The Blue Crane Restaurant & Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary

It’s not every day you find yourself searching ‘wheelchair friendly places in Pretoria’. But if you do you may well find yourself at the Blue Crane Restaurant. 

After my Dad had lost a rather one-sided negotiation with a truck and found himself essentially broken on his Eastern border (a heady mix of ankle, collarbone and ribs) I skipped continents to come and join him.

After a few days relaxing in front of the test match and enough protein to make a leopard turn vegan we decided it was time to venture out. Small steps meant day one was a little coffee shop just up the road, day two a meeting at his office and day three a chance to get out properly and enjoy the sunshine, which brought us to the Blue Crane Restaurant.


Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary

Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary: Quick Visitor’s Guide

  • Location: Muckleneuk, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Opening Hours:
    • Summer (Sept – April): 07:00 – 18:00
    • Winter (May – Aug): 07:00 – 17:30
  • Entrance Fee: Free (Donations are welcome)
  • Facilities:
    • Bird hides for observation
    • Blue Crane Restaurant
    • Picnic spots (No braais/barbecues allowed)
  • Activities: Bird watching, photography, nature walks
  • Best Time to Visit: Early mornings and late afternoons for bird activity
  • Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible paths available
  • Pets: Not allowed to ensure the safety and comfort of wildlife
  • Contact Info: For guided tours or special inquiries, contact the sanctuary management.

Note: Opening hours and entrance fees are subject to change. Visitors are advised to check the official website or contact the sanctuary directly for the most current information.

Who Is Austin Roberts?

As with all my writing, I like to get to know the background of a place and this Austin Roberts fella seems like a pretty big deal, given he’s got a nature reserve in the capital city of South Africa named after him. Well, he is.

Dad moved to Africa about 20 years ago, which meant we were lucky enough to come and visit regularly as kids. These trips included excursions to incredible national parks such as Kruger, Pilanesberg and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Spending days in these places, you get to know a bit about the animals, birds and plants around you. And when it comes to the birds of Southern Africa, you won’t get far into learning about them without hearing the name Roberts.

He published the amazing ‘Birds of Southern Africa’ in 1940, and it has been in print ever since. He gave every bird in South Africa a unique number starting at 1 with the Ostrich and cataloguing nearly 1,000 species. It has now been revised 7 times, sold over 300,000 copies and remains the standard for bird books in Africa.

When it was decided to flood a former clay quarry in the Nieuw Muckleneuk suburb of Pretoria – turning it into a nature reserve – the local government in Pretoria honoured Roberts by naming it after him.

About Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary (Our Visit)

Most of the sanctuary has been fenced off since 1970 to protect the species inside, but you get a good view with a walk around the outside. I did all the walking, dad did a lot of sitting, turns out a shattered ankle is a good excuse for a rest day. We navigated the loosely jigsawed concrete slabs and made our way around to the hide.

The hide is the centre point of the sanctuary. African hides are always a thing of beauty, thick wooden struts topped with reeds, long discoloured by the sun. They hold great memories for me, and wandering in transported me back in time, to long sunset evenings waiting for animals to pop out for an evening pint at the waterholes, so I could get a snap.

Not that you need prior experiences to appreciate the hide at Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary. Step inside, and you can forget you’re in a big city. We were surrounded by water, autumnal coloured trees and reeds tall enough to hide most two-story houses. The chatter of the weaver birds fighting over nest material masks any sound of the urban noise.

We sat and took it all in.

This was barely a few miles from where he lived, but it is normal for most of us to not visit the places that are right under our nose. The sun was bright, the kind of weather that would force everyone in the UK out for BBQ coals, but was just another still winter’s day in Africa. In places like this the pace of life slows. You look out for everything around you.

The highlight was seeing a pied kingfisher.

It clung to a reed like a small child on a seesaw, buffeted every time a neighbouring weaver bird decided to use the same perch. It’s incredible how much the reeds seem to defy scientific law, taking the weight of multiple birds; flexing, bending and then shooting right back to where they were before. The kingfisher was not put off by the commotion, keeping its gaze firmly fixed on the water below. The stillness was in stark contrast to the explosive speed with which it shot down into the water on sight of its oblivious prey. It came up empty beaked. There are no easy meals for the wildlife in Africa, well unless you have the number for Roman’s pizza.

There have apparently been sightings of over 170 species at the bird sanctuary. In 20 minutes we manged 15, not a bad haul really for two guys sat in a wooden hut in the middle of a city.


The Hide

The Blue Crane Restaurant

The Blue Crane Restaurant: Quick Visitor’s Guide

  • Location: Inside Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary, Muckleneuk, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Operating Hours:
    • Monday to Sunday: 08:00 – 21:00
  • Cuisine: South African with a modern twist, catering to a variety of dietary preferences including vegetarian options.
  • Specialties: Known for its game dishes and Sunday buffets.
  • Ambiance: Relaxed and nature-inspired, with views overlooking the bird sanctuary’s dam.
  • Seating: Indoor and outdoor seating available. The outdoor deck is popular for its scenic views.
  • Facilities:
    • Kid-friendly with a dedicated play area.
    • Suitable for events and functions with pre-booking.
  • Parking: Available within the sanctuary premises.
  • Reservations: Recommended, especially for weekends and special occasions.
  • Contact Info: For reservations and event bookings, it’s best to contact the restaurant directly.

Note: Operating hours and menu offerings are subject to change. It’s a good idea to confirm your plans by reaching out to the restaurant ahead of your visit.

Visiting the Blue Crane Restaurant

Some Cool Info on Blue Cranes

blue crane portrait
Portrait of an endangered blue crane (Anthropoides paradisea), National bird of South Africa

The Blue Crane is the national bird of South Africa. It is worshipped by both the Zulu and amaXhosa tribes, who call it indwe. When a man distinguished himself by deeds of valour, or any form of meritorious conduct, he was often decorated by a chief with the feathers of this bird. After a battle, the chief would organise a gathering called ukundzabela – a ceremony for the heroes, at which feathers would be presented. 

Of the 15 species of crane in the world, the blue crane has the most restricted distribution, with nearly the entire world’s population in South Africa. Their numbers have plummeted since the mid-1980s and are now considered critically endangered, with only 10,000-20,000 left in the wild. As with so many species, it is contact with man which has brought the numbers down; collisions with power lines, dogs taking eggs and poisoning by farmers to keep them out of crops (including this massacre of 200 in the Northern Cape).

The Blue Crane Restaurant

The Blue Crane Restaurant is far less endangered, and in fact appears to be thriving. It sits adjacent to the bird sanctuary and is less than a two minute walk from the hide. With an incredible aspect over the dam, there are far worse places to enjoy lunch. It has a fine reputation for food, but to be honest, I’d enjoy it whether the food was good or not! We sat on the enclosed terrace over the water watching the waterfowl dig weeds out of the depths ready for spring, the sunshine made it easy to forget this was an African winter.

We tucked into a big platter of cheese, the highlight being the preserved figs – a new one for me, certainly the perfect accompaniment. I also gave in to the temptation of a large vanilla milkshake.

People tell you many things about South Africa; game reserves, Nelson Mandela, Table Mountain, braais, sunsets. Forget it all. South Africa should be famous for one thing and one thing only, the quality of its milkshakes. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m yet to find a bad one. Creamy, packed with sugar and with the consistency of plaster, they are a joy to behold.

Needless to say, we left happy, a perfect way to venture out. If you are in Pretoria with a few hours to spare why not pop over to the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary and Blue Crane Restaurant for a small glimpse of Africa in the heart of the city.


the reeves family picture


Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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