A picnic at Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

A picnic at Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

"A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.” Luis Barragan

The Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden is not something one would expect to see in the greater Johannesburg area. Situated below the dramatic, 200-metre-high cliffs of the Roodekrans Ridge in the West Rand, the beautiful expansive garden is like a lush oasis amid the concrete structures. It was voted the best place to get back to nature in Gauteng for 9 years in a row.

One of South Africa's ten National Botanical Gardens, it was established in 1982, although the area has been a popular venue for social outings since the 1800's. Initially called the Transvaal National Botanic Garden, it could only be visited by special arrangement, until it was opened to the public as the Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden in 1987. The Garden was renamed the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in March 2004, in honour of the late freedom fighter, Walter Sisulu, who led the struggle for a democratic South Africa with former president Nelson Mandela.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

Lush gardens

I had last been there when my kids were toddlers, which was a very long time ago. For the past few months, we had been wanting to go there for a picnic and we finally got an opportunity during the school holidays. It was a hot day but the weather inside the garden was cooler, and perfect for a picnic.

picnic at Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

Family picnic

As we parked our car, we were greeted by porters who offered to take our “luggage” for us on their trolleys, to a picnic spot for a small fee. We took up the offer, paid the entrance fees and found ourselves a nice shady spot with benches. After a good meal, we set off to explore the gardens.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

Garden Map - Courtesy of SANBI

Spanning almost 300 hectares, the gardens have over 600 plant species, 220 bird species, reptiles and some small mammals, including caracal (wild cat), black-backed jackals, hedgehogs, porcupines, rock hyrax (dassie) and some small antelopes. You are not likely to see them though, as they are either nocturnal, or shy, or both.

The garden's most famous residents however are a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles that nest in the cliffs alongside the waterfall. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see them on this visit. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to take our binoculars with.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

Eagle engraving on the ground

The Gardens were busy but not crowded. The picturesque Witpoortjie Waterfall is the main attraction here. According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the falls probably get their name from the fact that visitors, travelling from Johannesburg by train, used to disembark at Witpoortjie Station and walk down to the falls in the late 19th century. It falls into a pool at the bottom.

The landscaped lawns are divided into different sections and creatively sculptured benches dot the grounds.   There are several walking and hiking trails winding through the gardens. The longest one is 3.5 km. Starting next to the waterfall, it will take you to the summit of the waterfall and  around the reserve. Be warned though, it involves some steep ascents.

There is a dam with a bird hide where one can relax and observe the resident birds.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

Kids' train

Near the restaurant, there is a kids’ playground area and a small colourful train which takes little kids for a ride around the gardens. An ice cream van sells soft-serve ice creams. The Amphitheatre plays host to occasional concerts.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden

Creative seating areas

As the garden is a conservation area, balls, bats, frisbees, skateboards, braais, pets etc are not allowed.

We had a lovely family outing at the gardens and left feeling relaxed. It felt as though we had been somewhere far away from the city.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

Sasol Dam

Walter Sisulu

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I subsequently visited the Falls for a hike and later, on a tour with Joburg Tourism when we did a guided tour and got to see Verreaux’s Eagles.

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden Entrance fees (2023)

Adult: R80
Pensioner: R75 (Free entry on Tuesdays)
Student: R45 (Valid student card required)
Child: R25 (grades 1 – 12)

Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden Opening Hours

The garden is open every day from 08h00 to 17h00.

For more information, visit the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden.

See more things to do in Johannesburg.

Click here for accommodation near Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden .

Have you been to the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden ?

9 comments on “A picnic at Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden”

  1. I would like to come for a day with my partner.i would like to ask if we bring our own equipment for picnic or you do a setup for us and how much?

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