Did you know that there are exactly 15 countries in the world that officially have more than one capital? 14 of them cannot decide between two, for example Malaysia with Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, Bolivia with La Paz and Sucre or Montenegro with Cetinje and Podgorica. However, only one nation around the globe has decided to grant the judiciary, legislative and executive branches their own capital each – and this is South Africa: the country of your holiday-choice, the country in which you decided on a car hire Johannesburg.
Interestingly, however, Gauteng’s capital itself is not included. While you would be traveling around 1,300 kilometers from the City of Gold to get to the capital of the legislature and at least 400 kilometers to that of the judiciary, after a good half an hour you will be where the South African government meets: in Pretoria. So, get into your car hire Johannesburg vehicle and get to the place where not only the 275-meter-long complex of the famous Union Buildings made of sandstone are worth a visit.
170 years of history
In 1855 the foundation stone was laid for today’s Pretoria, which owes its name to the Boer general Andries Pretorius – although it has been officially listed since 2005 as “Tshwane”, translated from the Bantu language Setswana, a city in which “everyone is equal”.
Although Pretoria only had around 50 buildings and 300 inhabitants in its early years, it was immediately declared the capital of the Boer Republic in the Transvaal. Later, after its amalgamation with the Orange Free State, Natal and the then Cape Colony to form the South African Union, it received its status as the administrative capital for the entire country that it still holds today.
Nevertheless: While Johannesburg got bigger and bigger and emerged to the center of the province of Gauteng, things remained rather quiet in and around Pretoria. Around a million people currently live here, and there are countless entertainment options too, but the general flair continues to be rather tranquil. The fact that this very atmosphere, this mixture of history and future, of untouched nature and modern architecture, pays off, proves the first place in the presentation of the LivCom Awards, which was given to Pretoria in 2005 for its status as “the most liveable city in world” of all places with more than 750,000 inhabitants. Some years might have passed since this honor, but the metropolis in which Nelson Mandela was the first democratically elected President of South Africa to take office in 1994 still has a cosmopolitan flair. After all, there is a reason why I suggest that you get into your car hire Johannesburg vehicle and drive it north.
A stone’s throw from nature to civilization
At 1370 meters above sea level, Pretoria is located in a fertile valley at a considerable height – but not to be compared with the peaks of the surrounding Magalies Mountains. Should you prefer to first enjoy the tranquility and idyll of unspoiled nature after the exciting days in the City of Gold, make a stop here before you drive your car hire Johannesburg vehicle to Pretoria.
The mountain range is supposed to be older than two million years – almost a hundred times more than the popular – and slightly higher – Mount Everest. Cross grasslands, bush savannahs and dense forest, experience an admirable diversity of flora and fauna in the area that was granted the status of a nature reserve in 1977. Do you recognize all 130 tree species? Would you know which of the innumerable mushrooms are edible, would you opt for colorful flowers or ferns and grasses in their glorious shades of green? You can refresh yourself during your hike at one of the many waterfalls, which repeatedly provide contrasting sights behind the rugged cliffs of the mountains.
With a little luck you will come across antelopes, wild boars, vervet monkeys or baboons. Over 300 bird species enchant not only ornithologists with their songs, and eagles, vultures, buzzards and swifts even impress laypeople in the field of bird watching.
You rather climb than hike? Then use the many gorges and rocky outcrops and explore the terrain with a rope and compass. Of course, you can also get on a mountain bike to explore the Magaliesberge, which is striving for a place on the list of all UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to its long history and current biodiversity.
Once you get back to your car, whether on foot or by bike, this time, finally set off for the city of executive with your car hire Johannesburg.
Of urban plants and animals
When you arrive in Pretoria, you don’t have to do without nature. There is a reason that the metropolis is also called “Jakarandastad”: Around 70,000 of the trees of the same name imported from South America line the streets and avenues of the South African city, turning them into bright purple every year from September onwards. The “Jacaranda Queen” is chosen at the annual carnival – maybe you too would like to wrap yourself up in a mauve-colored costume and take part in the vote? You can of course go to the Botanical Garden at any time without a dress code …
76 hectares of indigenous and exotic plants, more than two hundred species of birds, mammals and reptiles: in the middle of Pretoria lies the National Botanical Garden, an oasis of relaxation. Stroll along the well-maintained paths and discover ducks in the pond, bush hares in the meadows or antelopes in the open fields. You can count over 50 species of butterflies, sit down quietly on one of the benches for a while, and should your stomach give in, simply stop by one of the two in-house restaurants with their fresh, local specialties or ask for a picnic basket and settle under one of the large shady oaks.
Truly: There is no shortage of safari parks in South Africa, nature reserves with wild animals or breeding stations where you can get closer to elephants, rhinos and co. And you should definitely drive your car hire Johannesburg rental car to one of the large nature reserves that you will find scattered across the country.
Nevertheless, the zoological garden in Pretoria does not have to hide from any of this. A wide variety of animal species have been at home here for over a hundred years – not only from their own country, but also from Australia. The largest zoo in South Africa also houses the most extensive inland sea water aquarium in the country, a terrarium and a large reptile park – and, occasionally, even families, groups of friends and school classes: all of whom can turn up their beds for one night between penguins and goats if they register way ahead.
The 85-hectare-area with its more than 3,000 animals from pandas to lions to owls is also dedicated to the protection and conservation of endangered species such as the white rhinoceros and white tigers under the aegis of the National Research Foundation.
The Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary
The Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary may not be one of the largest nature park areas you can find. But how does the proverb go? Small, but nice. Or better: small, but powerful! Because in this gem, which was opened in 1956 and is now listed as a cultural heritage, you will find almost 200 species of birds from pigeons and geese to cranes at the latest at the Walkerspruit Open Space System, in whose streams the flying animals refresh themselves daily. Explore the nature reserve in your own car hire Johannesburg or join a guided hike.
If you drive your car hire Johannesburg vehicle towards the University of Pretoria, you are not on your way to the largest distance university in the country with its over 250,000 students, which is also located in the third South African capital. And don’t worry, you don’t have to go back to school during your vacation.
Rather, you take the opportunity and stop in one of the oldest landscaped parks in the country and head to the place in the meadow, where it is best to have a picnic, under hundreds of magnolia trees glowing in white, pink and purple and next to idyllic lakes. You might be lucky enough to have one of the popular handicraft markets happening there, where you can buy souvenirs or presents for your family back home.
What you will unfortunately not see anymore, are Peter Pan and Wendy. At least, you do still find evidence that the two popular comic book characters really existed in their pedestals, which were left behind by the thieves of the famous statues.
From urban architecture
Of course, there is not only nature in Pretoria, but – or better: above all – entertainment, shopping, bars and restaurants. And all of this in an architecture that ranges from concrete skyscrapers with glass facades to buildings in the colonial Dutch style with art deco elements.
Park your car hire Johannesburg rental car in the middle of the city center and go on a search for clues: Second to Washington D.C. in the USA, it is Pretoria where you find the most of foreign national representations worldwide. Take a look at the numerous public ministries such as the Palace of Justice, the Old Parliament, the Central Post Office, or the South African Central Bank.
Most of the cultural institutions are located in the heart of the city, the Kerkplein. There is no shortage of historical monuments along Church Street, with 16 kilometres the longest street in the world. Among the memorials: the statue of former President Paul Kruger.
The Kruger House from 1844 is the historic residence of the then South African President Paul Kruger, meanwhile a memorial with a collection of personal belongings of the politician, which has been supplemented by other exhibits from the same era. The old villa itself shows two peculiarities: milk instead of water was stirred into the cement mixture on the façade for quality reasons – and Paul Kruger and his wife were the first in the city to have a power connection for the use of electric light and finally one for their telephone in 1891.
Once in Pretoria, don’t miss the famous Union Buildings. They form the political center not only of the city, but of the entire country. When it was built in 1913, the 280-meter-long, 100-meter-wide and 60-meter-high architectural complex made of light-colored sandstone was the largest building in the southern hemisphere. In May 1994, Nelson Mandela was sworn in here, and important meetings of the state government are still held. Well-tended gardens complete this sightseeing point on your list.
The Voortrekker memorial on Monument Hill commemorates the courage and determination of the founders of the former South African Republic – all those who set out from the Cape Colony in the direction of Gauteng between 1835 and 1854 and formed the first settlements there. The national shrine, which is still important to many, is a massive granite building with influences from the art-deco style – in stark contrast to the….
Mahlamba Ndlopfu presidential residence
… which at first glance looks like a magnificent castle. The administrative Cape-Dutch-building from 1940 is the official residence of the South African President, with its rooms and gardens being maintained daily. But not only this: the Bryntirion Estate also keeps the residence of the Vice President, a guest house for political visitors, accommodation options for cabinet ministers, but also 15 tennis courts and a golf course.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to play here without an invitation, and trying to do so secretly is not a good idea: the property, which measures over a square kilometer, is secured by more than 200 cameras and a total of a good eight kilometers of fences.
Shopping, culture and gastronomy
All that is by no means everything that you can discover and experience on a trip to Pretoria with your car hire Johannesburg. You find modern art galleries as well as museums that take you back to the beginnings not only of the country, but even the entire mankind, you can visit the 177,000 square meter Menlyn Park Shopping Center, which has over 500 shops of all kinds, a drive-in cinema on the roof of the building, a theater stage and of course restaurants and cafes for every taste and budget. Or simply steer your car hire Johannesburg rental car to one of the many other dining options in the city, which offer everything from local specialties to exotic dishes and European cuisine. Whichever you choose: We wish you bon appetit!