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Johannesburg, South Africa

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Deep in the heartland of the Highveld, five hours' drive from the nearest coastline, lies the city that makes South Africa tick - Johannesburg, one of the most important African cities south of the Sahara. Apart from the vibrant and bustling criminal community, it is undoubtedly the most economically-productive city in South Africa.

Known as the City of Gold, Jo'burg, as it's affectionately called, is right in the middle of the nation's major gold-mining region, and came into being when, in 1886, a young over-confident prospector, Johannes Berg shouted the single and life-changing word 'Gold!' a little too loudly and before he knew it he was underneath a whole heap of other prospectors saying 'Where? Where?' and 'Let me at it!' Nothing much has changed since then except that the crush now occurs in the shops. Gold Reef City, south of Johannesburg, pays tribute to the region's history, but it says much about the interests of modern society when it needs a theme park to guarantee the punters turn up.

The weather is wonderful1, and this is in large part responsible for Johannesburg's outstanding reputation for sport - supplemented by world-class sporting facilities such as Ellis Park (venue for the 1995 World Rugby Cup Final) and the Wanderers cricket stadium.

Even though Johannesburg is a hard-working city and economic powerhouse, there's plenty to keep you busy during the day; most notably the shopping malls in the north of the city. Sandton City is perhaps the best retail centre in the southern hemisphere, if a bit pricey. If you have the cash, it is generally better to stay in the northern areas, mainly due to the fact that there's a lot less crime there. Most importantly of all, you don't want to be walking round Central Johannesburg in the middle of the night, especially if you like your watch, jewellery, wallet or clothes...

Johannesburg really comes to life at night though with perhaps the most vibrant night life in South Africa, starting with its world-famous ESP rave club, which plays some excellent tunes all night2. There's the Rosebank district where some of the trendiest posers go to chill, as well as Midrand, about 15km from Central Johannesburg, where a couple of the country's top clubs are situated. The Randburg Waterfront3 is also a trendy place with several ultra-popular watering holes. Then, for the super-posh and those who want to see and be seen, there is the ultra-trendy, popular and glamorous Sandton Square, right next to Sandton City.

Transport in Johannesburg is not a problem unless you don't have your own. Traffic is remarkably low, but public transport is not too reliable, so unless you want to catch a ride on the hair-raising 'combi' taxis4, then you should try to rent a car.

With a world class airport which will facilitate your arrival, Johannesburg is a definite stop on any world club-hopping tour. Just beware of the criminal presence which hovers around the city...

1The loss of three complete days' play in the January 2000 cricket test match against England due to torrential rain notwithstanding.2And sometimes into the next day.3Don't ask how there can be a waterfront 500km from the coast, that's its name.4More like a small minibus than a car, a fun ride every time.

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