PRETORIA (Tshwane), in Gauteng Province, is the administrative capital of South Africa. Known as "Jacaranda City" for its thousands of jacaranda trees, it's also home to universities and government buildings. The semicircular Union Buildings encompass the president's offices and hosted Nelson Mandela's inauguration. Nearby is the Voortrekker Monument, honouring 19th-century Afrikaans settlers from the Cape Colony.
South Africa’s administrative centre is a handsome city with some gracious old architecture; significant historical sites for South Africans of all races; prosperous leafy suburbs; and wide streets lined with jacarandas that burst into a beautiful purple haze in October and November.
This stunning park and museum honours fallen South Africans in all major conflicts and adopts an integrated approach to African history. It is a place of architectural imagination and collective healing. Start at //hapo, the museum covering Southern African history at the bottom of the hill; then proceed up the hill to the main park, which provides wonderful views of the city.
Elements of the park incude Isivivane, a garden of Remembrance; S'khimbuto, the main memorial with an ampitheatre and a Wall of Names inscribed with the 75,000 names of those of who played a significant part in all of the conflicts within South Africa's history; and Mveledzo, a spiral path that cuts into the natural landscape.
The imposing, art-deco-style Voortrekker Monument was constructed between 1938 and 1949 to honour the journey of the Voortrekkers, who journeyed north over the coastal mountains of the Cape into the heart of the African veld. Surrounded by a 3.4-sq-km nature reserve it's 3km south of the city and clearly signposted from the N1 freeway.
Rietvlei Nature Reserve
This 38-sq-km reserve, 27km south of Pretoria, off Rte 21, is popular with locals who come for fishing in the dam, but is also great for wildlife viewing. Sightings of rhinos are common, often from the grounds of the small tearoom. You'll also spot zebras, various antelopes and perhaps buffaloes.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
Located around 9km east of central Pretoria, these gardens cover 7700 sq m and are planted with indigenous flora from around the country. There are 20,000-odd plant species, labelled and grouped according to their region of origin – a visit is a must for keen botanists. By car head east along Church St (Rte 104) for about 8km, then turn right into Cussonia Rd; the gardens are on the left-hand side.
Sammy Marks’ Museum
This handsome mansion, 20km east of central Pretoria, was built in 1884 for the industrial, mining and agricultural magnate Sammy Marks. Now it’s a fascinating museum that you can only enter on a tour (around five a day, each lasting an hour). It's worth visiting also for the lovely grounds with a shady tea garden overlooking the house. Marks (1844–1920) was born into a poor family in what is now Lithuania and made his fortune in South Africa. His will stipulated that the house and all its contents not be sold on for three generations – hence the amazing collection of furnishings and personal effects inside, most of which date back over a century. This is as close as you'll get to a South African Downton Abbey.
Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, these sweeping sandstone buildings are the headquarters of government and home to the presidential offices. They're not open to the public but worth visiting to view from the front gardens, where you'll find statues of a few former heads of state, including a giant one of an open-armed, grinning Mandela – it's a top selfie spot.
The rebirth of downtown Pretoria has been given a kickstart by the redevelopment of this set of buildings into an events, arts and social hub. Check out the Facebook page for details of various activities held out of this imaginative, street-art-decorated precinct, such as free guided walks of the city centre and the monthly Market @ the Sheds.