Pretoria, South Africa - Stein Travel
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Pretoria

Pretoria is affectionately known as the Jacaranda City due to its profusion of purple-coloured trees that blossom in spring. It is located 56 miles (90km) from Johannesburg, although this drive can take up to two hours in the infamous traffic between the two cities. Pretoria is South Africa's administrative capital and one of the country's more attractive cities, its relatively green and picturesque urban centre forming a stark contrast to its much more chaotic neighbour of Johannesburg. Pretoria was founded in 1955 and named after Andries Pretorius, the boerleader at the Battle of Blood River where the Voortrekkersdefeated the Zulus under King Dingaan. But since 1994, the city's Jacaranda tree-lined streets are better known as the administrative capital of South Africa, and as home to the iconic Union Buildings where Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the country's first democratically elected president. Pretoria may not be one of South Africa's most popular tourist destinations, but it makes a fantastic base for a multitude of sightseeing opportunities. Offering some unique attractions such as the historic Voortrekker Monument, the South African National Zoological Gardens, one of the world's first-class zoos, and the nearby town of Cullinan where the discovery of the world's largest diamond took place, Pretoria offers visitors a unique glimpse into a city brimming with history and simultaneously embracing its cultural changes.

Information & Facts

Climate

Pretoria enjoys a very favourable climate, dry and sunny all year round. Between the months of October and April, Pretoria experiences frequent heavy afternoon thunderstorms with downpours of rain that disappear as quickly as they arrive. Winter days are only slightly cooler than the pleasant summer average temperatures, but it can become frosty on winter nights.

Getting Around

Pretoria is a bustling city with limited safe and convenient public transport, to the detriment of its visitors. City transport consists of an unreliable bus network and a series of minibus taxi routes, neither of which operate much after dark. The quickest and cheapest way to get around is on a minibus 'taxi', an informal bus service that goes everywhere but has no schedule or formal stops and can be picked up at taxi ranks or hailed anywhere along its route. However, dangerous driving, overcrowding and high crime rates at taxi ranks have deterred many from using them as a means of transport. If necessary, use them for short hops only and never with baggage. Safer but far more expensive are metered taxis, which need to be booked in advance. The best way to get around is by private car and there is an excellent network of highways and well-maintained roads. There are a number of car rental agencies; most require drivers to be over 23 years old and hold a full driving license. A passport and credit card are also necessary. Drivers should keep their windows up and doors locked at all times, never leave anything visible in a parked car, and never stop for hitchhikers. Be aware that there is a risk of car hijacking so remain alert, especially when leaving or returning to the car, and seek out secure parking. A high-speed rail link, called the 'Gautrain', is being constructed between Pretoria, Johannesburg and OR Tambo International Airport, which should be complete by 2010, just in time for the FIFA World Cup.

Kids Attractions

When it comes to children Pretoria's serious visage gives way to reveal a surprisingly fun city full of activities for kids. You could start by taking the older kids paintballing at Gotcha on the outskirts of the city. You can generally join an existing game, and all the equipment is supplied. This is a high adrenaline game that involves a fair degree of pain when shot - no harm done provided the supplied safety gear is used, but not suitable for kids younger than 12. Another option outside of the city is Zwartkops Quad Centre which allows one to rent mini quad bikes for riding around a large dirt track. It's a fun experience, closely supervised, but once again not suitable for kids under 10. A better bet might be the Kolonnade Ice Rink in the Kolonnade shopping centre. This is a fun afternoon out in inclement or excessively hot weather. Parents might also consider a trip to Wacki Warehouse Kiddies Play Park in Centurion Value World, although it is reportedly in need of some refurbishment, and the skatepark at Wonderland. Look out for Friends of the Rail, a heritage company that runs steam train trips from Pretoria to Cullinan and back. Slip the driver a fiver and you can toot the horn. Kids are often fascinated by money, probably because they don't have much of it. A trip to SA Mint and Coin World is therefore likely to impress as this is where South Africa's physical currency is created. Other options for an afternoon out in this surprisingly child-friendly city: go spelunking with Wild Cave Adventures near Sterkfontein and get creative at The Naked Canvas (overalls supplied). Have fun!

Language

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.

Money

South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted, except in petrol stations where cash is required. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. Travellers cheques and some foreign currencies are accepted at larger hotels and shops, but commission is charged, otherwise all commercial banks will exchange them.

Night Life

The bulk of Pretoria's nightlife is located in Hatfield, near the university, and Menlyn Square in the city centre. Standing proud amidst the carnage of venues that come and go are some time honoured staples that visitors to Pretoria should experience. Tings 'n Times has a Caribbean vibe and some great live acts and music performances. For more Rasta-inspired good times, visit nearby Cool Runnings - that's genuine beach sand on the floor. Drop Zone on Hatfield Square is also a worthy nightclub that stays open very late. One of the city's biggest clubs is Legends, equally popular with gay and straight patrons. For hard rock and headbanging good times fly over to nearby Zeplin's. Eastwood's in Arcadia has been voted best pub in Pretoria many times and is the best place to watch televised sport if you want to capture the intensity and claustrophobia of a live match. A worthy pretender to the throne is Oppikoppi, on Magasyn Hill opposite the Voortrekker Monument. This pub has the best views in town, particularly at sunset, when the braais are lit and the aroma of boerewors seduces patrons into staying for another round or five. Pub devotees may notice that Pretoria has an abundance of Irish-themed bars, seemingly one on every corner. These are all bedecked in clover and serve Guinness but they invariably lack real character. The same cannot be said for German themed Herr Gunther's Zapfhaus which has got all the lederhosen, bratwurst and oompa music you could want.

Shopping

Pretoria is not a great shopping destination. There are very few local handicrafts or appealing souvenirs to speak of, and the retail landscape is dominated by largely generic shopping malls. However, if you are in town for a sporting or business engagement, and the urge to spend some rands takes hold, there are a few options to consider. The main shopping malls are Menlyn Park, in the east; Brooklyn Mall, near the city centre, which has some good art galleries; Kolonnade, in the north, chiefly visited for its ice rink; Wonderpark, which has a skatepark; and Irene Village Mall south of the city. Some of Pretoria's best shopping is at its flea markets. The Pretoria Zoo market runs on weekdays from 6am to 5pm and has a good range of traditional jewellery, African crafts and ornaments on sale. At the Union Buildings you will find vendors selling decent local handicrafts like woven rugs and beadwork; open daily. Wonderpark Flea Market is open from 8am to 2pm on Saturdays selling crafts, toys and souvenirs from a range of regional artists.

Time

Local time is GMT +2.

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