Though Johannesburg has a reputation as a dusty concrete jungle, few realize that it’s actually one of the largest urban forests in the world, with over 10 million trees. In addition to numerous leafy neighborhoods sandwiched between blocks of skyscrapers, there are hundreds of parks, reserves and gardens scattered throughout the city.
Take yourself to one of these green spaces on your next visit to Joburg, if only to remind yourself that the area was once a vast, empty grassland before becoming the richest (and most built-up) cities in Africa.
1. Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve
This beautiful 680-hectare (1680-acre) nature reserve sits about 12 km (20 miles) south of Johannesburg city center and is a haven for nature lovers. Six hiking trails wind through the hills, and visitors can see 215 bird species, plus zebras, red hartebeest, black wildebeest and springbok. Open to the public from sunrise to sunset seven days a week; no entrance fee.
2. Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
This botanical garden is located near Krugersdorp, which is about 29 km (18 miles) west of Johannesburg. It has been a popular venue for outings since the 1800s, and was voted “the best place to get back to nature” in Gauteng for nine years in a row. The natural vegetation of the area is known as “rocky highveld grassland” and consists of a mosaic of grassland and savanna, with dense bush in kloofs and along streams. The variety of habitats accommodate over 600 naturally occurring plant species and 120 bird species, including the only pair of nesting Verreaux’s (black) eagles in Johannesburg. Open every day from 8am-5pm; entrance fee for adults is R35.
3. Johannesburg Botanical Garden and Emmarentia Dam
4. Melville Koppies
5. Zoo Lake
6. Delta Park
Delta Park occupies 104 hectares (260 acres) of nature conservancy land spread across the Johannesburg suburbs of Victory Park, Blairgowrie, and Craighall Park. 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. Within the park there is also a sensory trail and bird viewing spots, as it incorporates the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary. When you’re done exploring, pop into Delta Cafe for coffees, cakes, burgers and sandwiches.
7. Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve
An hour’s drive from Johannesburg, near the town of Heidelberg, lies the 11,595-hectare (28650 acre) Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, which offers excellent hiking trails as well as abundant antelope, bird, wildebeest and zebra populations. The reserve is an excellent destination for hiking, cycling and picnicking and has overnight huts for those interested in tackling multi-day treks. Admission is R20 for adults, and R10 for children and pensioners R10. It is open Monday to Friday from 7:15am to 4:00pm, and on weekends and public holidays from 7:00am to 5:00pm.
8. Mushroom Farm Park
Though it’s quite tiny compared to the other parks mentioned in this article, Mushroom Farm park is a great little oasis for those who don’t have the time to trek further than Sandton. Located just opposite the Radisson Blu hotel off Rivonia Road, it has an interactive children’s play area, an earth garden, an amphitheatre, walking trails, an outdoor gym, a duck pond, and a stream. Events are held here throughout the year, so keep your eyes and ears open. And of course you can take a ride in the Hyundai balloon — contact Aerial Displays at 083 626 1477 for prices and schedule. Open from sunrise to sunset; free.
9. Bezuidenhout Park
Better known among locals than tourists, Bezuidenhout Park is a green gem that lies just to the east of downtown Joburg in the Kensington neighborhood. It is home to numerous attractions, including the Woodpecker Bowling Club, the Observatory Gold Club, the historic Bezuidenhout family farmhouse, and the Siyakhana Permaculture Food Garden. It is flanked by the Bruma Lake flea market and the Eastgate Shopping Centre. Admission is free.
10. Brenthurst Gardens
Brenthurst Gardens is a 48-acre private park that is attached to the historic Brenthurst Estate, which has been owned by the Oppenheimer family since 1904. Rated one of the best gardens in South Africa, 70% of the plants and trees are indigenous, with the rest hailing from Australia, South America, New Zealand and Japan — various specialty gardens include a rose garden, a children’s garden, an indigenous grass garden, and a Japanese garden. But plants aren’t the only thing you’ll find here: some of the gardens have sculptures, including Venus Victorieuse by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The gardens are open to tour groups by appointment.