When I was very young an aunt of mine lived in Craighall. The property was huge with peach orchards. There was even a tractor, which made our visiting adventures even more fun. It felt like we were in the country somewhere, even though it was only 20 minutes away from home.
Craighall and Craighall Park, which I’ll call The Craigs from here on, are situated in what is locally known as The Parks area. They were originally farm land. By ox-wagon it took about an hour’s journey from Johannesburg’s mining town centre to reach them. Klipfontein farm was bought by Scotsman William Rattray and re-named Craighall after his home town. The two suburbs are now over 100 years old, amongst the oldest suburbs in Johannesburg. Back then there was hardly a tree in the area, and Rattray built lakes for recreation, sports fields and a hotel for richer folk wanting to have a break from the rigours of the fledgling mining town.
Over a century later, The Craigs maintain a semi-rural feeling. Part of that’s because some parts of the farm included what is now Delta Park. The land has transformed from being pastures for dairy cows and for cultivation in Rattray’s time to being used, in the 30s, for sewerage and to the present day where Jozi dwellers have the good fortune of 104 hectares of lush recreational park land.
Delta Park, our largest city park area, has provided me and many residents who live in the surrounds hours of pleasure. I traversed the park by bicycle, carefully across dams, resolutely up hills, joyfully past the huge children’s playground and weekend picnickers. I’ve played cricket on the fields and watched a sacred African ritual under the waterfall.
A most dear memory, if a little frightening at the time, was being mobbed by some 15 or so horses eager to have the apples I’d brought for them. Nudged, nibbled and licked I was much more at ease when many strolled off afterwards into the river to cool down. What a gem this park is, deep in the heart of this crazy city.
Apart from these delights, Delta Park is also known as a bird watchers’ heaven with over 200 bird species to be identified. Dog lovers in the area attest to the park being dog-walk paradise, as too for walkers and runners. If you’re one of the latter you might wish to join the Delta Park Run which takes place every Saturday at 08h00. It’s a 5km timed course, and you can enter for free.
Last year a young hyena strayed into the city. She ran through the park, and was found exhausted after a run much longer than 5kms. One doesn’t see wild animals in the City of Gold any more (except at the Jo’burg Zoo), so it was reminder that a little part of our city is still a tad wild and free.
It says something about the area that people who live around The Parks and The Craigs in particular are reticent to ever leave. One bumps into neighbours and friends often enough to feel as if one is still in a village. I have a friend who says she has done everything she can to change her home so she doesn’t ever have to leave Craighall Park. On a summer’s night, one can hear a magnificent frog choir from her porch.
Apart from the Delta, there are other joys to The Craigs, such as the convenience of quick access to Johannesburg, Sandton, Rosebank and Randburg’s CBDs. Or that the area is considered (2011 Financial Mail survey) as “one of Johannesburg’s top 5 suburbs” in terms of property price growth.”
However if you’re not buying in the area but are passing through on business or holiday the accommodation available in The Parks area is vast and varied, especially if you don’t want to be a nameless visitor in an every-room-looks-the-same hotel. There’s award winning guesthouses, up-market corporate boutique lodges, B&Bs or self catering apartments nestled in relaxing gardens. Each has its own unique character and excellent service so you’ll find something which answers your special needs.
And then there are placed like the newly revamped The Colony Shopping Centre (345 Jan Smuts Ave). This is on the land where in the 70s the Hyde Park hotel stood, and prior to that, one of the original family homes of the area.
The Colony is a useful traveller emergency centre having doctors’ rooms, a pharmacy, an optometrist and a physiotherapist. If you’re in need of pampering you can book a Chinese massage, have a facial (Body Clinic), or get a new hair-style (Gianfranco Hair). For those needing more radical change the Vajarapani Buddhist Centre or soon to open Fred Astaire Dance Studio should do it. If you’re travelling light there’s a dry cleaner and two (ladies) clothing shops. Or if your cell phone is still travelling across the Atlantic without you then, luckily for you, The Colony has a mobile phone shop.
Local tip: For a fine selection of movies and TV series Video Spot is considered to have some of the best in town. Conveniently there are two takeaway outlets for either pizzas (Debonairs) or some of our most scrummy hamburgers (Steers).
Perhaps you prefer reading when travelling, then Rick’s Books will keep you entertained. It’s a readers’ treasure trove filled with second hand fiction and non-fiction, and interlinks with Hodges Coffee Shop. Now, we’re on to food, yah.
There are a number of good eateries in the area, and Hodges tops my personal list. Donald runs the family restaurant and the family and staff are extremely obliging. In addition the food is delicious and wholesome. It’s a good place to go if you’re missing home. Their Sunday lunches and scones rival my mother’s. Vegans and vegetarians are well catered for and meals such as Liver and Onions, or a South African favourite Bobotie (a Cape Malay mince curry dish) are recommended.
The feeling next door is quite different. Prontos Italian Restaurant is more chic, less homely. Good service and the bio certified organic house wine are big plusses, as was my salmon pasta and vermouth.
Highly recommended too in The Craigs is Burnside’s Café on Burnside Ave, rumoured to have the best Red Velvet cake, possibly due to the one owner, Jess, having astonishing culinary training. It’s delightful in oh too many ways.
On the corner of Lancaster and Clarence Ave is Toni’s Fully Furnished Pizza Co. Who can resist a Belgian chocolate calzone? Not me, which is why you may see me there salivating near the wood burning oven.
Lastly on my list of good food places in The Craigs is Cnr Café Bistro and Deli on the corner of Rothesay & Buckingham Aves. It’s always full, possibly because they have won Best of Joburg’s Best Neighbourhood Restaurant for two years running. We love sitting under the umbrellas in the sun enjoying starters, or an evening under the Jo’burg sky enjoying Springbok carpaccio pizza from the mosaiced pizza oven.
Before or after your Cnr Café experience, pop in next door at 56 Buckingham Ave to Yuill Damaso Artists Gallery. He’s the controversial artist who painted Nelson Mandela‘s passing a long time before it happened.
You are not going to go hungry in Craighall or Craighall Park, nor will you be bored, and you certainly will not be home sick. Enjoy visiting with us.