Discover a little slice of Brooklyn in an unexpected place.
Johannesburg is not a city made for strolling. In its erratic patchwork of suburbs, rich enclaves often edge onto danger zones; in many neighbourhoods, footpaths are either in disrepair or non-existent. Tell a local you want to stretch your legs and they will suggest you head for the nearest mall.
There is one exception, and that is the area known as Maboneng. "If you want to meet locals and interact with them, that's the place to go," Aaron Menezes tells me. Menezes, the hotel director of The Residence, one of Joburg's chicest boutique hotels, says Maboneng is one of the city's special destinations. "It's a place where you can actually walk in the city, take in the old buildings and get a sense of belonging."
Sitting next to Joburg's derelict downtown area, Maboneng has a very different vibe, one that brings to mind the heady days when Brooklyn was starting to reinvent itself as a hip 'hood. Colourful murals overlook the bars and restaurants that are buzzing every weekend, while local artists and artisans display their work in the many small galleries and pocket-sized shops tucked into once-dilapidated warehouses.
The heart of the precinct, which was created by local property developer Jonathan Liebmann, is Arts on Main on Fox Street, where South Africa's most famous artist, William Kentridge, has a studio. You don't have to step inside a studio to enjoy Maboneng's art scene, however, with artists setting up pop-up galleries along Fox Street.
You sit here and you can see 10,000 movies unfolding.
"This street has been everything to me: it's been a home to me, an office to me, a community to me," says Cerbastian Davids. The artist, who has been selling his colourful portraits here for years, says his open-air gallery is about more than just earning income.
"Most people here don't get to see professional art, curated art; most artists don't know how to get a show up," he says. Taking it to the streets is as much an opportunity for the community as it is for the artists.
Read more on Explore:
Maboneng's favourite food options include the Ethiopian cuisine available at the much-loved Little Addis Cafe and the tapas-style plates accompanying the live jazz at the underground Marabi Club. Then there are the local food stalls, from the South African favourites served at the Common Ground night markets on the corner of Van Beek Street and Beacon Road, to the pan-African stalls at the food market that take over Arts on Main every Sunday.
There is one other thing you have to do when you come to Maboneng, says Davids, and that is simply to hang out. "You sit here and you can see 10,000 movies unfolding. All you have to do is stop and watch."
Getting there: Qantas Airways has direct flights to Johannesburg from Sydney and Perth several times a week. See qantas.com
Staying there: The Residence, in one of the city's most tranquil suburbs, is a true urban oasis. Highlights include three outdoor swimming pools and the glorious rooftop spa area. From R5610 ($460) a night. See theresidence.co.za
Explore more: mabonengprecinct.com
Ute Junker was a guest of andBeyond and The Residence