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[NAMIBIA]

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A BEAUTIFUL OASIS ON NAMIBIA’S SKELETON COAST, SWAKOPMUND IS THE PERFECT PLACE TO TAKE A SAFARI INTO THE OLDEST DESERT IN THE WORLD
WO R DS BY S COTT S M ITH

T
PHOTOGRAPHY PHOTOLIBRARY

he landscape might remind you of something like the Nasa lunar imagery from the 1960s or a remnant of an old sci-fi movie where they shot the scene for some desert planet. Here the dust blows high and spins across the road in little tornadoes, and it’s easy to get lost in your imagination. But just over the next crest you see the spray from the ocean and then the tankers and fishing vessels bobbing in the water and you remember you’re on that special stretch of road between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund on the west coast of Namibia. For the next few kilometres, all one sees is dunes and telephone poles and a stretch of tar that meets in the distance, cutting a drifting line between the massive hills of sand and the misty sea. But beyond that one can be forgiven for not being too impressed by Swakopmund – on the first

drive in. It’s small, the outlying homes are unimpressive and the side streets drift quickly off into sand. It isn’t a striking place, but give yourself some time, book into your accommodation, have a drink and soon the ideas for activities will come to you with every sloppy wave that slides up the beach. Founded in 1892, just two years after the Namibian capital of Windhoek, Swakopmund was built to be the main harbour of the then German South-West Africa. But most such activity has taken place at Walvis Bay since 1915, when the German colony was taken over by the Union of South Africa. Since then, Swakopmund has been developed as a tourist spot and it shows today with the lengthy line-up of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed all year around and the number of good eating establishments. A short walk around town reveals all sorts of little treasures. There are some gems of German

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architecture, such as the distinctive red-and-whiterchitecture, lighth striped lighthouse, or the Woermann House, built in 1905, and the Damara Tower, which are still e surviving even though the municipality hasn’t st been too strict about the upkeep of the less heritage heritage-orientated buildings dotted around town. Ther There are some great restaurants with amazing seafood – under hushed whispers of secret recipes – and fantastic, home-brewed dark beers of German tradition.

There are great restaurants with amazing seafood and dark beers
The waterfront and popular beach area brims with activity, and there is a surprising cosmopolitan vibe: Germans, Afrikaners, English, white, black and every economic strata mix and mingle and seamlessly flow around one another. Holidaymakers and residents alike enjoy the sunset beach. A walk out on the quaint old jetty is a must, and when you are tired of the sun, take a stroll along the Schad Allee or Strand Street and stop in at any of the welcoming restaurants or pubs along the way.

Brightly coloured beacon
There’s no shortage of suitable accommodation in Swakopmund, whether you’re on a budget or not. We booked into the Swakopmund Guesthouse, a brightly coloured beacon just off the main road. It’s new, just over a year old, and was a family vacation home before it was completely renovated. It’s essentially an upmarket bed and breakfast offering anything that a guest might ask for. The rooms are clean and the sheets crisp – it’s a perfect

Eye-catching: spot amazing wildlife such as dune geckos, skinks and desert chameleons

Hot pursuit: explore the Namib Desert in a Land Rover on a fly-in safari

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THE GERMAN CONNECTION
Namibia’s ties with Germany have given us some great beers. Ask the hordes of German visitors to Namibia who claim that Namibia Breweries in Windhoek – established in 1920 – brews beers that are “more German then Germany itself” These . include Tafel Lager, Hansa draught, Windhoek Lager and Urbock, a traditional dark beer known as “bock” beer, which comes with a kick of 7 per cent. Establishing even closer ties with traditional German brews, Namibian-born chemical engineer Jörg Finkeldey established his own family-owned micro-brewery, Camelthorn Brewing Company, early last year. He now produces a traditional Bavarian “weissbier”, branded “Weizen” – German for “wheat”.

Light entertainment: take a seal and dolphin tour of the bay

You wonder how so much activity is sustained by the moist Atlantic fog
pla place to relax. To top it off for the responsible trave traveller, it’s eco-friendly, using solar energy and recycled water. Swakopmund Guesthouse is just a recycl block or two up from the sea and a five-minute walk o from town. Swakopmund is small enough to walk to anywhere, so you don’t need your car unless you anywh really want to venture into the dunes. w

Ove Over the dunes
Con Considered to be the oldest desert in the world, with some of its largest dunes, the Namib Desert around

Swakopmund has received a mere 10mm of rainfall on average annually for the past 10 years. It’s funny to think that just over the next crest is a bustling tourist town. But life doesn’t just bloom in the city: if you participate in a “living desert” tour, you’ll find that the desert is alive, too – you just have to know where to look. Then you wonder how so much activity is sustained by the moist fog blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean less than a kilometre away. Enquire with your hotel or organise a larger tour through an operator such as NatureFriend Safaris, based in Windhoek, which does a number of packages and fly-in safaris in Namibia and neighbouring countries. The natural areas around Swakopmund are unbounded. Once in the dunes, there are so many distractions along the way it felt like we knew where we were going but never knew whether we would get there. A “living desert” tour is a lively affair. Our guide, Christopher Nel, reminds one of the late

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PHOTOGRAPHY PHOTOLIBRARY

Enjoy the landscape: tear up the windward side of a dune on a quad bike

Tracks from wagons of 18th-century settlers are still visible on the plains
Au Australian naturalist Steve Irwin as he jumps an in and out of his Land Rover inspecting every fresh track in the sand and never tiring of talking t about the same thing. Christopher is particularly t excited about what he considers to be the “little five” of the desert: the dancing white lady spider, the transparent dune gecko, the legless lizard tran called a skink, the sidewinder snake and the desert chameleon. deser The T scenery on this tour is particularly stunning. If you want to be a little freer and simply s

enjoy the landscape, hire a quad bike and go on a guided tour through the desert and play a little by tearing up the windward side of a dune. But it needs to be stressed that these are guided tours through the dunes where they stay on the sand and avoid the gravel plains where the tracks can stay for a lifetime – surrounding natural habitats are respected. Our guide says the tracks from the wagons of 18thcentury trekkers are still visible on the plains more than a century later. There is something about those dunes around Swakopmund: you can get lost in their vastness, tumble into a valley and safely imagine that you are the only person in the world. You can sit back and be surrounded by their peaks and appreciate them all the more because you know you don’t have a five-day trek to get back to civilisation and a cold drink (such luxuries are just over the top of that dune). Of course, for the more cultured, there is always the Rossmund Golf and Conference Centre, which

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Huge amounts of the local oysters are exported as far away as China
boasts one of the five all-grass desert golf courses in the world.

Happily lost
The sea around Swakopmund can provide days of entertainment, and there are suitable spots for surfers, boats and divers. A popular option is to take a dolphin and seal tour with catamaran charters from nearby Walvis Bay. On these tours, you go past the local oyster platforms, from which huge amounts are exported as far away as China. From there, the boat makes its way into the beautiful bay area, where you see a shipwreck, a lighthouse, birds, seals, dolphins and an abundance of marine life. Namibia is one of the only countries still growing: Pelican Point annually adds to its length as silt deposits stretch it out into the sea. The old lighthouse’s improbable position on the sandbar is very romantic, the land extending out some 500m into the sea harbouring a seal colony. If you can take the smell, ask the captain to inch as close as he can before the boat scrapes the sea floor and you will witness the activity of the colony while dolphins jump around you. In this wonderful place, you become happily lost in your imagination.
» FLIGHTS TO WALVIS BAY
SA Express offers daily return flights from Johannesburg as well as return flights from Cape Town, Sunday to Friday.

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Historic: the Swakopmund lighthouse was built in 1902

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