Each Spring, usually from early October to early November, a sea of purple petals from thousands of jacaranda trees blooms above suburban streets. The jacaranda is not a native African tree (it originated in South America) and is believed to have first arrived in Gauteng in 1888 (during the Gold Rush) quickly becoming so popular that the trees were planted along almost every new street built in the rapidly growing cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Jacarandas are now officially recognised in South Africa as an alien species, so to see the spectacular spring blossoms you need to head to Joburg’s older suburbs, mostly north of the city centre. The blooming jacarandas have found their way into the city's mythology. Students joke that if you haven’t started revising for the end of year university exams before the jacarandas start to bloom, then you’ve probably left it too late. If you are in Joburg at this time here’s our guide to some of the best places to view the lilac splendour. All you need with you is your camera. (Photos above by Mark Straw).
BEST JACARANDA STREETSDUNKELD Kent and Hume Roads in Dunkeld both run perpendicular to Oxford Road and Jan Smuts Avenue (east to west, and vice versa), making this the place to capture Jacaranda blooms at sunset or sunrise.
MELROSE The suburb of Melrose, next to Rosebank, has some beautiful quiet Jacaranda-lined streets that make for a great photo opportunity such as Jameson, Reform and Victoria Avenues. From the James and Ethel Gray Park (entrance at Edgewood Avenue) there is a fantastic view of the downtown skyline fringed by the Observatory Ridge.
PARKWOOD In the suburbs of Parkwood and neighbouring Saxonwold take a drive (or a walk) along Bath Avenue and make a left (or a right) on any of these gorgeous purple canopied streets: Bristol, Wantage, Griswold or Rutland Roads.
ROSEBANK Take a stroll along Tyrwhitt Avenue in Rosebank on either side of Oxford Road in the shade of the blooming Jacarandas.
KILLARNEY Follow Riviera Road up from the M1 towards the Ditsong Museum of Military History for a magical jacaranda-fringed view of the War Memorial.
MELVILLE The pretty suburb of Melville is full of jacarandas, many of them contrasting spectacularly with bright pink bougainvillaea. Jacaranda hotspots include 4th Avenue.
GREENSIDE & PARKVIEW When driving through the suburbs of Greenside and Emmarentia, take a detour down the quiet Clovelly Street (parallel to Barry Herzog Avenue). In neighbouring Parkview you’ll also find plenty of Jacarandas on streets like Waterford Avenue and Galway Road.
HOUGHTON Munro Drive, which winds its way across the Observatory ridge in Houghton, is a scenic, historic street lined with mature jacaranda trees and epic views over the northern suburbs.
LINKSFIELD Follow the main thoroughfare Club Street through the suburb of Linksfield and take a right on Bedford Street, which becomes Linksfield Drive. The views get steadily more impressive as the road winds its way up the steep Linksfield ridge.
KENSINGTON Drive through a spectacular purple tunnel along Highland Road in this historic suburb. Nearby Juno Street also has a remarkable display. This is one of the most famous jacaranda areas in the province.
VIEWPOINTSFOUR SEASON HOTEL THE WESTCLIFF For drinks with a panoramic jacaranda-filled view you can't beat the terrace at this luxury hotel.
EB SOCIAL KITCHEN The Exclusive Books store in Hyde Park Corner has to be one of our favourite bookshops with excellent coffee and a great book selection. The piece de resistance is the outstanding views from the casual and contemporary EB Social Kitchen & Bar
ISLAND BAR The pool deck at the Southern Sun Hyde Park Hotel is a great vantage point for gazing out over the urban forest of the western suburbs.
MARBLE Located on the rooftop of a new development along Rosebank's Art Gallery Row, much-awarded chef David Higgs' sizzling, live-fire grill house and bar has spectacular views across Joburg towards the Magaliesburg mountains.
CITY SIGHTSEEING BUS The Green Route of Joburg's open top City Sightseeing bus is a brilliant way to see Joburg's jacarandas from on high.The route starts at Rosebank and makes its way through the leafy suburbs of Parkwood, Saxonwold and Houghton ending at Constitution Hill where it meets the Red Route. The best views can be captured during the bus's brief stop on Munro Drive, from where the views of the northern suburbs are unparalleled.
L RON HUBBARD HOUSE To see the jacarandas from a different angle, the view from the house museum of L Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) in Observatory is extraordinary.
MELVILLE KOPPIES Climb across the Melville koppies for views of purple jacarandas against the backdrop of Joburg's distinctive downtown skyscrapers. The best way to explore the koppies is on one of the weekend guided walks.
THE WESTCLIFF STEPS The grand suburb of Westcliff set across the Westcliff ridge is where many of Joburg’s mining magnates, the so-called Randlords, built their mansions at the turn of the century. The Westcliff Steps (210 in total), dubbed the “stairway to heaven” can be accessed via Crescent Drive or the intersection of Wicklow Avenue and Westcliff Drive (pedestrian entrance). At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of the urban forest.
WALKING TOURSJoin the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation's tours of Modderfontein on Sat October 21, or their Urania Village walking tour on Sat October 28. Both offer some fantastic opportunities to take in unique views of the blooming jacarandas. In particular the Urania Village tour, presents some of the best views in the city from atop the Observatory Ridge from where you can look out onto the jacaranda-filled eastern suburbs of the city, particularly Kensington.
PRETORIANicknamed the Jacaranda City, Pretoria (a 45-minute drive from Joburg) has suburban streets that are lined with purple trees almost everywhere you look. It is thought that 17% of all the trees in Pretoria are jacarandas, which makes for almost 70,000 trees. For unparalleled views visit the majestic Union Buildings (seat of the South African government) and take a walk through its lovely terraced gardens. In the same area the quiet Eastwood Street, Government Avenue and the main thoroughfare Soutpansberg Road all have a dense collection of these trees, while in the suburbs north of the Union Buildings picturesque jacaranda streets include Pierneef, Nuffield and Rose Streets. The suburbs of Sunnyside and Muckleneuk are also good places to see the spring blossoms. Some of the most beautiful streets include Johnston, Reitz, Bourke, Troye and Loveday Streets.
Another famous Jacaranda suburb is Groenkloof, just south of the University of South Africa, where on Herbert Baker Street you can find rare white Jacarandas. A short drive away is Fort Klapperkop (entrance on Johann Rissik Drive) from where there are pretty views over Pretoria’s verdant southern suburbs. Note that Pretoria is approximately three degrees warmer than Joburg so the jacarandas bloom slightly earlier than in Joburg. If not driving, take the Gautrain to Pretoria (around 30 minutes – for the Union Buildings, get off at the Hatfield stop and take the H3 Arcadia Gautrain bus (weekdays only).
What are your favourite places to view jacarandas in the city? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!