maintenance. The dam hosts an assortment of events, including the dramatic and exotic Dragon Boat Festival and a flea market.

Florida Lake is situated on the corner of Westlake Avenue and Hamburg Street in Florida. For more information contact City Parks on 011 712 6600.

 


 

Region D
Dorothy Nyembe Park
Dorothy Nyembe Park, named after the prominent 1950s ANC activist, is in Soweto. The picturesque 26-hectare park was completely renovated in 2003 and sports a brand-new look with many additional amenities. Upgrades include newly installed lighting, a perimeter fence and spruced-up grounds.

The sparkling dams are fed by a natural wetland running through the park and attract a variety of bird species. These can be spotted from the bird hide. Added amenities such as braai facilities and a children’s play area makes this truly a people’s park.

It has new sporting facilities, including netball courts, a soccer field, a volleyball court and a basketball court. Areas have also been set aside for residents to play chess and morabaraba, a traditional African board game.

Walking trails, an environmental centre and an amphitheatre for concerts and other local productions contribute to the park’s popularity. Unusual sculptures and signage add to its unique character.

In 2007 the Dorothy Nyembe Environmental Education Centre, the first of its kind in a township in South Africa, scooped first prize in the natural built project category taking gold at the United Nations Liveable Communities Awards.

The park is on the corner of Mashinini and Mofolo roads in Mofolo South, Soweto.

 


 

Ernest Oppenheimer Park
Oppenheimer Tower in the Ernest Oppenheimer Park in Central Western Jabavu, Soweto, was built in 1957 with money donated by the late mining magnate and philanthropist, Ernest Oppenheimer. It's an impressive brick structure of about 30 metres in height, providing a wonderful view of the township.

The bricks were taken from demolished Sophiatown houses, where forced removals took place from 1955 onwards. Residents were moved from the vibrant suburb to Soweto.

Indigenous trees and shrubs, many with medicinal value, fill the park.

Alongside the tower is a curious collection of mythical buildings and sculptures by Credo Mutwa, the prominent painter, sculptor, environmentalist, herbalist, prophet and author. It is known as Khayalendaba, or Place of Stories, as it has been associated with story telling, ceremonies and various other cultural activities.

Giant busts of the great Zulu king Shaka and the Tsonga chief Ngungunyani guard the entrance. There is also a cluster of traditional thatched huts and a cattle kraal to view. The park is in Mphuti Street, Central Western Jabavu, Soweto. Phone City Parks on 011 712 6600 for more information.

 


 

Mofolo Regional Park
On any given day Sowetans can be seen making the most of this park, but it’s probably best known and loved for the number of music concerts held in the Cultural Bowl. This striking venue with its attractive rainbow paintwork has hosted a number of jazz festivals, gospel choirs and well-known local and international musicians and artists.

The large grounds are also perfect for major sporting events, with many a cycle or road race beginning or ending here.

Strengthening the bond with the community it serves, various projects like the Remembrance Garden project - involving tree planting in memory of local heroes – are linked to the park.

It also houses an active and bustling community centre and an international sports complex for the disabled.
Mofolo Regional Park is in Mofolo Central, Soweto.

 


 

For the thousands of children who enjoy the playground, Thokoza Park lives up to its name - Thokoza means happiness in isiZulu
For the thousands of children who enjoy the playground, Thokoza Park lives up to its name - Thokoza means happiness in isiZulu

Thokoza Park
This well-used park proudly shows off Soweto’s first fountain. It has well-manicured lawns, paved footpaths transecting the open grounds and pretty rock-strewn streams which gently meander to the recently rejuvenated Moroka Dam.

The dam was named after Dr James Moroka, a former president of the ANC who spearheaded the move towards militancy in the early 1950s.

A picturesque spot, the park has options for a myriad of activities, from family picnics or braais and reflective afternoons at art exhibitions, to lively jazz concerts.

For the thousands of children who enjoy the playground, feeding the ducks and running barefoot on the manicured lawns, it certainly lives up to its name - Thokoza means happiness in isiZulu.

The park is a block away from the famous Regina Mundi Church, so include this landmark in your walk, and savour the bird life and leafy trees along the way.

The park is situated at Old Potch Road and Ntuli Street in Moroka, Soweto.
See map

 


 

Mapetla Regional Park and Wetland
Mapetla Regional Park and Wetland forms part of the greater Klip River/Klipspruit catchment area. The latter is undergoing extensive rehabilitation as a City 2010 World Cup legacy project.

The Klip River system is one of the catchment areas that drain into the Vaal Dam, which supplies Johannesburg with its tap water.
A total of 60 000 trees will be planted along the Klipspruit in the next few years.

The park is situated in Kunene link, Mapetla.

For information about the parks in this region call 011 712 6600.

 


 

Region E
James and Ethel Gray Park
Named after the early Johannesburg historians, this little park snuggled in the affluent suburb of Birdhaven just south of glamorous Melrose Arch, was originally a bird sanctuary.

It is still home to an assortment of feathered residents, and after a recent R5-million upgrade the park is set to become a favourite with Joburg residents.
The Sandspruit River flows through its 36 hectares, creating an attractive, tranquil atmosphere.

Landscaping incorporates both indigenous vegetation and neat lawns and boasts meandering walkways and new ablution facilities.
It is in Melrose Street Extension, Melrose and is completely fenced. For more on this park, contact City Parks on 011 712 6600.

Bezuidenhout Park
Bezuidenhout Park lies below Observatory Ridge, which, at 1 808 metres above sea level, is the city's highest ridge. On its eastern side it is bordered by the Bruma Lake area, with its waterways and well-known flea market, and the bustle of the Eastgate Shopping Centre.

The Observatory Golf Club and the Woodpecker Bowling Club are situated on the same grounds. It is a popular wedding venue and offers a lapa and caravan park.

The park is steeped in the early history of Johannesburg and is home to a Johannesburg heritage site, the Bezuidenhout farmhouse in Dewetshof. Frederick Bezuidenhout and his family were some of the first white settlers in the area, then known as Doornfontein Farm. Today the original homestead, the family burial grounds and some ancient oak trees can still be seen.

During the South African War, the British used the farmhouse as a base and the grounds housed some 4 000 horses, maintained by a 7 000-strong non-combatant Indian contingent. A sandstone monument, installed in 1902, stands atop the highest point of Observatory Ridge to honour the Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Zoroastrians who died during this war.

Bezuidenhout Park can be reached from Observatory road and has its main entrance in Third Avenue, Observatory. For more information contact City Parks on 011 712 6600.

 


 

Region F
The Wilds Nature Reserve
One of the oldest parks in the city, The Wilds offers Joburgers 40 acres of indigenous plants, shrubs and trees and beautifully laid stone pathways weaving up and down the koppies of the Parktown ridge. It has spectacular views of Hillbrow to the south and Sandton to the north.

The paths crisscross the west and east sides of Houghton Drive, the latter slightly wilder than the west, with its lush green lawns and pretty ponds.

Donated to the City by the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company in 1924 on condition that it remain in its natural state, the garden is planted with the best of South Africa's indigenous flora - Cape fynbos, huge strelitzias, beds of clivias, elegant arum lilies, proteas, and trees such as yellowwood and cabbage. It opened to the public in 1938.

The Wilds has security guards and secure parking at the main entrance in Houghton Drive, Parktown.

 


 

Rhodes Park
Rhodes Park is an eye-catching green lung filled with large trees, pretty ponds and a generous mix of sporting and social venues laced together by quaint paths of stone and railway sleepers.

A bustling community centre runs a variety of interesting and well-attended courses. People make the most of the sports area for a number of field activities and courts are available for those who fancy a game of tennis.

There’s also a small amphitheatre for appropriate events and a bowling club for those who prefer more moderate exercise.
Why not bring along bread for the many tame geese? They’re always on the lookout for a tasty handout.

The park is at the corner of Langermann Drive and Ocean Street, Kensington. For more information contact 011 712 6600.

 


 

Joubert Park
Johannesburg’s oldest park is named after the famous South African War general and war hero, Commander-General Piet Joubert.

Its atmosphere is unique as it serves one of the most cosmopolitan communities in the city, the densely populated high-rise Hillbrow neighbourhood. Joubert Park is an exceptionally busy park and one that offers more than just a green breakaway. Be prepared for some truly African experiences as you watch the jostle of inner city living.

You can catch inimitable activities, like the Shembi Church’s praise and worship session on a Saturday or have your picture taken by the many entrepreneurial photographers who ply their trade from the park benches.

Along the streets bordering the park, typical African informal trading takes place while the constant hooting of congested taxis is a reminder that Joburg is bursting at its inner city seams.

The park remains a favourite of inner city and flatland dwellers, offering neatly clipped lawns, park benches and a beautiful fountain. For the mentally astute, there is an open-air chess board.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery, a Johannesburg heritage site, is on the same grounds and houses some exquisite 17th century Dutch paintings as well as a wonderful collection of 20th century local and international artworks. A 104-year-old glass Victorian conservancy borders the park.

Located on King George and Klein streets, Joubert Park is also the park closest to the Johannesburg central business district. Call City Parks on 011 712 6600 for more information.

 




Pieter Roos Park
Close to the inner city, Pieter Roos Park is a favourite hang-out for the residents of Hillbrow and its surrounding areas. It is often used by residents as an outdoor public gym because of its cleverly designed facilities, all made of huge wooden logs. The park is unfenced and has no parking facilities.

 

It is situated across from the Witwatersrand University’s educational college and is bordered by St Andrew’s and Empire roads; it is also overlooked by the famous Constitutional Hill. For further information, call 011 712 6600.

Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve
Almost 700 hectares of precious bankenveld - a threatened veld type of grasses and flowering species - can be found a short 10km drive south of Johannesburg. Rich in history as well as flora and fauna, Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve was proclaimed in 1984.

There are many items of archaeological, geological, cultural and historical interest in this area of natural beauty, some dating back 250 000 years. Settlements of the pastoral BaTswana can still be found among the rolling koppies.

Voortrekker Sarel Marais halted his wagons here in the mid-1800s and built a farmhouse and wagon shed, part of which are still standing. The family cemetery lies 500 metres north of the house and includes Marais’s grave. The homestead is the oldest building from the early Boer era still in existence in the Johannesburg area.

There’s a choice of six hiking trails, some over 9km long through unspoilt grassland, woodland and riverine areas. Fascinating guided trails offered by the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve Association take in zebra, reedbuck, wildebeest and hartebeest, as well as the many reptile and amphibian species found here.
An impressive 600 indigenous plants and trees have been identified in the reserve.

Guided walks are advised; they take place every second and fourth Sunday of the month. Alternatively, book a ride at the stables and enjoy the beautiful scenery on horseback.

Bird watching fanatics will be excited by the 170 different species recorded at the reserve. Birding rambles take place every third Saturday of the month.

The reserve is open to the public from sunrise to sunset and is overseen by horse patrols. Safe parking is available at the Silent Pool in Frandaph Drive, Mondeor, from where the walks begin. Walks start at 9am from May to September, at 8am the rest of the year. Phone Tony Ferguson on 082 454 6114 or visit the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve Association website for more details.
See map
 


 

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