A Day in Johannesburg by Miranda Sherry

Johannesburg (called Joburg, or Jozi by the locals) is an alive, energetic place that manages to be both intrinsically African as well as cosmopolitan and contemporary. Of course, Cape Town is incredible, but if you actually want to visit South Africa, you have to experience Joburg.

The city is largely made up of sprawling suburbs surrounding a small urban centre that’s steeped in modern history. These suburbs are the reason why Joburg is considered to be one of the largest manmade forests in the world. From a distance, all you can see is a dense coat of pillowy green that echoes with bird song and shades a bustling hive of humanity beneath.

When to visit:

Johannesburg is at its best in summer (late September to May). The brief months of winter are very sunny, but dry and brown and bitterly cold at night.

November is one of the best times for a visit - warm, sunny afternoons are broken by wild, brief electric storms that vanish as quickly as they arrive, leaving the evening clear and freshly washed. Also, the Jacaranda trees are in bloom in November, and streets lined with these purple marvels are quite magical.

Where to wake up: 

The Saxon Boutique Hotel - 36 Saxon Road, Sandhurst

If its luxury you're after, don't mess about. The Saxon is elegant and serene, centrally located, close to the Sandton Gautrain Station and loads of shops, and is a piece of South Africa's history. Nelson Mandela stayed at The Saxon after he was released from prison, and it was here that he edited his autobiography, LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.

Where to eat breakfast:

Nice - 37 4th Avenue, Parkhurst

Nice in Parkhurst. Delicious food from a simple menu served with a personal touch in a warm atmosphere that largely due to Karla, the owner. Café style tables on the pavement are a great spot for people watching – 4th Avenue Parkhurst is always buzzing, you might even spot the members of Die Antwoord incongruously sipping cappuccinos at the next table. After brekkie, take stroll down 4th Avenue, and peer in at the pretty things in the myriad antique stores and décor shops along the way.

The best tourist attraction to visit:

Soweto - Hector Pieterson memorial and Vilakazi Street

Every visitor I've asked is adamant that going to Soweto 'made their trip'. It's a thriving city in its own right, and a great place to soak up some real South African energy and flavour. Best to take a tour to ensure that you don't miss the Hector Pieterson memorial in Moema street (where Hector fell on June 16, 1976 during the Soweto uprising) as well as the famous Vilekazi street. Bishop Tutu and Tata Madiba both lived on this street in their time, and the surrounding area has been regenerated into a visitor-friendly hub. Street art, the Mandela museum (his old house done up just like it was in 1946 when he moved in), atmospheric eateries and historical landmarks make this a must-see.

Where to eat lunch:

Burnsides Cafe - 6 Burnside Ave, Craighall

Burnsides Cafe is a hidden gem in the middle of the leafy northern suburbs. Here you can sit on the long stoep at a table clad in white linen and gaze out at the garden in an atmosphere of unfussy calm. The food is fresh and superbly tasty (the fish cakes are my favourite) and their coffee is always excellent.  

A place to visit that only locals know:

The Westcliff Steps. Used as a training ground for local marathon runners, mountain climbers, moms trying to get fit,  and the ambitious dog walkers, the Westcliff Steps climb through one of Joburg's oldest suburbs. The 210 steep stairs were built in 1922 by a group of unemployed miners, and are made from the rock of the hill itself. They're a serious workout, but a great way to experience amazing views out over the forested northern suburbs.

A secret spot:

Delta Park – horses, birds and hyenas in the middle of the city.

This is where the I and my neighbours go to pat horses, picnic, walk dogs, mountain bike through the long grass, and watch the birds from a little hide that borders the bird sanctuary that nestles in the heart of the park.

Recently, the local Twittersphere was all ‘atweet’ when a brown hyena was spotted wandering through the park and the surrounding suburbs. It was safely darted and taken to the Johannesburg zoo for treatment that same day. Quite how it strayed so far from its likely home in a game reserve on the outskirts of the city nobody can say. Clearly, Johannesburg is wilder than we think...

Where to go for the evening:

Il Giardino Degli Ulivi - 44 Stanley Avenue Milpark

A great Italian restaurant with a unique ‘Boere’ twist located in 44 Stanley which was once a bunch of industrial buildings that have been upcycled into a trendy cluster of restaurants, boutique-y shops, and design studios. Enjoy a delicious dinner under a grove of twisty olive trees and twinkling lights in the heart of Joburg. You can also listen to live music until late. If you’re lucky, you could catch the award-winning writer Rian Malan (MY TRAITOR'S HEART) playing guitar in the delightfully quirky, 1930s-esque ‘Ensemble Borsalino’.

Local etiquette

Despite its reputation, Johannesburg is a really friendly city. Residents get a bick kick out of visitors and are welcoming and helpful and very inclusive. It is always advisable to ask a local about a spot you're planning to visit, turning down the wrong street with a lost look on your face is never a brilliant idea. Joburgers are always aware of what's going on around them, and to really fit in, adopt an attitude of wry skepticism, and keep alert.

Where to go to bed: 

Mount Grace - Old Rustenburg Rd, Magaliesburg

If you really want to experience Joburg like a local, do what we do and head outside the city for a night or two. In under an hour's drive from Johannesburg, you could be in the magnificent Magaliesburg mountains or the Cradle of Humankind.

There are a wealth of lodges and guesthouses to relax in, and plenty to see and do, whether its fishing, hiking or kloofing (otherwise known as mucking around in gorges and riverbeds).

One of the best known spot to stay is the Mount Grace Country House and Spa in the Magaliesberg. Good food, great surroundings and heaps of luxury have made this a long-standing favourite. When I was a kid, my parents used to drive us out there on the occasional Sunday for a buffet breakfast of note.

Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry publishes 14th August 2014. It is a powerful and gripping story of a murdered woman watching from the heavens as her traumatised daughter adjusts to life with a new family.

Will you love this book as much as we did? Share your reading experience newvoices@headofzeus.com or via @HoZ_Books @miranda_sherry_ #blackdogsummer