Just outside Windhoek on the road to the airport, near Avis, Wildlife Impressions is also named Zoo Park, which is not to be confused with the municipal park of the same name in the centre of Windhoek. Outside, the emphasis is very much on the 'zoo', affording an opportunity to see many of Namibia's smaller inhabitants close up. Snakes, suricats and other small creatures are in enclosures at ground level, while various species of bird have the freedom of a large netted area across the complex.
Inside, over a moat complete with resident crocodile, is an exhibition of stuffed animals that's great for children – and just as interesting for adults. Here are all Namibia's indigenous mammals, displayed in a setting that reflects their natural habitats, and giving an idea of their relative sizes.
The adjacent display of African wood carvings, featuring work from Kenya down to the south of the continent, is claimed to be the largest in southern Africa. Be that as it is may, there's plenty to look at here. And when you've seen enough, complete your visit with a meal at the African Roots Restaurant (tel: 061 232796). Swakopmund-born owner Leon Rousseau is also the chef here (except for Sunday lunch, when he hands over the reigns to his wife). Guests to this large restaurant overlooking the zoo area are welcomed with a secret-formula traditional drink, then can select from a menu that ranges from aioru – a West African fish pot – and other African-influenced specialities to game, plus a few vegetarian choices, all served with homemade bread. Occasionally, ad hoc live music enhances the atmosphere. Prices are reasonable, with starters at N$17–26, and main courses from N$29 for vegetarian noodles to N$77 for a game kebab. The restaurant is closed Sunday evening and Monday lunch. Over the next couple of years, Leon has plans to build guest accommodation here.
Also on the airport road, to the left on Avisweg (signposted 'Swiss Chalets') as you leave Windhoek, Avis Dam is something of a let down. As you would expect, there's a man-made lake here, created by a dam across the Klein Windhoek River, and it's popular with locals for fishing, birdwatching, picnics, canoeing and bike rides, but there's little of any scenic interest to attract visitors. On the other hand, it's a pleasant spot for a picnic on the way to or from the airport. If you've more time, Daan Viljoen National Park is a far better bet.
Canoes are sometimes available for hire at weekends from Nokki's Canoe Hire at the thatched building on the opposite side of the main road (tel: 081 128 5231).
Daan Viljoen National Park
Entrance fees for day visitors: N$10 per person per day (under 16s N$2), plus N$20 per car, all payable at the park.
This small game park, some 20km west of the city, has good facilities, is accessible all year to 2WD vehicles and makes a close, easy, half-day excursion from the capital (though you'll need longer for some of the hikes). It encompasses some of the hills of the Khomas Hochland and, with its thorn trees and dry scrub vegetation, the environment is typical of the central highland area around Windhoek. This rolling landscape has been a park since 1962, and even before then some parts were protected.
The park has good populations of Hartmann's mountain zebra, blue wildebeest, kudu, gemsbok and springbok, as well as klipspringer (as you would expect from the hilly terrain), red hartebeest, impala and even eland. Baboons and rock hyrax (dassies) are often quite visible, and you may spot a family of warthog too.
Over 200 bird species have been recorded here, and Daan Viljoen is a good place for several species endemic to this north-central area of Namibia. These include the lively rockrunner, or Damara rockjumper, which warbles a distinctive song in the morning and evening, and is often seen jumping around with its tail high in the air. The white-tailed shrike is black, white and grey and tends to bounce along the ground, often in groups making lots of noise. Montiero's hornbill is quieter, and more difficult to spot, and Rüppel's parrot and the rosy-faced lovebird are particularly 'cute' species often seen here.
During the middle of the week – and even sometimes at weekends – Daan Viljoen is quiet, attracting just a few locals out from Windhoek to sit by the lake formed by Augeigas Dam, perhaps with a barbecue. There's a 6.5km game drive marked on the ground as 'Detour' – it's a one-way route, leading from the entrance up to the park office, so if time is tight you'd be better to do this when you arrive. On the other hand, as there is no really dangerous game here, take the opportunity to walk around by yourself, following one of the shorter of the park's three marked trails (see below). Your chances of spotting some game are good.Getting there
Take Sam Nujoma Drive out of town, then follow the signs on to the C28 towards Swakopmund. The park is well signposted, about 24km from town, on a good tar road. If you don't have a vehicle, call one of the companies running city tours; most offer day trips here (see pages 158–60). The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, but day visitors must leave by 18.00.Facilities
Accommodation needs to be booked in advance at the NWR in Windhoek, but for day visits you can complete the formalities at the gate.
Accommodation is set around the shores of the lake. Rondavels have two single beds with hotplates, fridges, bedding, washbasins and towels, and shared showers and toilets. They cost N$280 for two people, or N$210 single, including breakfast. Three or more visitors are charged at N$85 per person. Luxury suites cost N$550 per night. Camping is N$125 per site, for a maximum of eight people, two vehicles and one caravan or tent. Both rates include park entrance fees for up to four people (additional group members pay the standard N$10 per person entrance fee).
There's a restaurant which opens for meals, 07.00–09.15, 11.30–13.45 and 18.30–21.00, as well as a small kiosk selling snacks and soft drinks and absolute essentials – oil, soup, sugar and corned beef (perversely, it's closed at lunchtimes during the week). Some distance from these is a large swimming pool of somewhat dubious cleanliness, though it's popular enough for all that. There is no petrol station. Hiking
The game park excludes elephant, buffalo and lion, so you can safely walk alone on the short game trails. There are now three routes:
Wag-'n-biet-jie Trail is an easy 3km stroll, following the Augeigas River. It's named after the Afrikaans name for the buffalo thorn, meaning 'wait-a-bit'. This common tree is all around, and can be distinguished by the curved thorns pointing backwards on its branches. These snag anyone who is caught by the tree's main thorns and tries to pull free – forcing them to 'wait a bit'. The trail follows the river upstream until it reaches a lookout point over the Stengel Dam, after which it returns along the same route back to the camp.
Rooibos Trail is a more strenuous 9km hike, starting at the swimming pool from where it winds up to the region's highest point (1,763m) after about 3km. The views are worth the climb, and you can usually see Windhoek in the distance. Then it gradually descends to cross part of Choub River, and wind round across it again, though there is apparently an alternative route which follows the riverbed left until the trail rejoins it.
Sweet-thorn Trail is a relatively new 32km two-day hike, which must be booked in advance through Windhoek's NWR. Only one group of 3–12 people is allowed on the trail per day, starting at 09.00 from the restcamp office. This trail also follows the dry Choub River for part of the time, but strikes out into the otherwise unseen north and east sections of the park. It costs N$75 per person, and you must supply your own food and equipment, though there is a simple hut halfway along for the overnight stop.
Alternatively, you can just follow the wild game trails from the restcamp area. You are unlikely to get lost unless you try to. Before you set off walking, see if you can get a copy of the guide to the local birdlife, Birds of Daan Viljoen National Park, from the park's kiosk. This excellent little booklet contains a species checklist, an identification guide to some of the more common birds, and short descriptions of the habitats found in the park.
About 15km south of the city, to the left of the B1 as you head south from Windhoek, Heroes' Acre is a N$61 million monument to 'the Namibian peoples' struggle for independence and self-emancipation'. It was completed in August 2002, in time for the annual Heroes' Day, August 26, and boasts a restaurant, a pavilion with a seating capacity of 5,000 people and a platform for dignitaries.
One of its main features is an 8m-high wall-panel, depicting various scenes from Namibia's popular revolts and uprisings, including the Nama people's uprising under Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi, resistance to the forced removal of people to Katutura, and the armed liberation struggle. Whilst only Namibian stones were used in the site's construction, the panel and various bronze statues, including one of a soldier weighing about four tonnes, were imported from North Korea.
Game lodges and guest farms
Even if you're staying in Windhoek, you may like to spend half a day or so visiting a local game lodge or guest farm. Places within easy reach of the centre that welcome day visitors include Heja Game Lodge, Midgard, Auas Game Lodge and Hohewarte Guest Farm.
Within relatively easy reach of Windhoek is Okahandja (about 11/2 hours by car), with its woodcarvers' markets and the nearby ostrich farm. Or if you just want to escape the city for a day, you could try some watersports at Lake Oanob Resort