With six weeks until WPT Emperors Palace Poker Classic kicks off in Johannesburg, South Africa, we thought we’d reach out to Emperors Palace, the host casino, and see what players who are planning a poker-cation for this historic event could do to make the most out of their trip. What we got back from them was a great list of attractions and tours all located in and around Jo’burg (that’s what the locals call it) organized and provided by UNICAB, the transport company conveniently based at Emperor’s Palace. So, pick one or two, or more if you have the time, and experience the amazing cultural, environmental and historical attractions Johannesburg and South Africa have to offer.
1. Sterkfontein Caves/Maropeng
Welcome to Maropeng and the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Maropeng means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana, the main indigenous language in this area of South Africa. The Cradle of Humankind is an easy drive of about an hour from Johannesburg or Pretoria. The 2.2 billion year old cave is where the famous Mrs. Ples (the oldest and most perfect skull in the world) and features and enormous underground lake, something that will stay with you forever. By coming here, you are coming to the birthplace of humanity.
2. Johannesburg/Soweto Tour
Witness the story of Africa’s largest, most vibrant and mythical township and visit the sprawling bustling headland of urban Africa. A taboo area during Apartheid, Soweto is now a vibrant, colourful community that symbolizes South Africa’s rebirth. View the early homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and monuments of the freedom struggle such as the Hector Peterson Memorial, Regina Mundi Church and Freedom Square.
3. Lion Safari Park
The Lion Park was first established in November 1966 by the world famous Chipper Fields Circus. It is conveniently situated in the middle of the Gauteng- Tshwane complex and the climate is typical of the Highveld and thus ideal for indigenous Highveld fauna. Hence, most of the indigenous animals that are seen at the Lion Park are quite at home. The Lion Park is neither a game reserve nor a zoo. It has been split into two areas – one area for the herbivores such as zebra, giraffe, and various plains antelope and other grass-eating animals, and the other area for the carnivores. The herbivores roam freely around the area and visitors are able to view the animals at close proximity at any time. The reverse land is home to the Cheetah, Black Leopard, Wild Dog, Caracals, Jackal and Wilde.
4. Lesedi Cultural Village
If you want to get an idea of traditional South African culture, then the Lesedi multi cultural village, less than an hour’s drive north of Johannesburg and set amongst rocky hills and bushveld, is a perfect outing. The Lesedi Cultural Village is a living monument to South Africa’s rich ethnic heritage. In a bush setting, the colourful traditions of Africa’s aboriginal people’s, the Basotho’s, Ndebele, Pedi, Xhosa and Zulu’s are preserved and practiced. Enjoy exhibitions of tribal dancing and explore the African cuisine with a feast of traditional dishes at the Nyama Choma Restaurant. Lesedi, which is Sesotho for ‘light’, was initiated in 1995 as a tourist attraction and today features five traditional dwellings, each representing a South African culture: Pedi, Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho and Ndebele. Each of these families lives here permanently, looking after cows, chickens and tourists, and tours through their homes offer interesting cross-cultural comparisons of the customs and social organization of the different cultures.
5. Pilanesberg National Park
In a malaria-free area nearby enough to Johannesburg for a day visit, the Pilanesberg offers the opportunity to see the BIG 5 in a 55 thousand hectare reserve. You will drive through this pre-historic volcanic crater to game spot in the cooler part of the day and enjoy lunch at a 4-star lodge overlooking the game reserve.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is in the Bojanala Region of the North West Province, adjacent to Sun City. Set in the crater of a long extinct volcano, the Park ranks among the largest of the parks in South Africa (it is in fact the fourth largest park) and covers an area of 55,000 hectares. The beauty of Pilanesberg is reflected in a large central lake, the Mankwe Dam.
Over time, wind and water have carved a spectacular landscape with rocky outcrops, open grasslands, wooded valleys and thickets. Pilanesberg National Park accommodates virtually every mammal of southern Africa and is home to the Big Five: Lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and the Cape buffaloes.
6. Lion and Rhino Reserve
In the heart of an ancient area known as the Cradle of Humankind, the Rhino and Lion Park offers encounters with around 20 African species including lions, white rhinos, cheetah and hippos. The breeding centre houses exotic wild cats such as Siberian Tigers and jaguars, African wild dogs and a rare white lion family. The Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve is a privately owned, non-subsidized game reserve, covering approximately 1,200 hectares on the Highveld of Gauteng. The reserve is situated in the “Cradle of Humankind”, a World Heritage Site.
7. Gold Reef City and Mining Museum
Step back in time into the heady gold rush days of early Johannesburg in this recreated city with cobbled streets and Victorian buildings. Try your hand at old fashioned gold panning, go down a genuine old mine shaft, see gold poured, enjoy tribal dancing or have a screaming good time on world-class amusement park rides. Gold Reef City Theme Park has an abundance of adventures; it won’t be long before you’ll be drawn to the squeals of delight! Join the young at heart and test-drive these or any of the more than thirty adrenaline-boosting rides.
8. Glen Afric
The game drive is truly an unforgettable experience to see and interact with some of Africa’s most magnificent animals. On the game drive you will get the opportunity to meet and greet our hippos, giraffe, zebra and impala, bless bock, sable, water buck, wildebeest, elephants, lions, tigers, and many more incredible animals.
Spend two hours walking in the bush with our family of four Elephants; Bully our male, Three our female and Marty and Hanna the babies.
Game Viewing on Horseback
Ride out with Redstone Private Country Estate’s horses. Spend two hours in the bush watching game on horseback accompanied by a game ranger. This is a unique opportunity to ride at Glen Afric where you can be at one with nature.
9. Elephant Sanctuary
The Elephant Sanctuary provides a “halfway house” for young African elephants in need of a temporary home. It is the only operation in South Africa that provides for elephants in this way. It is their vision to release all the elephants into an environment where they can be more independent once they are older. This tour offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the character, personality and temperament of these awesome animals. Like the elephants, you will never forget it.
10. De Wildt Cheetah Sanctuary
The De Wildt Cheetah Sanctuary is nestled in the foothills of Magaliesberg in South Africa’s North West Province and is situated an hour from Johannesburg. De Wildt offers you the opportunity to learn more about these fascinating creatures such as the wild dog, cheetah and various species of owls and vultures. During a visit a guide will take you on a guided tour. The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 120km/h (74mph). One stride covers from 6 – 9 meters (19 – 29ft). It can cover 28m (91ft) in one second. The scientific name for cheetah is Acinonyx jubatus – Acinonyx meaning ‘non- moving claws’ referring to the non retractable claws and jubatus, which means manned, referring to the mantle on a young cheetahs back.
11. Bill Harrobs Balloon Safari
Dawn breaks as you float above the Magalies Valley held aloft by the wind. You’re sipping fine champagne while hovering gently above the tree tops of the beautiful Magalies River Valley, or drifting majestically high above the Magaliesberg range in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, just 45 km north of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, a region boasting some of the best ballooning weather in the world. The exceptional peace of this unique and almost supernatural view of the world will forever remain as a truly cherished memory. After landing, savor a delectable and generous champagne breakfast at the new, traditionally exquisite and beautifully appointed Clubhouse, Pavilion and Restaurant, where you’ll be filled with the warmest of memories. The flight is about an hour long and the silence of flight is punctuated only by the occasional blast of the powerful burners and the faint call of a bird or animal far beneath. The thrill is indescribable.
12. Monkey Sanctuary
Walk through natural indigenous forests on elevated wooden walkways and experience a variety of exotic monkeys in an exquisite natural environment. The Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary is one of several sanctuaries in a group of sanctuaries, including the elephant sanctuary that provides for orphaned and abused animals. Situated west of Hartbeesport Dam alongside the Elephant sanctuary it provides an environment where monkeys (primates) can be given their freedom in a natural environment. The sanctuary situated in one of the many Kloofs (Gorges) of the Magaliesberg mountain range provides the perfect environment for Monkeys from around the world. Primates, such as squirrel, spider and capuchin monkeys, are given a new lease on life at Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary. Previously raised as household pets, or bred for the pet trade, the monkeys are introduced to a wild world laden with waterfalls, lush vegetation, natural mountain springs and the chance to reside in as natural and environment as possible. The goal is to give them the opportunity to live as they would in the wild.
13. Apartheid Museum / SA Mint / Cullinan Diamond Mine
The name speaks for itself; see firsthand the political system that divided the nation of South Africa for decades. The Apartheid Museum is the story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Beginning in 1948, the white elected National Party government initiated a process which turned over 20 million people into 2nd class citizens, damning them to a life of servitude, humiliation and abuse. Their liberation in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela, the prisoner who became president, is a climax in the saga of a nation’s resistance, courage and fortitude.
S A Mint (Coin World shop)
The history of the SA Mint dates back to 1892 when Paul Kruger, president of the then South African Republic, ordered a mint press from Germany. This press, which moved with the mint from Church Square to Visagie Street, is still in working order and can be seen at the museum of the SA Mint in Gateway Centurion. The Mint’s very modern factory was opened in October 1992 and is still regarded as one of the most modern mints in the world. The Mint became a private company in 1988 and produces not only South African coins, but also coins for other countries such as New Zealand, Argentina and Switzerland. A museum, known as Coin World, was opened to the public during 1996 and offers an overview of the history of the Mint.
Cullinan Diamond Mine
The mining village of Cullinan, located east of Pretoria, gained world-wide attention on June 25, 1905, with the discovery of an incredible 3108 carat stone, dubbed the Cullinan Diamond – the largest uncut diamond ever found. Over the years, more that 120 million carats have been mined nearby this village.
14. Lory Park Zoo and Owl Sanctuary
Lory Park Zoo is based in Midrand and is ideal for the guest that has a few hours to spare and would like to experience an interactive personal experience with some of the Zoo’s ambassador animals. The package includes:
- Each tour group will be given a container of treats to feed the meerkat group on arrival.
- Assisting the keepers with feeding the Spotted eagle owls. The owls love to be fed while sitting on your hand or arm.
- Meeting and interacting with Ruby the red tail boa, Tim the tortoise, Litchi the bearded dragon and Rex the moluccan cockatoo.
- There will also be an animal encounter with any kittens or cubs that we may have, keeping in mind that this does change seasonally and Lory Park Zoo will need to be contacted before for confirmation of who is available and the possible age restriction on the encounter.
- Joining the big cats feeding at 15h00.
All of these tours can be booked in advance or upon arrival at Emperor’s Palace. For full pricing and details email: [email protected]. We’ll see you in Jo’burg.