Tourist in Your Country of Birth? A Walking Tour of the Maboneng Precinct

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For my 37th birthday in January, my friend Mandy gave me one of the best gifts I could have asked for: a walking tour of the Maboneng Precinct, south east of the Joburg CBD. I had been to the Sunday morning market at Arts on Main once with David and Chiara in 2013 (Chiara was about 2). I thought it was cool but a little limited: once we’d picked something to eat, there were a few shops to browse but mostly up a flight of stairs – so not really a pram destination.

My second visit was in September 2015. I wanted to show my Cape Town foodie friend & lifestyle chef/ consultant, Maureen, that Jozi also has some funky destinations and that it’s not all about strip malls. We had two kids and two prams between us, it was a scorcher of a day and after the kids had messed “ice cream” (actually organic frozen yoghurt or such-like) all over themselves, they were frankly OVER the excursion.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went to Maboneng to watch a documentary at The Bioscope (The Boers at the End of the World: very interesting doci about a tiny group of Afrikaans-speaking Argentinians in Patagonia). It was a Friday night and the place was PUMPING. Such a great vibe with so many bars and eateries to choose from… (Note to coffee lovers: The Bioscope possibly offers one of the best tasting cappuccinos I’ve had in Joburg. Yes, I was drinking coffee at 7pm at night – I have small children). It was then, that I started to understand the hype about Maboneng, “Place of Light”.

This bar was HUMMING on Fri 18 March
(This bar next door to the Bioscope was humming on a summery Friday night in March)

Returning to Maboneng for our walking tour on a Friday morning in April, sans enfants, felt really decadent. Mandy and I Uber-ed (I think it’s a verb now, right?) to Fox Street with only our handbags in tow (not even wet wipes :)) and met our guide, Jo, at Origins Coffee. (I recall going back to Cape Town in my early days as a Jozi immigrant and being told I had not lived until I had sampled Origins coffee in De Waterkant. I love local “imports”).

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Jo is the founder of Past Experiences, one of a handful of inner city walking tour companies. I love that she majored in History and Archeology. (She has a keen interest in street art and graffiti about which I knew absolutely nothing before the tour. The photo above is a “tag” –  a street artist’s signature).

As we arrived, Mandy and I spied some of my two most favourite words in the English language “ROOFTOP BAR”. We ventured upstairs and it transpired that Canteen (the restaurant inside the Arts on Main courtyard) has a cute, little rooftop area.

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Jo then led us to the shops and galleries on the first floor. I bought these gorgeous, colourful mini canvasses (pictured below) featuring different hand signs for taxis, as well as one of Madiba. I love the bright colours against the dark grey cladding in our guest loo, where they are now hanging. I spied them in artist, May Wentworth’s, store: The Inappropriate Gallery & Decor. The large canvas of the woman in a red jacket is one of May’s own artworks which I was admiring too. I couldn’t resist a carved noughts and crosses board which I’ve been using to teach Chiara (who just turned 5) to play.

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The Inappropriate Gallery also stocks gorgeous platters, bowls etc by The Ceramic Factory (main Joburg store is in Linden). Here’s an example of their wares from their Facebook page:

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As for the prices, perhaps I am punch drunk by the exorbitant prices we get charged for pretty little things in Sandton, the Parks etc, but I felt like I had US dollars to spend but was paying in Rands:  I couldn’t believe what great value everything was. (Jo, on the other hand, is more used to shopping in the inner city and surrounds and couldn’t quite understand my bargain hunter’s excitement…).

Next stop was at I Was Shot in Joburg. I absolutely love this “brand”. So much so that I actually bought the T-shirt. (I never, ever buy the T-shirt…that’s me wearing it in the picture below – yes, the 10 year old in me wanted to wear it straight away!) That’s how much I love their story, purpose and now, their product range. If you don’t know who they are, they say it best: “I Was Shot provides a platform for former street children (from Hillbrow) to earn an income”. They started out by using disposable cameras to photograph their surroundings. Now, the photos form the basis for gorgeous, trendy and totally “usable” products. Besides my T-shirt, I bought funky photo frames and fridge magnets. (Their products are also on sale at their pop-up store in Rosebank’s mall, opposite Clicks. I love them as gifts for Saffers living abroad or foreigners – so easy to fit in your suitcase and so reflective of modern South Africa.)

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After our shopping spree, Jo walked us through the precinct to The Collector’s Treasury. I’m not proud to say I’d never heard of it, but I gather it’s sort of famous amongst book lovers and/or hipsters and collectors. Prepare for total chaos as you enter – and throughout the store – with piles of books, lining almost every inch of available space. According to Jo, the owners (if they happen to be on duty when you visit) kind of know what they have in stock and where to find it. Definitely worth a visit for the experience even if the product range and method of display is totally overwhelming.

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We then walked over beautiful pavement mosaics (somewhat in disrepair, sadly) into what I didn’t initially realise was part of the Maboneng Precint. As part of her studies, Jo did a mini thesis on New Doornfontein which she described as once being a very poor, but culturally and artistically rich, slum in the early 1900’s. It’s now home to a private school targeting lower middle income families, an arts centre for local children, as well as some great street art. We finished the tour outside Access City with its huge mural of Mandela as a young boxer and Trim Park: free, brand new, outdoor gym facilities.

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Before dashing back to fetch the kids, we shared a quick lunch at James XVI’s Ethiopian Cafe, next door to a very Paul Smith-esque cycling store:

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I feel like we only just scratched the surface of what Maboneng has to offer and I was thrilled to return ten days later for the #JoziMeetup at The Open, organised by South African Mom Bloggers. (The Open is an amazing space and if I lived closer to the CBD, I would love to spend my mornings writing there. For more about the amazing #JoziMeetup, check out Sharon’s post at The Blessed Barrenness).

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I leave you with the first piece of street art we came across in Fox St: “Tourist in Your Country of Birth?” The irony was most certainly not lost on me…

"Tourist in your country of birth?"
“Tourist in your country of birth?”

If you need a push of inspiration to venture out of your hood and to be a tourist in home country, check out 2summers.net, for American blogger and Jozi dweller, Heather Mason’s post about her rooftop tour of Joburg with Dlala Nje. (It was a custom tour, but I raced over to “like” their Facebook page and cannot wait for a potential repeat.)