I have lived in and around Joburg my entire life – more than 40 years – and working as a press photographer I feel I know the streets of this city better than most, but I was unprepared for the unique and dynamic experience that a City Sightseeing tour offers.
Driving yourself around a city is a very different experience to being driven around – and being seated on the top floor of an open roof double decker bus gives you the added benefit of an almost bird’s eye view.
For almost three hours I didn’t have a single decision to make. I didn’t have to worry about traffic, directions, distractions, unruly drivers or criminal opportunists. The most enjoyable aspect was to sit back and take in the views of the city as it reveals its various layers.
I boarded the bus in Rosebank, after a quick visit to the City Sightseeing kiosk at The Zone, and was directed to the bus stop.
A tourist in your own city
It felt interesting to be treated as a tourist in your own city. Obviously I always carry a camera – so waiting at a City Sightseeing bus stop I guess people would assume I am a tourist, and in those few minutes I received many warm greetings and welcoming smiles.
After sanitising and being guided to socially distanced seating, myself and fellow travellers were whisked through the leafy suburbs of the north in the direction of Zoo Lake.
Intentionally or not, the bus provides a view over the eight foot-plus walls into the mansions of Parkview, Westcliff and Saxonwold, among others. The beautifully manicured gardens and palatial homesteads make for quite a contrast to what you see in other parts of the journey, but it provides an appropriate bookend to the dramatic disparities that make up Joburg.
The bus stops at the Munro Drive viewpoint, where tourists seized the opportunity to capture the elevated views of Joburg’s forest-scape.
And then on to the Constitutional Court where the upper level gives possibly the best vantage of the larger than life graffiti that adorns the walls surrounding the precinct.
From ‘Con Hill’ you make your way into the city via Harrison Street, crossing Park Station. I specifically wanted to take the bus ride through Joburg’s inner city. This is where the tapestry of Joburg reveals its story.
We travelled through on a Saturday afternoon. The city’s streets were by no means desolate, but not quite the hustle of mid-week madness. Here we could see the city residents going about their weekend rituals. Many were shopping, some relaxing, some socialising and some enjoying carefree libation.
An interesting phenomenon was that people were very happy to have their photographs taken from the bus. Everywhere people were friendly and waving happily as I lifted my camera to take pictures. The bus itself wheeling through the city must be quite a spectacle as people turn to take it in.
There are however those hardened Joburgers who couldn’t give a damn and continue their brisk walk navigating Joburg’s minefield-like sidewalks, but these are actually part of the layers of the city I was keen to observe.
The bus takes a turn through the mining district, highlighting some of the historical elements of the birth of the city. Again the advantage of being seated at this height, above street level, allows passengers to take in elements of the stunning architecture of old Johannesburg.
We then make our way east to the Carlton Centre, a busy shopping Mecca on a Saturday, following which we head for the southern suburbs. Here you take in a different perspective again, travelling through a slightly more decayed part of the city near Turffontein Racecourse – smaller dwellings, at times falling into disrepair, but where locals are still happy to greet from their front porches.
The bus stops at Gold Reef City and the Apartheid Museum which would understandably be interesting points for tourists.
From here we make our way back to the city via the M1 north while taking in panoramic views of the cityscape from the south west of Johannesburg, and past the mine dumps that form an integral part of the city’s history. FNB Stadium is even visible from this point, much to the delight of the tourists on our trip.
The attraction that must have generated the most excitement among our fellow travellers was the traverse of the Nelson Mandela Bridge. The bridge straddles 42 railway lines, and is the largest cable-stayed bridge in South Africa. Whether for its name, or its engineering the bus travellers gushed at the sight, with one even giving a loud “halilili!” as we crossed from Newtown to Braamfontein.
With all the travel restrictions in place, and many Joburgers opting to stay in Johannesburg instead of heading to the coast, City Sightseeing’s red bus tour makes for a great day out. It’s informative, entertaining and safe. There is a thrill to cruising above street level traffic on an open-top bus, and there are so many wonderful sights to see in Johannesburg – whether it be the important and historical attractions, or to simply observe the daily life of the city’s dwellers across all spectrums.