A premier green space where you can feed the ducks, set up a picnic, hire a rowing boat and visit the fountain and protected bird island in the middle of the lake, or in summer take a dip at the open-air Zoo Lake swimming pool. Popular with walkers and runners, and just about everyone else, on summer weekends and public holidays the park gets particularly busy with families and big groups of people intent on enjoying a good time in the sun.
The Zoo Lake park started out life as a timber plantation that was established in 1891 by banker and mining magnate Hermann Eckstein (just five years after the discovery of gold). The plantation was established to meet the newly founded city's insatiable need for wood to line mine tunnels and in the early gold rush days it was a favourite recreation spot of the wealthy Randlords who controlled Joburg's mines.
The plantation land was gifted to the city in 1903 after Eckstein's death for use as a public park and unusually for colonial South Africa, where elements of racial segregation were already enforced, Eckstein stipulated that the gift was made on the condition that the park be open to people of all races. Throughout the apartheid era Zoo Lake remained accessible to all and was a rare public space in which people of all races could spend time together. Truly a people's park.
Great for families, ice cream sellers roam the place and vendors sell kids toys and novelties, picnics are welcome or grab a simple lunch at the Zoo Lake Bowls clubhouse. There are two large jungle gyms and play areas for smaller and older kids plus a bowls club, basketball courts and an archery club. Note that it is forbidden to bring your own braai stand to the park although you can make use of the built-in stands at the designated braai area (closest to the parking entrance on the Parkview side). This is a mass communal braai area so be ready to be engulfed in smoke and make some new friends!
Just across the road at the lower end of the park bordering Parkview is the open-air unheated Zoo Lake swimming pool (closed in autumn and winter). Built in the 1930s the pool retains its original features and is mostly well-maintained and super popular on summer weekends. The large pool is square-shaped and has no demarcated lanes, so in the height of summer when the shallow end fills with kids you can still easily swim laps. There are no lockers so keep your valuables in sight or locked in your car. There are two lifeguards on duty every day and toddlers can splash about in the small kiddies splash pool. The pool opens daily during the swimming season, and is closed on Christmas Day.
Parkview’s high street is a short walk from here and a worthwhile destination to explore, with plenty of options for good coffee or lunch – we recommend the cafe Croft & Co or the neighbourhood bar, the Blind Tiger Cafe, both on Tyrone Avenue.
The park is named after the 54 hectare Johannesburg Zoo on the opposite side of Jan Smuts Avenue. Among the zoo's many highlights are the reptile house, flamingo ponds and the Madagascan lemur trail.