A colourful capital
Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, is a bustling city with an estimated population of 340,000. Windhoek lies in an airy basin in the central highlands, surrounded by the Auas Mountains in the southeast, the Eros Mountains in the northeast and the Khomas Hochland in the west.
Windhoek is often described as a city with a ‘continental’ atmosphere. This can be ascribed to its architecture – historical buildings dating back to German colonial rule – as well as to its cuisine, culture, dress codes and educational institutions. At the same time Windhoek has the colour, sounds and pace of a modern African city. Pavement displays of African drums and woodcarvings from the north contrast with elegant shops offering sophisticated Swakara garments and Namibian gemstones set in individually designed jewellery. While some shops display clothing, silver and glassware imported from Europe, others stock casual and colourful garments from West Africa.
Because of the many hot springs in the area, Windhoek was initially known as Ai-gams (correctly spelt /Ai //Gams to indicate the click sound), a Nama word meaning ‘firewater’, ‘steam’ or ‘smoke’, and Otjomuise, a Herero word meaning the ‘place of steam’. The Nama captain, Jan Jonker Afrikaner, gave the town the name it carries today. In the early 1840s Afrikaner settled where the most powerful spring reached the surface. It is thought that in a moment of nostalgia he named the place after Winterhoek, the farm in the Cape where he was born. During the German colonial administration the town was called Windhuk, which was subsequently changed to Windhoek. Public transport in the city consists mainly of taxis, while a bus service transports passengers between Katutura and Khomasdal to Windhoek and its various suburbs.
WALK THROUGH WINDHOEK
If you’re keen on walking and would like to orient yourself in the capital, a leisurely circular route starting and ending at the golden Independence Museum in Robert Mugabe Avenue will give you a good idea of what the city has to offer, and a glimpse of Namibia’s cultural diversity. After visiting the Independence Museum, dedicated to the Namibian liberation struggle, head to the adjacent Alte Feste (old fort) (currently closed for renovations) built in the early 1890s. The nearby Genocide Memorial is a reminder of the 1904-1907 war against the German administration.
Opposite, in the historical Emma Hoogenhout building, are the administrative headquarters of the National Museum of Namibia.
Further south along Robert Mugabe Avenue, on the right, is the Office of the Ombudsman, built in 1906 as a residence for senior government officials and converted into offices following independence. Take a sharp turn right into Sam Nujoma Avenue, and at the first traffic light, do a quick detour to the right into Rev. Michael Scott Street to look at the Supreme Court building, the only development after independence that reflects an African, albeit northern African, style of architecture.
Having viewed this imposing building, head back to Sam Nujoma Avenue and proceed down to Independence Avenue. On your right you will be greeted by Namibia’s first five-star accommodation establishment, the Hilton Windhoek, which was opened in 2011. Go one more block further down and turn left into Tal Street, where you will find the Namibia Craft Centre in the Old Breweries Building. The best examples of handiwork by Namibia’s craftspeople can be viewed and purchased here, and the Craft Café offers delectable refreshments. Fromhere return to Independence Avenue and stroll northwards until you reach the Gustav Voigts Centre.
Supreme Court of Namibia in Windhoek.
Built in the early seventies and conveniently central, the Gustav Voigts Centre offers a great deal more than convenience stores and banking facilities, such as outlets for hand- crafted jewellery, Swakara garments, camping and safari gear, curios and hand-made souvenirs, maps and books and other utility stores. The centre is flanked by the Carl List Mall, also a great place for shopping or a cup of tea.
From the Gustav Voigts Centre, cross Independence Avenue at the first set of traffic lights and then cross Fidel Castro Street to Zoo Park – named after the zoo that once existed here. Here you will see a curious two-metre- high stone column sculpted by well- known Namibian artist, Dörte Berner. The monument marks the place where the remains of elephant bones were excavated in the fifties, now on display at the Earth Science Museum near Eros Airport. Also in the park is the Witbooi Memorial, unveiled in 1997 to commemorate the lives of soldiers lost in battles fought between the Schutztruppe and the legendary Nama chief, Hendrik Witbooi.
Cross Independence Avenue for a short detour down Post Street Mall. Completed shortly after independence, the Mall has a large number of shops and boutiques and is a favoured venue for street vendors selling rural art, African-style clothing, curios and jewellery. While the new structures blend with Windhoek’s historical German architecture, bright colours such as blue, pink, cerise and purple give them a modern and lively appearance. Town Square, an addition to the Mall, offers more dining and shopping opportunities.
Developed around what was one of Windhoek’s oldest hotels and accessible from the Mall is the genial Kaiserkrone Shopping Centre with its palm trees and a variety of shops. Mounted on steel columns and adding special interest to the Mall is the Gibeon Meteorite Fountain, where 31 of the original 77 Gibeon meteorites are displayed. The Gibeon meteorite shower occurred in southern Namibia southeast of Gibeon, and is the largest known shower of its kind in the world.
Return to Independence Avenue, cross to the Main Post Office, turn right into Daniel Munamava Street and then left into Lüderitz Street, proceeding down the hill until it runs into Independence Avenue again. On your right you will pass the Public Library, then the Magistrate’s Court and, on the corner with John Meinert Street, the High Court of Namibia. The bronze kudu mounted on a high stone plinth on the corner to your left is a landmark often used by locals when giving directions. From here you turn right into Independence Avenue, cross at the traffic lights, and at the next set of lights, veer left into Mburumba Kerina Street.
At the bottom of Mburumba Kerina Street on the right is the historical Windhoek Railway Station, built in 1912/1913. In front of the building is a narrow-gauge locomotive, and on the first floor is the TransNamib Railway Museum, well worth a visit. Double back up Bahnhof Street, cross Independence Avenue and proceed eastwards until you reach Robert Mugabe Avenue, having taken note of the Turnhalle Building on the right-hand corner.
On the opposite corner is the Franco- Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC), one of the most important players in Namibia’s cultural scene. When you proceed southwards down Robert Mugabe to where it crosses John Meinert Street, you will find the National Art Gallery of Namibia, well worth a visit to see the Permanent Collection established and owned by the Arts Association Heritage Trust, which features historical and contemporary Namibian art. Next door is the National Theatre of Namibia, and opposite the Namibia Scientific Society, where a wide selection of authoritative publications on the country published by the Society can be purchased.
Up the hill on Robert Mugabe (on the right) is the former State House, a renovated version of the original house occupied by the former South West African administrators and now the official residence of Namibia’s prime minister. At the top is the Christuskirche, an Evangelical Lutheran Church, one of the city’s most striking landmarks, built from local sandstone and completed in 1910. Its design was influenced by Romanesque, neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, and its stained-glass windows were donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
To the east of the church is the famous Tintenpalast, meaning Ink Palace. This is Namibia’s original Government Building, completed in 1914 in time for the first session of the Landesrat. Since then it has housed a series of successive administrations and governments. After independence it was renovated to accommodate the current Namibian Parliament. The statues in front of the National Assembly honour three Namibian nationalists who campaigned for the country’s independence: Chief Hosea Kutako (1870-1970), Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi (1906-1978) and Reverend Theophilus Hamutumbangela (1917-1990).
Gideon Meteorites – the largest known shower if its kind in the world.
The parliament gardens at the Tintenpalast
When travelling in a circular route in the Gamsberg surroundings, the scenery is spectacular, especially along the Gamsberg, Spreetshoogte and Remhoogte passes. Dominating the landscape 120 km southwest of Windhoek and characterised by its conspicuous cap of weather-resistant quartzite sandstone is the Gamsberg, a large table-topped mountain that rises some 500 metres above the surrounding Khomas Hochland. At a height of 2 347 metres, it is Namibia’s fourth-highest mountain. The plateau is regarded as an outstanding site for astronomical observations, as the night sky is extraordinarily clear and the absence of towns and the resultant darkness of the surroundings makes it an ideal location from which to study the stars of the southern hemisphere. Many of the farms in the environs are involved in tourism, and can be visited to have a meal, spend a night or two, or simply relax over coffee and cake. Hakos Guest Farm is situated above Gamsberg Pass on the C26, 135 km from Windhoek and 240 km each from Walvis Bay and Sesriem. Nestled against the Hakos Mountains, Hakos Guest Farm offers incomparable views. An observatory, run by the IAS (International Amateur Observatory Society) to keep Gamsberg accessible for astronomy, is situated on the farm and guided stargazing sessions form part of the Hakos experience.
The Windhoek Green Belt Landscape
The Windhoek Green Belt Landscape is one of five Protected Landscape Conservation Areas launched in 2011, each including a state protected area at its core. With the other PLCAs – around Waterberg Plateau Park (18 763 km2), Sossusvlei (5 730 km2), Fish River Canyon 7 621 km2) and Mudumu (2 047 km2) in north-eastern Namibia – almost sixteen thousand square kilometres are under protected management. These are demonstration sites, but the long-term vision of the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism is to expand such areas into a large-scale network in order to address the loss of habitat and other threats to species, to conserve biodiversity and ecosystems, and to establish corridors to sustain viable wildlife populations. Close to Windhoek the PLCA covers 760 km2 in the Khomas Hochland plateau west of the capital. The area includes several state and freehold farms used for cattle, game farming, hunting and tourism, and has the Daan Viljoen Game Park at its core.
Accessible from the B1 from Windhoek to the north, sign-posted about 3.5 km south of Okahandja, the Von Bach Dam and Game Park extends over an area of 43 km2.
The facility, proclaimed in 1972, has become a popular venue for aquatic sports such as water-skiing, yachting, windsurfing and boating. The dam is popular among freshwater angling enthusiasts, as it has been stocked with large-mouth bass, blue kurper and small-mouth yellow-fish. Carp and barbel also occur here.
Visitors can explore the surrounding nature reserve on foot. While gameviewing opportunities are limited, kudu, baboon, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, gemsbok and red hartebeest are seen here. Facilities at the dam, which are on a 50-year lease by Tuneni Investments include luxury chalets, deluxe bungalows, campsites and the Daw Restaurant overlooking the dam. Activities include taking a sundowner boat cruise, canoeing, fishing and a variety of watersports.
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