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?
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.
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.
Here are a few useful/interesting facts about Zoo Lake:
- It’s a public city park so there is no admission fee.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Zoo Lake has one of the best public pools in the city.
- There are public basketball courts, a fairly unusual attraction in South Africa, on the south end of the park.
- 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.
The park has several entrances, but I use the one at at the corner of Lower Park Drive and Kerry Road in Parkview.