South Africa’s leafy metropolis
Overlooking Johannesburg from Delta Park.
© South African Tourism
The city of gold is green. Johannesburg, best known throughout the world for its rich mineral wealth, is also blessed with another natural treasure: more trees grow in this city than in any other urban centre in the southern hemisphere.
Did you know?
There are more than 6 million trees in Johannesburg.
When you arrive in green Johannesburg by air, you’ll be astonished to see a verdant forest below you, stretching almost as far as the eye can see. It’s not what one expects from South Africa's commercial hub. Beneath that seemingly endless greenery is a densely populated, highly industrialised city. So how did this urban metropolis gain its green credentials?
There were virtually no trees in Johannesburg when it first emerged as a small town. The discovery of gold, however, heralded the arrival of mining companies, and mines needed strong wood to prop up their shafts.
A horticultural centre was founded at Zoo Lake – still a favoured leisure spot for locals – where saplings were tested for strength. Eucalyptus trees, commonly known as bluegums, were found to be most suited to this task and were planted en masse. The populace chose more attractive trees for their gardens, and the streets of spreading suburbia were planted with pepper, oak, jacaranda and plane trees.
Thus Johannesburg’s forest took root and today, on satellite pictures, you may struggle to tell the difference between Johannesburg and a rainforest. Most original trees planted were exotic species, partly because the settlers found them familiar, and partly because indigenous trees, which tend to be thorny, were not suitable for gardens or for lining streets.
South Africa’s Working for Water project has taken on the task of eradicating harmful alien trees that lower the water table, and actively supports growing trees that aid the environment. Thus many indigenous plantings are replacing the city’s thirsty eucalyptus and jacaranda species.
A statistical count undertaken by the city's Parks Board revealed that of the approximately 6 million trees in green Johannesburg, 1.2-million were counted in parks, on pavements and in public areas, and another 4.8-million in private gardens.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
OR Tambo International Airport is a 30 minute drive from Johannesburg. Once in the city, you will find public parks and gardens in just about every suburb.
Johannesburg has a good public transport system, supported by an informal taxi industry. But self-drive is always the best option to allow you to explore at your own pace.
What to pack
Lots of sunscreen and a hat. Comfortable walking shoes are a must if you plan to explore green Johannesburg by foot.
Where to stay
Perhaps the best observation point for viewing Johannesburg’s trees is at the Westcliff Hotel, set high on the ridge opposite the Johannesburg Zoo. It also happens to be one of the city's finest hotels.
The local Parks Board is continuing the tree-planting tradition in some of the outlying, dusty townships built during the apartheid era.