Jumping up from a picnic, while celebrating a special friends birthday, to take pictures of large eagles flying over a major metropolis is not a familiar scenario for the de Wets. And yet that seems to be par for the course at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens!
Opened to the public in 1987 as the Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden on land donated five years earlier by the town councils in Johannesburg’s western suburbs, the gardens were renamed after the ANC leader Walter Sisulu in 2004. The focal point of the garden is undoubtedly the Witpoortjie Waterfall, the source of the Crocodile River which flows through much of the garden. Apart from beautifully tended and themed plant displays, the grounds include large tracts of natural vegetation and ample lawns under shady trees, very popular for picnics. Several pathways and tracks provide access to various parts of the gardens, and the most challenging of these lead to the top of the cliff above the waterfall, a favourite spot for many photographers hoping for a special shot of the eagles soaring past.
The gardens are open daily from 08:00 to 17:00 and facilities include a restaurant, kiosk, several function venues, a concert stage, an environmental education centre, a curio shop and a nursery selling indigenous garden plants. Guided tours of the gardens can be arranged in advance. We like the garden’s policy of “picnic in, litter out” encouraging visitors to take all their garbage with them when they leave.
The gardens are a haven for a multitude of birds and small animals, many of which are quite tame and obviously used to the human presence.
It’s been more than thirty years since a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles (formerly known as Black Eagles) first took up residence at a nesting site next to the Witpoortjie Waterfall. The current pair had successfully raised a chick to sub-adulthood and at the time of our visit was just starting to let the youngster know that it has to start looking for lodgings of its own. This made for spectacular flying displays over the gardens and against the backdrop of the Roodekrans cliffs.
On the other side of the garden, a dam with a bird-viewing hide at its edge was just one more delightful feature to add to our reasons to return to the gardens (soon!). Here we found an extremely irritable Egyptian Goose laying claim to the body of water and intent on ridding it of anything else that seemed remotely like waterfowl! It probably had a nest or goslings hidden somewhere near.
This was our first visit to these beautiful gardens, and we were wonderfully surprised and delighted by what we found. We spent the entire day at the garden, from when the gates opened until they closed, and yet feel like we haven’t seen most of it. Couple that with a jolly time spent with good friends, we’re sure it won’t be long before we return.
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