A Sunday Afternoon at Zoo Lake

by | Sep 25, 2020 | Johannesburg, Melville and Surrounds, Parks/Nature Reserves | 9 comments

Zoo Lake, a popular public park in Parkview across Jan Smuts Avenue from the Johannesburg Zoo, is one of the most popular parks in Joburg and less than a ten-minute drive from my house. Yet I have not blogged about Zoo Lake for nearly a decade. (Here’s my post about it from January 2011.) How is this possible?

People on a bench at Zoo Lake
People on a park bench at Zoo Lake.

Weirdly, I don’t visit Zoo Lake very often. My go-to parks are Emmarentia Dam, the Melville Koppies, and the Wilds. But now I realize I’ve been taking this special place for granted. Two weekends ago, I met my friend Michelle for a walk at Zoo Lake on a Sunday afternoon and was reminded of what a vibe it is.

Fountain at Zoo Lake
Apparently the fountain had been off for several months and just came back on a couple of weeks ago.

The park is popular every day, but Sunday is THE DAY. The paved path around the lake is filled with strolling families of all shapes, sizes, and colors, eating ice cream purchased from one of the numerous bicycle vendors. There are women in hijabs, men in yarmulkes and West African prints, and wedding parties with white gowns and tuxes. The grass is filled with music and tipsy picnickers. The afternoon light is a special shade of gold.

People and geese at the lake
Cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms.
Geese at the lake
A thoughtful goose couple.
Zoo Lake row boats
Luca on bench
Michelle’s son Luca, enjoying a park bench.

Here are a few useful/interesting facts about Zoo Lake:

  1. It’s a public city park so there is no admission fee.
  2. Unfortunately the restaurant at Zoo Lake, which used to be Moyo and briefly became something else last year, is closed. I’m not sure when it will re-open.
  3. You can rent a rowboat at the lake, which many people were doing on the day I was there. I can’t remember how much it costs but it’s cheap.
  4. There is a sacred ibis colony on an island in the middle of the lake. The birds sleep there at night and then fly out all over the city during the day. If you drive on Jan Smuts in the morning, you’ll see them flying away from the lake in multiple V formations and then returning in the late afternoon.
  5. Zoo Lake has one of the best public pools in the city.
  6. There are public basketball courts, a fairly unusual attraction in South Africa, on the south end of the park.
  7. The Zoo Lake Bowls Club, besides being a famous lawn bowling club, is a great place to have a beer and cheap pub grub.

Yesterday was Heritage Day, the day when South Africans celebrate their unique and diverse cultural heritage. I can’t think of a better weekend to go for a walk around Zoo Lake — this place captures the essence of Joburg in a way that very few other places do.

People on bench

The park has several entrances, but I use the one at at the corner of Lower Park Drive and Kerry Road in Parkview.


  1. David Bristow

    The park of my youth – the legendary Boatman was a funny old perv who smoked big cigars, but we only ever saw him with a soggy end in his lips, and a yellow moustache. The overflow was the secret entrance to a network of storm water tunnels under the “park” suburbs: you’d climb in and then the adventure was, where would you get out (summer thunderstorms notwithstanding)?

    • 2summers

      That sounds terrifying!

  2. dizzylexa

    Love walking around there. I wonder if Artists in the Sun still takes place there, where part of the area becomes an open gallery for artists.

    • 2summers

      I haven’t heard of that!

  3. AutumnAshbough

    It looks beautiful. But everything outdoors and in different locales looks beautiful when you’re still stuck mostly at home.

    • 2summers

      Yup, I hear you.

  4. roelia

    It looks so serene and relaxing! Haven’t been to Zoo Lake in ages.

    • 2summers

      It was actually, despite a lot of people being there.

  5. Graham Burgess

    Zoo lake the only non segregated area during the apartheid era. It was donated to the council with the proviso that it was not to be segregated.


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