Five senses tour of Jozi

During the hot, dry summer months, the animals of the Serengeti leave the arid plains to the more fertile river areas. The denizens of the urban jungle known as Gauteng have much the same migratory patterns – in the summer, set off for the mountains, velds and beaches. For most people, “getting away from it all” means getting as far away from gridlock and concrete as possible.

The truth is that it’s perfectly possible for even the slickest of city slickers to get in touch with themselves and their bodies without having to travel far. It just requires a sharpening of the senses and a bit of creativity.

Our five senses tour of Joburg provides a guide to getting away from it all without having to leave the comfort of your own backyard.

Joburg may lack a Table Mountain or ocean vistas, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way to appreciate the city visually. What better way to admire the urban landscape than with a bird’s eye view from the highest building in Africa? The Carlton Centre is the classic go-to spot for an unbelievable view from within the heart of the city. The topmost floor offers a wonderful panoramic view of the City of Gold. Looking down at Jozi from 50 stories up allows one to appreciate the city detached from its often maddening traffic and noise pollution.  If you like a drink with your views, head to the rooftop bar of the 12 Decades Hotel. At a modest seven storeys, the views aren’t quite as all-encompassing as those of the Carlton, but the chilled-out music and trendy atmosphere make this a popular spot for young, urban professionals looking to spend their Sundays staring at skylines. For a truly far-reaching view, the Observatory reigns supreme. At 2,208 metres above sea level, it’s the highest point in Johannesburg. On clear days, you can see as far as the Voortrekker Monument. It’s also the home to a bird-sanctuary, should your city-watching skills also extend to bird watching.


Some days we get tired of all the artificial noise blaring at us from every angle. On those days, we can’t get enough of frogs croaking, cicadas chirping and all those other sounds of nature so beloved of cheesy relaxation CDs. A country getaway to the Magaliesburg is just the solution for those kinds of days. If you need a quick breather from the ringing of phones and the shuffling of papers, we find birdsong is like coffee for the ears. Montecasino might not seem like the ideal place to get back to nature, but the Bird Gardens are a great central city location to enjoy the chattering of macaws and more. Similarly, the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort is home to 220 bird species. And depending on the day, it’s a great place to satisfy that other kind of audio-cravings we all get. The gardens are the venue for Sunday concerts. The music is appropriately laid back – jazz and classical are the order of the day.


Any animal lover will tell you how comforting the simple act of petting an animal can be, to the extent that many dogs are trained as therapy animals. Thus, we figure the most affirming way of exploring one’s sense of touch should be getting close to some of the wonderful creatures we share our planet with. The Hartbeespoort Elephant Sanctuary provides an opportunity to interact with elephants. Visitors can ride, feed, feel and ultimately bond with these wondrous animals. Leading an elephant by its trunk must surely be something for the bucket list. The Lion Park in the Lanseria area offers encounters with other amazing African animals. Their cub sanctuary lets visitors touch baby cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, caracals and rare white lions. An even better reason for visiting is the opportunity to walk with a fully grown cheetah or feed a giraffe. This is truly Africa at eye level. For those who are curious about even the scaly members of the animal kingdom, Croc City in Fourways offers a safe way of getting up close and personal with baby crocodiles and snakes. The reptilian encounters may not be everyone’s cup of tea but those with a little bit of guts may find it a surprisingly rewarding experience.


Forget perfumes and colognes. The smells that drive us wild more than any other are those of food. So for our sensual smell experience, we sought out markets and restaurants rather than boutiques perfumeries. Places like the Two Trees Bakery in the south of Johannesburg, where all sorts of delectable breads, brownies and cakes are baked on site. The only thing better than the smell of fresh-baked farm-style bread is eating it afterwards, and the bakery’s artisanal breads taste as good as they smell.

Another place we sniffed out was Little Addis on Jeppe Street. Amharic script on the buildings announces the location of the city’s Ethiopian quarter. Ignore the hawkers and crowds and make your way into the old Joburg Mall. There you will discover the scents of rich Ethiopian coffee brewers. The Medical Arts building opposite is the home of traditional spices like Berbere and North African wat stews. If the thought of braving the chaos of downtown Johannesburg doesn’t appeal to you, the Abbyssinia restaurant in Kensington provides the same authentic coffee ceremonies and spicy Ethiopian cooking with none of the parking hassles.

What better way to spice up your weekend than to head for the spiciest place in Joburg? Mint Street in Fordsburg is another inner city location where strong, piquant scents fill the air. The Fordsburg Night Market takes place on Friday and Saturday nights and its olfactory offerings include the smells of curries, biryanis, tikkas, samosas and all those other Indian foods no-one can get enough of.


Taste was both the easiest and most difficult of senses to find an appropriate activity for. Should we limit it to restaurants or food markets? If so, which of the thousand places to eat should we pick?

So we cheated. Our stop on the taste part of our tour integrates all of the other senses for a satisfying conclusion. Eating is so inextricably linked to the other senses that we think the ultimate exploration of taste should incorporate them.

Sandton’s All About Food is one such way to experience a fully sensual dining experience. Their sensory experience is a journey through 40 different dishes embodying a range of tastes, textures, scents and visual presences. Guests are encouraged to truly explore the relationship between taste, touch, sound, smell and sight. It is quite literally a feast for the senses.

Our advice is to keep an eye (and ear and nose and…) for the odd corners of the big city that provide a way to engage with your senses and appreciate what it means to be alive. Johannesburg may be more suited to business deals and negotiating than meditation and stargazing, but the astute urbanite can still get in more than their share of self-reflection and personal fulfilment.

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