Make a pilgrimage to Loftus Versfeld!
South Africans are fanatical about sport (in my experience, only Aussies come close in terms of their sports obsession), and among white South Africans, rugby is not a sport, but a religion! Until I moved to South Africa, I couldn't see the logic behind the sports boycott which was imposed on South Africa in the 1980s and 90s ... and once I was here, I realised how profoundly hurt white South Africans were that nobody would play games with them!
The Holy of Holies for rugby fans is Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, home of the Blue Bulls (formerly Northern Transvaal), which also hosts some test (international) matches and was also one of the venues for the Soccer World Cup. Of all the South African grounds, Loftus is the one which foreign teams most dread playing at, due to the wildly partisan crowd and the stadium configuration which makes the place feel like a seething cauldron of emotion.
You can't come to South Africa in winter (the rugby season) and not watch a rugby match - preferably live, or, failing that on a TV (most pubs and bars would have big screens). For those used to soccer, it is a confusing game, as players can use their hands as well as their feet, but can only pass the ball backwards (although they are aiming to go forward). You can score points in several different ways and the rules are not only complex, but are regularly modified - confused??? However, it's fortunately not necessary to understand more than the absolute basics to enjoy the game (most self-professed rugby fans couldn't explain the more esoteric rules). Above all, it is arguably the most team-focused of all sports, which combines immense skill with sheer brute force, and is utterly addictive!
Unlike soccer, which seems to have problems with crowd violence worldwide, rugby is a game where the violence is confined to the pitch! One of the nicest aspects of the game is that entire families (from babes in arms onwards) go to watch live games, and the atmosphere is absolutely terrific. Tickets are reasonably priced by international standards, but be mindful that for big matches, tickets are sold out well in advance, so check the website for availability.
Loftus is located to the east of the Pretoria CBD and is easily accessible - check the website below for 'park and ride' arrangements as parking at the venue itself is limited.
Menlyn's Food Mecca
This tip is based on the entire selection of outlets at Menlyn. Everything from Ice-cream vendors, take away joints, coffee houses, restaurants, Sushi bars, etc. can be found in the upstairs hall. There are also various restaurants on the other levels, as well as an Ocean Basket outside. My favourite spot is the KFC outlet. For what you pay, the chicken burger is very big, very tasty, and you get your regular chips and cooldrink as well.
Voortrekkersmonument - cenotaph
The word cenotaph means 'empty tomb'. It is therefore the symbolic resting place of Piet Retief and all the other Voortrekkers who died during the Great Trek. The Cenotaph is made from red granite from the Parys region in the Free State.
Once a year, on 16 December, the sun shines through an opening in the dome roof of the Monument onto the middle of the Cenotaph. It shines on the words 'Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika', literally translated: 'We for thee South Africa.' The architect, Gerard Moerdijk, planned this specifically because the ray of sunlight symbolizes God's blessing on the life and work of the Voortrekkers.
The Cenotaph Hall consists of a 34,5 x 34,5 metre area and is decorated with the flags of the different Voortrekker Republics. The hall is visited more often these days as the famous wall tapestries depicting the Voortrekkers can be seen there, as well as several display cases with artefacts from the Great Trek.
Against the Northern wall is a nave with a lantern where a flame has been kept burning since 1938. The Symbolic Ox Wagon Trek took place in 1938. It started in Cape Town and ended at Monument Hill where the foundation stone was laid for the erection of the Monument. (text from website)
You can climb to a high point in the tower and look right down onto the cenotaph far below which is quite scary but intriguing too.
Situated on the grounds of the Voortrekker museum, this centre is dedicated to Afrikaners and how life use to be. Some interesting things they have there, they play very very old Afrikaans music and have written the words on the walls in English. Interesting if you have time to kill, but otherwise you can really give it a miss.
The Jacaranda City (at least for the time being)
Pretoria and Johannesburg may only be 60km from each other, but the two cities are worlds apart. Precisely because they are so very different, I would recommend that tourists visiting Jo'burg also consider spending a little time getting to appreciate what Pretoria has to offer, and vice versa.
The reason why two cities that are located cheek by jowl could be so very different can be traced back to their origins. Pretoria is an Afrikaans city, established by the Voortrekkers as the seat of Government, whereas Johannesburg was founded by a motley crew of opportunistic immigrants as the result of a gold rush. Johannesburg went on to become the commercial hub of South Africa, whereas Pretoria became the seat of government and the bastion of the civil service.
Physically the two cities are also different. On average, Pretoria is about 2 degrees centigrade warmer than Jo'burg, which is just enough to protect it from winter frost and make it feel that little bit more tropical. In summer, those couple of extra degrees are also enough to make it feel slightly uncomfortable for me - but then I'm biased as I believe that Jo'burg has one of the most ideal climates in the world!
Jo'burg is a fast-paced, frenetic, pretty materialistic place, whereas Pretoria is a much more laid back city. Despite the perennial roadworks (and resultant delays) on the Ben Schoeman highway between the two cities, many people who work in Jo'burg choose to live in Pretoria and commute - hopefully the extension of the Gautrain system to Pretoria (due for completion in June 2011) will ease the highway congestion. The highway upgrades are also due to be completed in the next year or so (and a toll system will be implemented) but since this highway has been in the grips of roadworks along some part of its length since I moved to Jo'burg in 1987, I'm not holding my breath!
Although English is generally understood, Afrikaans is the language of preference for all race groups and culturally Pretoria is still extremely Afrikaans.
Pretoria is not often considered as a major tourist destination, and yet there is a good deal of interesting stuff to see and do, particularly if you have an interest in understanding South Africa's fascinating but turbulent history. I would feature the Voortrekker Monument close to the top of any 'To Do' list for visitors, and can also highly recommend Jan Smuts' House in Irene (other than Nelson Mandela, Smuts was probably South Africa's most influential international statesman of the 20th century, and was one of the architectects of the League of Nations, the forerunner to the United Nations). The Union Buildings (the official seat of Government) are lovely and the Anton von Wouw statue of the ever-grumpy Paul Kruger in Church Square is a wonderful piece of sculpture. The Pretoria Zoo is also a good day out, particularly if you have children in tow, and the Transvaal Museum is also worth a look. There are also some lovely things to do in the nearby Magaliesberg range (for example, the brilliant Anne van Dyk Cheetah Breeding Centre) and the Cradle of Humankind is also a fairly short drive away, as well as the eerie Tswaing meteorite crater.
Of course Pretoria is most famous for its 55,000 jacaranda trees, which come into flower in October. Over that period, the city is enveloped in a hazy of misty purple, which looks gorgeous. However linked jacarandas have become to Pretoria's identity, they are not indigenous (they originally come from South America) and are notoriously water-hungry. This has resulted in them being declared a 'Category 3 alien invasive plant', which means that no more jacarandas can be planted: so when the current trees finally die off, Pretoria will have to search for another moniker!