South Africa is a true paradise for nature lovers like us, and before moving to South Africa, we spent a lot of time reading and dreaming of all the places we could visit on quick weekends away from Joburg as well as longer, extended trips all over the country and surrounding areas to get our fill of the great outdoors. We looked at living in Joburg as sort of a gateway to all the places we really wanted to see in South Africa; just a big city that we would try and escape from as often as possible. Jump forward a couple months and I am happy to report that you don’t need to escape Joburg for a nature fix.
Before moving here, we had never visited Joburg and I was very surprised by how green it is here (said to be one of the greenest cities in the world) and also totally enchanted by the beautiful, blooming Jacarandas when we first arrived. We soon discovered that there are many nature reserves right in Joburg and the Melville Koppies was one of the first we visited.
Melville Koppies Nature Reserve
Koppie is the Afrikaans word for hill and the Melville Koppies is a nature reserve and Johannesburg Heritage Site in Melville, not far from the Joburg city center. The reserve is divided into 3 sections, the East, Central and West Koppies. The East and West Koppies are open to the public, though it is advised to not to walk alone or in small groups. The Central Koppies can only be visited as part of a guided group taking place on most Sundays. You can get the schedule and fees (there are also guided hikes for the other Koppies as well), as well as indepth information on the Melville Koppies website.
Melville Koppies Central
For our first visit to the Koppies in mid December, we opted for the guided Central Koppies walk. This is a 2.5 – 3 hour, fairly easy walk led by enthusiastic volunteers to share their vast knowledge of the flora, fauna, geology and history of the area. At the start of the walk we were all asked if there was anything in particular we were looking to learn more about and the group (I think we were only 8) all agreed to a “a little bit of everything” and this is exactly what we got.
Start of the trail
Setting off into the Koppies
All the plants in the Koppies are indigenous so you won’t see Jacarandas here but you will find a mind-boggling array of different plants, flowers, trees and grasses which the guides were able to describe in great detail.
I swear I was paying attention but my memory is crap and I have no idea what this is
I think I will have to go back for a refresher course…
This beautiful butterfly is poisonous to birds and its bright orange color warns its predators they had better look elsewhere for lunch
Throughout the ages, the Central Koppies have been home to many different peoples and some fascinating artifacts have been discovered from the Stone and Iron Ages. It is thought that the Koppies were probably inhabitated up until about the 1820’s.
A stone-walled kraal which is a place where cattle were kept (this one was reconstructed)
View of Emmarentia Dam
Our walk continued through the Koppies, slowly revealing a rich and diverse landscape.
Exploring the Koppies
Eventually we reached the far side of the Central Koppies and we were rewarded with some fabulous views of central Johannesburg, showing just how close we were to the city center.
Joburg CBD with the Hillbrow Tower on the left
Joburg CBD (Central Business District)
As we headed back for the last part of the walk, we were treated to more incredible views, blooming proteas and best of all a Cape Eagle Owl, expertly camouflaged on top of a rock.
I told you Joburg was green
Cape Eagle Owl, look how well he blends in
The Koppies are also used by various religious groups as a place to worship, and as we were hiking we could hear singing and drums in the not so far distance. At one point we could see a group clothed in long, white robes. I didn’t get any photos but if you are interested you can learn more about these groups here.
There was one last obstacle to overcome before the end of our hike. There is a pretty, little stream running along the outer edge of the Koppies, unfortunately there was also a lot of litter strewn about. Some of the braver members of the group chose to walk or jump across, while some of the others backtracked around. I won’t mention who chose what, but I will say my feet stayed totally dry.
What to do, what to do…
We spent a really enjoyable afternoon on the Koppies and we look forward to returning one day soon. I highly recommend this as a great weekend activity right here in Joburg to learn a little (or a whole lot) about this rich and diverse area.