Midway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, the steadily expanding area of Midrand (formerly known as Halfway House) is a relatively new addition to Gauteng’s landscape. The first office blocks and residential properties were only built here in 1981, although nowadays Midrand sprawls for miles, with flashy corporate headquarters, gated communities and conference centres rapidly filling the remaining green spaces that lie between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
While most people settle with simply speeding past Midrand on the road to some other city, there are a handful of hidden gems that are worth making a diversion for.
Towering over Midrand is the Nizamiye Mosque, the biggest mosque in the southern hemisphere. Modelled on the 16th-century Ottoman Selimiye Camii Mosque in Edirne, Turkey, it is a dazzling building decorated with astonishing attention to detail.
The mosque has 21 domes, the insides of which were painstakingly hand-painted by Turkish artisans, four soaring minarets and over 200 stained-glass windows. Within the Nizamiye Mosque complex there is also a school, clinic, Turkish supermarket, bakery, barber, bookshop, a carpet and ceramics store, and a Turkish restaurant.
Hour-long tours of the mosque are available, giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about Ottoman architecture and the remarkable construction of the building. Turkish delights and a pot of tea at the Turkish bakery, or a full platter of sizzling kebabs and salads at the Ottoman Palace restaurant is the perfect way to end a visit.
The St Sergius Russian Orthodox Church was built in 2003 and is a splendid example of traditional Russian Orthodox architecture. Topped by five golden domes, designed to emulate those found on the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow’s Kremlin, it is a striking building that sits neatly in an unassuming residential area. The church interior is filled with candles, vividly coloured icons of Russian saints hang on the walls, and a hand-painted icon of Christ Pantocrator looks down over the small space from inside the church’s main dome.
Waterfall Estate is an upmarket gated community that is said to be the largest private property development in South African history. The size of a small town, the work to expand Waterfall is still ongoing and includes schools, a golf course, an equestrian centre, a luxury hotel and spa, and the gigantic Mall of Africa.
The resort-like Waterfall Corner shopping centre is definitely one of the best places to eat in Midrand, with top restaurants to choose from such as the gorgeous Life Grand Cafe, the retro-styled Italian restaurant and deli Remo’s, fine dining seafood restaurant Beluga, and Cape Town’s health-food café brand Nü.
Commonly known as Busy Corner, Imbizo Shisanyama is one of the biggest braai (barbecue) restaurants in the country. On weekends this social hotspot is bursting with people who drive down for a traditional South African shisa nyama lunch of delicious sizzling, spicy barbecued meats served in a lively atmosphere. A quintessentially South African experience.