A conversation with the legendary Kate Turkington

Posted on 23 March 2015

There’s nothing as special as a Gogo. The wisdom of those who have experienced life and seen the world change, always holds my attention. The quote ‘when an elder dies, a library burns’ might be a little lame, but there’s truth to it.

Travel is arguably the best experience you can give yourself, but I recently discovered that having a conversation with a legit-legit traveller, travel writer and veteran broadcaster who has been at it for more than 50 years, comes very close. Legendary traveller Kate Turkington is almost 80 and still exploring the world. Last destination: Peru. Her home is Joburg, so we asked her to recommend a bed in this cosmopolitan city.


The legendary Kate Turkington in the foyer of the Clico Boutique Hotel in Rosebank, Joburg. Photo by Sarah de Pina.

The legendary Kate Turkington in the foyer of the Clico Boutique Hotel in Rosebank, Joburg. Photo by Sarah de Pina.


A fellow adventurer is visiting from India. Where would you recommend they stay?

If possible, I get them to stay with me, but I tell them quite clearly I don’t do food. I tell them there’s the freezer, there’s the stove. Otherwise, I’ll recommend the Clico Boutique Hotel in Rosebank.



I think I came to this hotel as they were a client for Flow – my son’s company – years ago. Jeanette, the owner, is absolutely lovely. She was a top businesswomen and decided to give it all up and open a hotel. So I like the intimacy of it, the smallness. There are nine rooms and they’re lovely. There’s a feeling of space. The gardens, they’re not big but you feel you’re in a little oasis. And the food is absolutely superb… If you’re a food Nazi or a vegan or something, you can call in advance and they’ll tell you what the menu is and you say, ‘Well, look, I can’t have XYZ.’ So they’re very flexible. This is the advantage of a small place: you get that personal touch. The staff has also been here for ages, which is a sign of a happy place.


How would you describe Rosebank?

When I first knew it, it was my first-ever shopping district 44 years ago when I first came to South Africa – it still had a kind of village atmosphere and it’s got bigger and grander because of the refurbishment, but I still like it because it’s got nice pavement cafes, restaurants, all the major stores, galleries, boutiques and the Gautrain, which is so important. If you want to go downtown or to Sandton you can get a taxi. It’s so central and it’s got everything going for it. It also has a nice mix of people. When I’m travelling I like to be in the centre of things. I want to be able to go out and walk to the market.


What would you tell them about Joburg?

Johannesburg people are among the friendliest on earth; in your face. ‘Come on, I wanna take you here, and show you there…’ In Johannesburg when someone asks you for supper, they’ll say when? If you get asked in Cape Town it’s, you must come and have supper sometime… I much prefer Joburg. I love the energy here. We can talk about everything, we’re all so opinionated – whether or not we’re right it doesn’t matter – but I could mention anything from the Sydney seige to whatever and we’d all sit and argue, talk about it and be quite loud and noisy. In Cape Town, nobody knows nothing.


When did the travel bug bite?

When World War II started, well over 100000 children were evacuated from London. I was four, my sister was six and we were sent into the countryside, to the east of England, because we were told that the Nazis were going to invade England. Your parents didn’t know where you were going. You were put onto a train with a label, and you stood on the platform until somebody chose you to go live with them. I was four when I first left my parents, and maybe that was the start of it, but I’ve travelled all my life. I remember nothing. I have a really good memory, but those six months I have a total mental block. One couldn’t travel when the war was on, but the moment the war was over, I made friends with a French girl – I was a girl guide – who’d come over spend the summer and she invited me back to France. We got a phone call from Paris saying, ‘Can Kate come to Paris in France?’ We didn’t even know her surname and my mother said yes of course – of course, that was my mother – and she saved up the five pounds and off I went to the Garde Noire in Paris, didn’t know who was meeting me, didn’t know where I was going. I was 14. They were the most fantastic family; they had the most brilliant apartment on the Boulevard Saint-Germain… It was like me walking into a technicolour movie after war-time England.


I believe you’re a birder?

I’m actually president of BirdLife Sandton – it sounds so grand. I love the bush; all my grandchildren have been brought up to bird and to know the bush… I’ve always loved birding because it’s the thrill of the chase. I have a little pocket-handkerchief garden, and I feed about 21 species, just to watch them. I love nature and I’m open to anything.


What can birds teach us?

To make their little homes, to survive, sometimes when it’s quite difficult… to get on with life and not sit moping with your head under your wing. Get moving. I’m not a Buddhist, I’m not an anything, but I like the Buddhist philosophy which is: the past is gone, you learn from it but it’s gone, the future never comes, so Carpe Diem, seize the day, and live your life to the full. Every day.


One thing you never leave behind when travelling?

A flask full of whisky. Always.


Kate’s recommendations for what to do in Joburg

To eat

There’s a gorgeous little restaurant called Holi Cow (Tel 011 467 2661), just off William Nicole, created by celebrity chef, author and spice creator Yudhika Sujanani. It’s lovely and the food is just wonderful. There’s also Moyo in Zoo Lake (Tel 011 646 0058), or for Chinese you can go to Cereldine. You could also take them to Wandie’s Place (Tel 011 982 2796) in Soweto… there’s a lot, both in taste and metaphorically.


For art

The WAM (Wits Art Museum, tel 011 717 1365) in Braamfontein is the best gallery. It has a great coffee shop and a splendid collection of African art (from contemporary and historical South African art to West and Central African art) and lots of temporary exhibitions throughout the year. You can also go to walkabouts there and drawing and painting classes.


The Sunday Rosebank Rooftop Market

The Sunday Rosebank Rooftop Market is a huge draw for tourists and where you can find earrings, mats, and what people want to buy. And then giraffes. I mean the whole economy would collapse without those wooden giraffes. You get onto an international flight and there they are with their wooden giraffes under their arms. They are wonderful animals. I love them. They’re so clever and so particular to South Africa.


I love Nandos

Nandos is the ultimate South African success story. The restaurant was started by Portuguese-born Fernando Duarte and friend Robert Brozin in 1987 in the mining suburb of Rossettenville. Now they are building this big attraction there (similar to the Guinness Experience in Ireland) – The Nandos Experience – with different chefs. They’re going to have an art gallery – they sponsor a lot of up-and-coming South African artists and it’s South African and it’s real. It’s friendly. And the food is good.


To chill

Emmarentia Dam is a good place to relax, especially the rose garden. Or Melville Koppies, just over the road. It’s a nature reserve and a City of Johannesburg Heritage Site with a geology that goes back three billion years. It is the final piece of Johannesburg’s ridges, conserved as it was before the discovery of gold in 1886.
Contact: Tel 011 712 6600, www.jhbcityparks.com


We could have gone on for hours, but we both had to tear ourselves away to attend life things.

We could have gone on for hours, but we both had to tear ourselves away to attend life things.

This article first appeared in the April 2015 issue of Getaway magazine. All prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at the establishments’ discretion. Please confirm with them before travelling.

Follow my adventures on Twitter and Instagram @vuyiroamsfree.

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