Jacaranda City | 510km

Pretoria and Jacaranda TreesPretoria and Jacaranda Trees

PRETORIA [ALSO KNOWN AS TSHWANE]

Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, was established in 1855 and became the capital of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) five years later. The city's name honours the Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius. Also known as the Jacaranda City because of the profusion of these exotic trees, there is much to do and see in this city, which was the bastion of apartheid until the first democratic elections in 1994. In the heart of the city is Church Square, with its statue of Paul Kruger. Clustered around the square are several historic buildings built in the late 1880s and 1890s, among them the imposing Palace of Justice, the Raadsaal, or House of Parliament, the Grootkerk and the State Bank and Mint.

Other noteworthy buildings include the Sammy Marks Fountain, Paul Kruger Church (1897), Railway Station (designed by Sir Herbert Baker; extensively damaged by fire in February 2001), the City Hall and Government House (1906). Dominating the skyline of the ridge to the southwest of the city centre is the Voortrekker Monument, opened in 1949 to commemorate the Great Trek, while the Herbert Baker-designed Union Buildings, with its imposing colonnades, occupy a commanding position on Meintjieskop. Fort Schanskop (1897) and Fort Klapperkop (1898) are two of the eight forts built around Pretoria to defend the Boer capital.

Visitors on South African holidays can frequent the city's numerous museums such as the Transvaal Museum, a natural history museum housing, among others, a fascinating archaeological display, and the Austin Roberts Bird Hall, with its extensive bird collection; the cottage-style Paul Kruger House; and Melrose House, where the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 May 1902. The city's National Zoological Gardens are rated among the world's ten best zoos. Covering 600 ha of landscaped gardens, the zoo is home to over 600 species of animals which are kept in enclosures resembling as far as possible their natural habitats. There is also a Reptile Park and Aquarium, the latter with the largest collection of freshwater fish in Africa, as well as marine fish in artificial sea water. The focal point of the Wonderboom Nature Reserve, just north of the city centre, is a massive wild fig tree with a crown spead over 55 m. With a height of 23m, the tree is estimated to be over 1 000 years old.

TSWAING CRATER

Tswaing Crater, a Tswana name meaning 'place of salt', is one of the best-preserved meteorite impact craters in the world, and one of four in South Africa. With a diameter of just over 1km and a depth of about 120m, the roughly circular crater was formed about 220 000 years ago. At the centre of the crater lies a brine lake which was mined for soda during the early 1900s. Visitors can explore the crater by taking a guided tour, or by following the Crater Trail. Displays on the natural and cultural history of the crater can be seen on site, or in the Tswaing Crater Museum, the first enviro-museum in South Africa. The Mapoch Ndebele Village, a living village devoted to Ndebele culture, also forms part of the museum.

WARMBATHS

...was laid out on four farms in 1882 and originally named Hartingsburg, but was renamed Warmbad (warm bath) in 1920, after the hot spring surfacing on one of the farms, named Het Bad (the bath). The town's main attraction is the hot spring resort, with its hydro spa, outdoor pool complex, water slides, wave pool and river ride. Cable water-skiing is one of many leisure and recreational activities on offer making it a popular spot for South African holidays. Adjoining the resort is a small nature reserve, which can be seen by taking a guided game drive. A wide choice of accommodation is available. During the South African War, the British built a blockhouse near the railway station to protect the line against attack by Boer commandos.

BOTSHABELO

...was established as a mission station by Alexander Merensky of the Berlin Missionary Society in 1865 as a refuge for subjects of Sekhukhune who were being persecuted for adopting Christianity. In the same year, a sturdy stone fort (later known as Fort Merensky) was built to protect the mission. The Sotho name, Botshabelo, appropriately means 'place of refuge', and the mission station soon developed into a sizable village with a Gothic-style church, parsonage, school, trading store, water mill and a teacher's training school. Merensky also opened a printing press, where a Sesotho version of the Bible, hymn books and school books were printed, and a book bindery.

The main attraction of Botshabelo is the South Ndebele open-air museum, which offers a vivid picture of Ndebele history and culture. A living museum, it depicts the development of Ndebele architecture from the early dome-shaped grass homesteads to mud-walled homes with their famous mural decorations. Guided tours are available. The area surrounding the mission has been set aside as a nature reserve which can be explored along day walks. Trailists might chance upon eland, black wildebeest, blesbok, red hartebeest, springbok and Burchell's zebra. Accommodation is available.

MIDDELBURG

...was established in 1866 after it was decided to subdivide the Lydenburg congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church. Originally given the biblical name of Nazareth, it was renamed Middelburg in 1874 on account of its position midway between Pretoria and Lydenburg. The town lies in an area rich in coal deposits and has developed into a major industrial and agricultural centre, serving the coal mines, power stations, stainless steel factory and surrounding farms. Places of interest include the White Church, built for the Dutch Reformed Church congregation in 1890, the concentration camp cemeteries south of the town and on Kanonkop, and the sandstone Meyer Bridge, built over the Little Olifants River in 1895.

WITBANK

...owes its existence to the region's rich coal deposits. The first shaft was sunk by Samuel Stanford in 1896, and the town was laid out seven years later by the mining company, Witbank Colliery. Its Afrikaans name, meaning 'white ridge' is derived from the light-coloured outcrop near the railway station. Since its establishment in 1903, Witbank has developed into a major centre for the area's 20-odd collieries, smelters and other industries. Of historic interest is the mine shaft at the Transvaal and Delagoa Bay Mine, where Winston Churchill hid after his escape from Pretoria.

CULLINAN

Cullinan, a charming village with terraced Victorian cottages, developed around the Premier Diamond Mine. The mine was opened following the discovery in 1902 of a rich kimberlite pipe by Sir Thomas Cullinan, in whose honour the village was named. Among the many large diamonds recovered from the mine, the most famous is the 3 106-carat Cullinan Diamond, the largest gem diamond ever found. Bought by the Transvaal government, it was presented to King Edward VII and forms part of the British Crown Jewels. The Willem Pretorius Agricultural Museum, 10 km north of Cullinan, is centred around an old farmstead dating back to 1880. It comprises the historic house, outbuildings, stables and a museum where old agricultural implements are displayed.

PRETORIA NATIONAL BOTANICAL GARDEN

...covers 75 ha of natural vegetation, lawns and landscaped gardens on Silverton Ridge, a quartzite outcrop to the east of Pretoria. Over 1 000 species of flowering plants and trees occur naturally in the garden which also has cultivated sections devoted to fynbos plants, succulents, cycads, aloes and forest species. A thoroughly interesting site for botany enthusiasts on South African holidays. Among the indoor treasures are the internationally known Desmond Cole Lithops Collection - devoted to the unusual succulents also known as 'flowering stones' - and the valuable Hardy Collection of plants from Namaqualand, Madagascar and Namibia. There are paved walkways, nature trails and an artificial waterfall in the forest adjoining the tea garden.

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