The Windhoek, Surroundings and Central East Region is dominated by its capital, a bustling city with an estimated population of 340 900 (based on the 2011 census).
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 a visit to the Independence Museum, dedicated to the Namibian liberation struggle, make a stopover at the neighbouring Alte Feste (old fort), built in the early 1890s to protect the new settlers in Windhoek and provide accommodation for members of the Schutztruppe.
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. On your left in front of the Municipality Building is the statue of Curt von Francois, commander of a small force of Schutztruppe, who established the Alte Feste as his headquarters in Windhoek in 1890, and who is regarded by some historians as the city’s founder. 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. From here return to Independence Avenue and stroll northwards until you reach the Gustav Voigts Centre.
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 historical Wecke & Voigts store can be found here. 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. In front of the Tintenpalast are the Parliament Gardens, a great place for relaxing with a book under age-old trees. When you’re done in the garden, walk back to the Independence Museum from where you started.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND LIBRARY
The National Archives and the National Library of Namibia share a modern archival building with spacious reading rooms at 1 Eugene Marais Street. Both institutions are open to the general public. The National Archives of Namibia hold the memory of the nation, with about 7 km of shelving filled with government records dating back to the beginning of German colonisation in 1884. Computerised registers make it easy to search for people, places and subjects. Apart from government records, a variety of private papers are preserved in the collection, some of them dating back to the pre-colonial times of the mid-19th century, as well as some 15 000 indexed photographs, 6 000 maps and plans and posters, and a film, video and oral history collection. Of particular interest are the correspondence books of the famous Namibian leader, Captain Hendrik Witbooi (1835–1905), a treasure whose international importance is recognised by an inscription on the Unesco Memory of the World register – one of very few African items on that list. The National Library of Namibia keeps the largest collection of Namibiana, that is publications from and about Namibia, in existence. This includes the very first travel report about Namibia by the Frenchman Le Vaillant, published in 1790; an almost complete collection of all Namibian newspapers since the first one appeared in 1896; and books on Namibia published in 50 languages and in 80 countries.
Namibian-published and archival heritage is also preserved by two private scientific societies. The Namibia Scientific Society in Windhoek, which publishes a scholarly journal, maintains a reference library on Robert Mugabe Avenue opposite the National Theatre. The Society of Scientific Development in Swakopmund maintains not only the well-visited Swakopmund Museum, but also the Sam Cohen Library and Otavi Railway Station. Both libraries are open for research and include archival material, photographs and maps.
The National Botanical Garden of Namibia (NBGN) in the heart of Windhoek is undoubtedly one of the capital’s gems. Situated on the slopes of a hill that forms a natural divide between the city centre and the suburb of Klein Windhoek, it was proclaimed a conservation area in 1969. In 1990 the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) moved to the site above the garden.
Since then, the Botanical Garden has become a versatile paradise of greenery and flowers, providing sanctuary to many small creatures and birds. Wandering along the paths you can learn about plants from Namibia’s other regions, identifying them by their nametags, and rest on a bench while enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and watching the visitors to the birdbaths. The entrance to the grounds is at the NBRI, 8 Orban Street. The garden is open on weekdays during office hours (8:00 to 17:00). A tour is conducted on the first Saturday of each month by a member of the Botanical Society of Namibia, Tel (+264 61) 202 2014. The tour starts at 8:00.
DAY TRIPS FROM WINDHOEK
There are several recreation resorts and guest farms close enough to Windhoek in the Central Region for day and weekend excursions. These include the Daan Viljoen Game Park, the Gross-Barmen Hot Springs Resort about 100 km northwest of the capital, the Von Bach Recreation Resort, 65 km north of Windhoek off the B1 (a popular venue for aquatic sports and freshwater angling enthusiasts), and the Hardap Recreation Resort, 250 km south of Windhoek.
Von Bach Recreation Resort
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.
isitors 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.
Gross-Barmen Hot Springs Resort
About 100 km northwest of Windhoek off the B1, the Gross-Barmen Hot Springs Resort is another popular day and weekend destination. The main feature of this facility is the large dome-shaped and glass-enclosed thermal hall, which houses a communal bath of steaming spring water (65 ̊C). Under management of Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), the resort was closed in November 2010 for renovations. Now that it has been completed, it caters for health and beauty enthusiasts as well as for fitness, leisure and adventure fans.
Hardap Game Reserve
Built in the 1960s with a capacity of 320 million cubic metres and a surface area of 25 km2, Hardap was Namibia’s largest dam until the opening of Neckertal Dam near Keetmanshoop in 2018. The 252 km2 game reserve and recreation resort were proclaimed in 1968. Accessible from the B1, Hardap lies 250 kilometres south of Windhoek, and 20 kilometres northwest of Mariental. Situated on the cliffs above the dam, accommodation at the Hardap Resort which is managed by Namibia Wildlife Resorts, ranges from VIP and family chalets to bush chalets, while campsites are also available Facilities include a swimming pool and restaurant overlooking the dam. A national club championship and two international angling championships are arranged at Hardap every year. Namibian, South African and Zimbabwean anglers take part in the competitions.
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.
TOWNS CLOSE TO WINDHOEK
Directly north of Windhoek lies Okahandja, a town of great significance to the Herero people because it was once the seat of the famous Chief Samuel Maharero. Every year on the weekend closest to 26 August – with the exception of 2011 when it was held in Gobabis, and referred to as Heroes’ Day – thousands of Hereros converge on the town to pay homage at the graves of their great chiefs. Some of the women are dressed in traditional red and black, others in green and black, while the men wear full military regalia, complete with medals. Visitors are welcome to view this rich and colourful ceremony.According to historian Dr H Vedder, the name Okahandja comes from Herero and means ‘small widening’, the place where the rivers meet. The earliest records of the town date back to 1844 when the first two missionaries arrived there. The year 1894, however, is regarded as the birth of the town, as Okahandja became a military base that year and a fort was built. On 26 August 1923, Chief Samuel Maherero was laid to rest in Okahandja at a funeral attended by approximately 2 000 people. Since then this day has been celebrated annually at Okahandja by the Herero people.
The town is an important centre for woodcarvers from the north. They practise their ancient skills at the wood- and-thatch Mbangura Woodcarvers Market next to the main road, both at the entrance and at the exit of the town. Also at the main entrance to the town, right next to the service station, is a biltong, coffee and gift shop that makes for a good pit stop. Okahandja is also a good place to buy biltong, at CLOSWA and Piet’s Biltong.
The largest town east of Windhoek is Gobabis, an important cattle- ranching centre. A monument of a bull welcomes visitors at the entrance to the town. Gobabis is the gateway to the Trans-Kalahari Highway, linking Namibia to Botswana and South Africa. The completion of this highway resulted in the development of several new tourist lodges in the surroundings.
Gobabis developed around a mission station established in 1856 by Friederich Eggert of the Rhenish Missionary Society. In the latter half of the 1800s and the early 1900s, several conflicts flared up between the Mbanderu and Khauas Khoekhoe, as well as between the settlers and the indigenous people. The Gobabis district was proclaimed by the German authorities in February 1894, and in June the following year, Gobabis was occupied by a German garrison. While the military fort, built in 1896/7, has long since disappeared, one of the few buildings dating back to that era is the field hospital, or Lazarett, which has been declared a national monument.
Of special interest is the Gobabis Museum, recently rehoused by the Museum Association of Namibia in the old library building with a grant of N$ 20 000 from the Federal Republic of Germany. The new museum was established with the support of Eberhard and Elfriede Einbeck, the couple who ran a private museum in Gobabis for many years. The Uakii Wilderness & Gobabis Info and Coffee Shop in Gobabis is the only tourism information office in the Omaheke Region. It offers services such as bookings, tour facilitator services, a coffee shop, Internet facilities, camping and ‘information with a warm smile’.
In 2011 the former Horizons Hotel was revamped and renamed the Kalahari Convention Centre, becoming the first black-owned hotel in the Omaheke Region. Another first for the region and the country, was the construction of the first house made up of tightly packed sandbags, instead of bricks, held together by a timber framework. This innovative and eco-friendly concept was used when building the kitchen for the Omuhaturua Primary School hostel and is part of an overall scheme by the Catherine Bullen Foundation to develop a canteen, kitchen and outdoor recreation area at the primary school. Approximately 100 kilometres northeast of Gobabis, the Harnas Wildlife Foundation and Guest Farm is one of the few wildlife orphanages and welfare centres in Southern Africa. The foundation focuses on the rehabilitation of neglected, abused and abandoned wild animals, while the guest farm provides a variety of accommodation.
Southeast of Windhoek is the historical town of Dordabis, where cattle farmer and local businessman Michael Krafft of Farm Ibenstein has taken on the massive task of renovating the historical buildings of Dordabis. The Krafft family has lived in the Dordabis environs for many years. Michael is the grandson of August Stauch, the diamond pioneer of Kolmanskop, who developed Dordabis as a trade centre in the 1920s. Michael has restored the old stone house – once the residence of August Stauch and his wife Ida – to its former glory and uses it to accommodate hunters. He has also restored several other historical buildings, such as the dairy and abattoirs built in the 1920s. Four kilometres from Dordabis, producers of karakul carpets can be visited at Ibenstein Teppiche. Also in this area is the farm Peperkorrel, where the well-known Dorka carpets are made. Peperkorrel also houses a sculpture studio, with works by local artist Dörte Berner.
Some 88 km south of Windhoek, amongst a relatively dense acacia woodland of camel-thorn, sweet-thorn and candle-pod acacia, is the historical town of Rehoboth. It is inhabited by the Baster community, descendants of people of mixed parentage who trekked across the Orange River under their leader Hermanus van Wyk and settled at Rehoboth in 1870. The history of the Rehoboth Basters is recorded in the Rehoboth Museum, established by Namibian anthropologist and archaeologist, Dr Beatrice Sandelowsky. Displays detail the cultural heritage of the Basters and archaeological finds in the area, such as an open-air burial site. Representing a vital component in the preservation of Rehoboth’s past, displays of minerals and volcanic rocks give an insight into the geological formations on the African continent in general and in Namibia in particular, while fossil remains provide a glimpse into the evolution of man on the continent. Augmented by the many historical items representing the lives and stories of this interesting people, the reference library contains further reading on the national heritage of the Rehoboth Volk. In earlier times a camel- thorn tree referred to as Kaptein’s Tree was the venue for the meetings of the Kapteinsraad, an equivalent to a Chief’s Council. Just west of Rehoboth is Oanob Dam, which supplies Rehoboth with water. Overlooking the dam are picnic places with barbecue facilities, a restaurant, bungalows and a number of walking trails. Oanob is a favoured venue for day and weekend outings, for locals as well as bird-watchers and water sports enthusiasts.
An area of some 8 400 ha referred to as the Acacia Forest and well-known for its large camel-thorn trees (some estimated to be 2 000 years old) lies within the municipal boundaries of Rehoboth. The possibility of proclaiming the area as a community park is being considered.
Situated 178 km south of Rehoboth off the B1, Mariental is a small, quietly flourishing market town. Nearby Hardap Dam is the second largest reservoir in Namibia and provides water for irrigation, enabling the cultivation of animal fodder, as well as some fruits and vegetables. The Aimeb Superfarm in Mariental is one of the most modern dairy farms in the world and has a planned capacity of up to 2 000 cows. Sitting astride the main route into the Kalahari and Namib deserts, Mariental also services the needs of farmers in these areas. Mariental is home to a large number of Nama-speaking people, descendants of the early Khoi inhabitants of Namibia.