Irene Dairy Farm – South Africa


The Irene Dairy Farm is located just off the biggest highway in South Africa, the N1, which links Joburg to Pretoria. When you arrive at the farm, it feels as though you’ve driven 100 years back in time. In fact, Irene farm was founded in 1895 when the first European settlers entered the area. It still functions to this day as a dairy farm, and the shop sells the most delicious melktart (a sort of local cheesecake) and runs a lovely outdoor restaurant cooled with mist-sprayers.

I took my mom and my 3 year old Tommy to the Irene Dairy Farm on a recent outing. We left Tommy with his nanny Nomsa to play at the children’s area while we went to the adjoining Camdeboo Day Spa. The spa is set in a converted horse stable with thick, stone walls, and each room is cool and pleasant. After our treatment we took a dip in an outdoor infinity pool, then returned to the play area to find Tommy happily climbing on an antique tractor.

It was great day, and a wonderful way to escape the asphalt and skyscrapers of Joburg. For more info, go here.




Zoo Lake – Johannesburg



If you have more than a day in Johannesburg and you’re with kids, head to Zoo Lake. Open since 1908, Zoo Lake is modern and fresh. It offers a clean, free playground with three areas arranged by age level or a fabulous Afro-chic restaurant called Moyo with a children’s playspace (for the cost of a cup of coffee). Zoo Lake itself is a large green area with a large pond, highlighted by a fountain in the middle and hordes of ever-hungry ducks and geese. Bring bread!

Located off Jan Smuts Avenue across from the Johannesburg Zoo, this park beats with the heart of South Africa’s diversity, attracting locals and foreigners alike.  On our last visit we did an informal language survey (by eavesdropping!) and counted fifteen languages being spoken.  Come join in the joy.






Take the Shosholoza train from Joburg!


The Shosholoza Meyl runs from Johannesburg to Cape Town four times a week. It is surprisingly inexpensive, even when you book a “coupé” in Tourist Class, meaning a closed compartment with fold-down beds. Children under nine pay half-fare. I traveled with my son Tommy, who is absolutely crazy about trains. We prepared him for the trip for a few weeks prior by reading books about trains and watching YouTube videos about trains, including Peppa Pig and Caillou.


First we saw the city slip away, then the suburbs, and then we entered the vast middle ground of South Africa. Farms, fields, and grasslands.



And what about the dining car? The food was simple and also affordable, but the decor held a touch of old-school elegance. The seats were upholstered in the official purple of Shosholoza, and white china matched the crisp white tablecloths. Tommy ate a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and a bowl of vegetables for supper.

I’d highly recommend the Shosholoza — the name is an onomatopoeia for the sound a train makes — for its price, cleanliness, views, and good service. See here for more info and reservations.

Suikerbos Nature Reserve – South Africa


Suikerbosrand is an amazing nature reserve less than an hour’s drive outside of busy Johannesburg. It boasts the highest point in the entire region and features wild herds of wildebeest, zebra, and eland. It’s the perfect place to introduce children to hiking and biking in a pristine natural setting. Suikerbosrand [SAY-ker-boss-rand] means “sugar bush,” named after the local plant which attracts many species of birds because of its sweet nectar. The reserve features ancient aloes as well as the magnificent cabbage tree, whose silhouette says “Africa.”  The biome here is known as “veld,” also called savanna or high grasslands.  Most veld, like prairie land in the United States, has been eradicated by human development.
We took a picnic lunch and made ourselves at home in one of the two designated picnic areas, both with running water and barbecues. While we snacked, watched birds, and played games, Daddy and friends took a 45 km mountain bike ride up the mountain and down.  Most Joburgers don’t know about Suikerbosrand — we had the place to ourselves with a handful of families joining us as the day passed.
The deep history of this place is that it was an Iron Age settlement. It also hosts a Farm Museum with accurately-restored buildings, a herb garden, and a flock of sheep.  There are even overnight trails with chalets and meditation huts which can be booked for total silence. For more information, see the provincial page on the Suikerbos Nature Reserve.







Johannesburg – The Wilds: A Park Now Safe To Explore


I am so happy to welcome our wonderful, dynamic, and multi-talented new Correspondent from Johannesburg, South Africa: Shannon Walbran-Niebuhr. Shannon has her own blog, is a crafter with her own Etsy shop and is also a tour guide in Joburg and is of course, Mama to little Tommy, (who is in a couple of the photos). I couldn’t have found a better new friend to contribute to Bellissima and share Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa with us! Here is her first post.


The Wilds is one of Johannesburg’s original parks.  The land was set aside as a nature reserve in 1925 with the condition that it be kept open to the public.  As time went on, however, The Wilds became a dangerous place — however, recently the park has been completely fenced and now has a security guard who signs you in. We go walking there with our 2 year old son, Tommy, on a regular basis to take in the amazing collection of indigenous plants and trees. In South Africa, that means cycads and tree ferns, yellowwoods and agapanthus.  No matter the season, we can breathe in fresh, green air — a boon in this metropolis. In addition to the flora, we see birds: ducks, hoopoes, hadedas, and weavers.  My husband sometimes declares “A Listening Walk,” in which we go silently along the paths and then report what we’ve heard.
The landscaping of The Wilds would remind you of Villa D’Este outside of Rome, on a smaller scale.  Italian masons built a series of cascading waterfalls up the steep hill of the park, and the path winds over and around the water, also a rare blessing in the dry Highveld savannah. The Wilds is a must-see for locals and a great add-on if you’re visiting Joburg and need a break of greenery. It’s on the corner of Joe Slovo and Houghton Drive between Houghton and Killarney, just off the M1 South Joe Slovo exit.  Entrance is free, and the park is open every day from sunrise to sunset.

Photos by Shannon’s husband, Hermann Niebuhr who is also a very talented visual artist. Check out his website here.