Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Johannesburg
Against the backdrop of the magnificent Witpoortjie waterfall, this Garden (previously called the Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden) covers almost 300 hectares and consists of both landscaped and natural veld areas.
The natural vegetation of the area is known as the "Rocky Highveld Grassland" and consists of a mosaic of grassland and savanna, with dense bush in kloofs and along streams.
The JCI Geological Trail has recently been developed and gives visitors the opportunity to not only walk along the Roodekrans Ridge and in the Nature Reserve portion of the Garden, but also to learn something about the fascinating geology of the area. Guided tours can be arranged for groups.
Be sure not to miss out on the Black Eagels that Inhabit the area by the waterfall. There is also hiking trails taking you up to the waterfall where you might get a better view of the Black eagles living here.
“Witwatersrand” means “White Waters Ridge” and it gets its names from the various little steams which cascade down the cliff faces of the many hilly outcrops in and around Johannesburg. One such waterfall is in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens (formerly the Witwatersrand Botanical Gardens and before that it was the Transvaal Botanical Garden) in Roodepoort. This lovely 300 hectare garden is not as internationally famous as the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, but they are nevertheless well worth a visit. It is one of seven national gardens which feature South Africa’s various biodiverse systems. It is a mixture of cultivated beds (indigenous plants) and features and natural veld areas.
Since the earliest days when Johannesburg was a burgeoning mining town, the area has been used for recreation. One of Johannesburg’s most famous authors, Herman Charles Bosman (1905-1951), wrote: “A stream of water flows through Witpoortjie all the year round. And through the slow millenniums this stream, assisted by the elements and seasonal flood times, has eroded its course down to its present level, so that the person who treads the footpath in the deep valley between the koppies walks in the shadows of precipitous crags that have been eaten out by the quiet waters that he scoops up to make tea with.” (From Witpoortjie in “A Cask of Jerepigo”.)
If one is fortunate one will see a pair of breeding Verreaux (“Black”) Eagles flying above the pretty Witpoortjie Waterfall, perhaps swooping to pick up a “dassie” (Rock Hyrax), which creatures form a large part of their diet. If the eagles are not circling the Roodekrans Ridge on the day of your visit you will still be able to see many of the other 220 species which frequent the garden. If one is observant one may also see various small antelope or a jackal on the cliffs and a wide variety of invertebrates, amphibians and small reptiles in the various nooks and crannies where they live.
The main pathways are paved and there are plenty of benches which make the garden user friendly for disabled and frail visitors. There is also transport between the gate and the restaurant, useful for the end of the day when children and belongings (or maybe just the responsible adults) are becoming tired and unruly. For the more energetic there are several short walks, some of which are guaranteed to burn off some surplus energy.
The various gardens (or sections of the garden) include a succulent garden, a cycad garden, a medicinal plants garden, a water garden which flows past the restaurant, a fern trail, an arboretum and a wild flower area. The Sasol Dam and wetland has a bird hide hovering over it and one can see a wide variety of water birds as well as the insects and other creatures on which they feed. There is a nursery which sells indigenous plants at very reasonable prices and the Isitiya Gift and Book Shop where I have purchased books. The Eagle’s Fare restaurant offers something more appealing than raw dassies to their human visitors and their range of homemade soft drinks, particularly the ginger beer and lemonade, is delicious.
One is discouraged from picnicking in front of the waterfall, despite it being so pretty, specifically to avoid overuse of the area, but there are many other places where one can enjoy a special packed meal. Bear in mind that the garden has a “carry-in carry-out” litter policy.
The entrance fee is R27 for adults and the park is open every day from 08h00 to 17h00 (the garden stays open until 18h00, but there is no entry after 17h00). A surcharge is levied for concerts and special events.
I have come to this beautiful botanical garden many times ove the years I lived in Johannesburg.
It has undergone a change of name and is now known as 'Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens.
The vegetation in this area is called Rocky Highveld Grassland... and is a mix of savanna and grassland. There is a gorgeous waterfall and a lot of geological work has and is being done here.
I will never forget the time we were told they were watching the eagles up at the top of the waterfall, who had had young... people had tried to see them but they were being guarded fiercely!
Sadly the one eagle flew away and was never seen again.