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Da Gama Park is a little known, underused and under appreciated Johannesburg park. It is a rare beauty spot because it is located on spectacular open high ground bordering Observatory Extension, Cyrildene and De Wetshof (click here to view on google maps). It has the feeling of open, unfettered common land where your dogs can roam freely across tufty African grass. There are no fences and no playground equipment. The air is bracing and clean, there's no pollution or smog. Traffic is remote and though no more than 5 kms from the Jozi CBD you could be in the country. Here you are on one of the classic quartzite ridges of the Witwatersrand and you view the City from a natural peak.
It is a unique Jozi experience. It is my favourite spot for falling in love with the city of Johannesburg again. You have a 180 degree viewing range from west to east across a southern arc. The city skyscraper skyline is etched almost as a silhouette.
Stand firm in the gentle winter breeze, smell the honey golden grass, wild flowers and acacia trees, let the red Gauteng earth run through your fingers. Come with a camera. If you look to the South and West you can pick out the Towers that define the cityscape. Your camera lens takes in Ponte, the Hillbrow Telecommunications Tower, the apartheid era government mini tower installation on the Observatory Ridge and the two Yeoville Water towers. All of this fits in a single frame. If you then take a zoomed-in-view across to the middle distance and find the line of the horizon, your eye can just pick up the top section of the Sentec tower in Brixton (the old Albert Hertzog telecommunications tower).
The Towers from Da Gama Park (Kathy Munro)
Da Gama park also offers the grand panoramic view of the open parklands of the eastern part of the city. To the immediate west the closest open space is the Observatory Golf Course which is the oldest extant Golf course in Johannesburg, dating back to 1912. Originally one of the early city refuse dumps, the golf course creation was a Municipal initiative and by 1922 the course had been extended from the first 9 holes to 18 holes. The course is a heritage asset of the city because it is a green lung and you will find some remarkable geological evidence of the inland sea of millions of years ago (relevant to explaining why gold deposits came to be here).
View across the Observatory Golf Course from Da Gama Park (Kathy Munro)
To the south of the Park down the slopes lies Bezuidenhout Park with its open sports fields, the small Bezuidenhout family graveyard and the original farm house of the Bezuidenhout farm. Beyond lies Darras Centre and Langerman Kop in Kensington where the Foster gang hid out in 1914. To the south east is Bruma, Park Meadows, Eastgate, the new Oriental mall. Bruma was one of the locations for original city sewerage processing. These days it is an urban space and transformed area that has speedily become a hub for shopping malls, hotels and office complexes. The lake has disappeared and reverted to a natural run off channel. The heritage that remains is the faux 1986 copy of the iconic London Tower Bridge. Now turn to the eastern horizon and you glimpse the further open preserved ridges above Bruma, Morning Hill and the protected Harvey Nature reserve.
Bezuidenhout Farmhouse (The Heritage Portal)
Old photo of the Foster Cave
The Bridge at Bruma (google maps)
Johannesburg is an extraordinary city and Da Gama park captures the essence of the place. We are on part of the Witwatersrand plateau, about 1700 to 1800 metres high above sea level. We need to remind ourselves that this is the African continental divide. The rain water run off and the drainage to the north flows via the Crocodile and Limpopo rivers to the Indian Ocean, and to the south the drainage system is to the Atlantic Ocean via the Vaal and the Orange river. The eastern side of the city from Hillbrow through Berea, Yeoville, Bellevue, Observatory, Bez Valley, Kensington and beyond is drained along this natural watercourse to the Jukskei and the Crocodile systems.
So next time you find yourself looking for something interesting to do, head out to Da Gama Park and discover the city around you!
Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories.