Next to feature in our series of Southern African countries is Namibia. This incredibly low-key destination has so much to offer. It has unparalleled natural beauty, miles of open space, excellent wildlife, splendid coastline, plus many unique features: like the Fish River Canyon, the Skeleton Coast, the legendary red dunes of Sossusvlei and the list goes on. Perfect for visiting between April and November, Namibia is a large country that lends itself to fly-in safaris, and for those keen on a road trip with some peace and quiet, it is just right. Stand by for more on the various regions and packages for traveling to those regions.
Whether it was pure luck or a brilliant stroke of Germanic planning, Windhoek is situated in almost the exact centre of Namibia. It’s probably due the former as the hot springs that occur here have attracted man for thousands of years. The first permanent settlement in the Windhoek area was around 1840 when the Oorlam Nama, under their chief Jonker Afrikaner, settled at !Ae-gams. !Ae-gams literally means “fire water” as the water bubbled out the ground at temperatures of more than 70 degrees Celsius. Jonker Afrikaner named the place Winterhoek after the mountain range not far from Cape Town where he had been born. In 1890 the German Schutztruppe Commander Curt von Francois built the Alte Feste, the fort from which he would be able to dominate the area and moved the capital there from Otjimbingwe. Since then Windhoek has been the seat of varying administrative bodies governing the area that is today’s Namibia.
Despite its name which translates to “Windy Corner” it is not a windy place, indeed aside from a few hot days in the mid summer it enjoys a pleasant climate all year round. The majority of the rains come in the mid-summer providing welcome relief from the heat.
By most standards Windhoek is a small capital with only 300 000 people living here. Given the Namibian terrain most people are surprised by Windhoek’s altitude, at 1650 metres it is in the same league as Johannesburg and Denver. The city is beautifully situated in a valley defined by the Eros Mountains in the north and the Auas mountains in the south and the Khomas Highland to the west. And because of all these mountains Windhoek’s main airport is nearly 50km out of town, the Hosea Kutako Airport is Namibia’s only international airport.
If one looks up at the skyline of the mountains, one might be able to make out a large aerial, and down below it, on the lower slopes, a monument. That is Hero’s Acre and the Monument to the Namibian liberation struggle. The people of Namibia fought against German colonialism for 30 years and South African occupation for a further 75.
What to do in Windhoek
There is plenty to do Windhoek if one intends staying here for a day or two. Windhoek started as a fort and the Alte Feste Fort is centrally situated in the old part of town. Built as a bastion of German colonialism, the Alte Feste Fort now houses the National Museum where one can learn about some of the people of Namibia, the freedom struggle and Namibian independence. On the lawns of the Fort is the Rider Memorial of a mounted soldier which one might recognise from the Windhoek Lager label. The memorial is dedicated to the German soldiers who died in the Herero and Nama wars.
Across the road is the Christis Kirche or Church of Christ. This Lutheran church built of sandstone was begun in 1896 and is built in the gothic revival style with Art Nouveau elements. It has a 24m high spire and colourful stained-glass windows which were a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Behind the Church is the humorously named Tintenpalast. Tintenpalast is German for “Ink Palace”, as this was the administrative building for the colony and the settlers felt it used too much ink writing out laws and instructions. Today it is the seat of both chambers of the Namibian legislature, the National Council and the National Assembly. The building is surrounded by the Parliament Gardens.
Down the hill from the Christis Kirche, on Independence Avenue is Zoo Park which was once a zoo and is today a public park where evidence was unearthed of an elephant hunt which had taken place there more than 5000 years ago. Independence Avenue and its side streets like Post Street Mall form the heart of Windhoek’s shopping and cafe areas. And in Post Street Mall one can also see some of the meteorites from the famous Gibeon shower.
The Owela Museum offers insights into Namibia’s diverse cultures and natural history. Those interested in how people are living in Windhoek today can take a township tour out to Katatura which is a vibrant and fascinating place to visit. Katatura has its origins in Apartheid when the blacks were moved out of Windhoek and settled there. They called it Katatura, meaning “the place we do not like.”