Namibia: Delightful things to do in Swakopmund

 

If you find yourself in Swakopmund, the coastal town of Namibia, not knowing how you can  spend a delightful time with the family, here is a small list of activities that will put a smile on everyone’s face.

  1. Visit Swakopmund Museum

This museum offers a great insight into Namibia’s complexity. It does not only exhibit Namibian history, but also features the extraordinary Namibian wildlife and is well worth a visit.

Otjimbingwe wagon in the Swakopmund museum.

Otjimbingwe wagon in the Swakopmund museum. Image credits : Gregory J. Vogl

  1. Explore the National Marine Aquarium of Namibia

While at the coast, it is advisable to learn more about the creatures living in Namibia’s Oceans. The Aquarium features a variety of sharks, sting ray’s and many more fascinating ocean inhabitants. An exciting place that the kids will enjoy.

Shark at the National Marine Aquarium Swakopmund.

Shark at the National Marine Aquarium Swakopmund. Image credits : jackieinct

  1. Ride a Camel

Enjoy a relaxing camel ride along the Namibian coastline and the Swakopmund river while feeling like true royals!

Camel riding in Swakopmund

Camel riding in Swakopmund. Image credits : S. Visser

  1. Quad Bike through the dunes

If you want action, this should be the activity for you, cruising through the dunes on a guided tour to the roaring sound of your quadbike. You can also try yourself in dune boarding or paragliding in the dunes.

Quad biking in the Namib Dunes near Swakopmund.

Quad biking in the Namib Dunes near Swakopmund. Image credits : Fanie Gous

  1. Tour through the Namib Naukluft Park

A self- drive tour through the Naukluft park to see the oldest plant in the world should be both an educative and exciting morning trip for the family. Just remember to get your permits for the tour at the MET offices in Swakopmund first.

Welwitschia Mirabilis. Oldest plant in the world.

Welwitschia Mirabilis. Oldest plant in the world. Image credits : brilliant bothany

  1. Climb the Woermannhaus

The view from the top of the tower is exceptional and showcases all of Swakopmund. Downstairs you will find an art gallery where you can feast your eyes on Namibia’s best art pieces.

Woermannhaus in Swakopmund.

Woermannhaus in Swakopmund. Image credits : Don Simon

  1. Shop at the Street Market

If you are in the mood for shopping, the city street market can keep you busy for hours, sifting through the elegant jewelry made from indigenous Namibian materials by Namibian locals.

 

Street Market in Swakopmund.

Street Market in Swakopmund. Image credits : Dennis Dawson

  1.  Visit the  Arts and crafts centre

This centre hosts the workshops for many local artists who showcase their talents in embroidery, jewelry making and art where you can witness firsthand how these crafts are made.

 

Arts and crafts Centre in Swakopmund.

Arts and crafts Centre in Swakopmund. Image credits : NTB

  1. Visit Cape Cross

Cape Cross is not only home to seal colonies but also many historical monuments spread all over the vicinity.

Seal colony at Cape Cross.

Seal colony at Cape Cross. Image credits : Coba Baufeldt

  1. Explore the Living Desert Snake Park

For an ultimate thrill, visit the snake park where you can view and if wishes interact with Namibia’s reptiles.

Snake at Swakopmund Snake Park.

Snake at Swakopmund Snake Park. Image credits : Jackie Hebbard

Here is our delightful map of Swakopmund showing you exactly where to find these activities and attractions :

The Delight Swakopmund Map.

The Delight Swakopmund Map.

To find out more about the brand new Delight Hotel, the perfect getaway at the Coast, click here.

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Follow my Footsteps: Into the mist …

Cape Cross (and its seal colony), about 130km north of Swakopmund, was my destination for today. (Before I did anything though, I needed to stock up on food and take up the generous offer of moving from my tent to a room. A bit of quiet and an electric socket would be much appreciated. There are pros and cons to staying at a backpackers. The pros – besides the cost – include meeting interesting folk, like Steve Bailey, a retired man from the UK cycling from Cairo to Cape Town. The cons, include them sometimes getting too busy, making it difficult to cook a meal in the small kitchen, never mind scrumming for the bathroom facilities.)

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The road through the desert edging the sea is a salt road, kept in good condition by the prevailing sea mist. On either side are flat gravel plains dotted with small hardy salt bushes. This is Mad Max territory if there ever was. It’s a surprise to find a small settlement of colourful houses (with water tanks) called Wlotzkasbaken alongside the road. Could or would anyone want to stay out here in the desert sands? But, this coastline is fishermen’s haven and signs to fishing spots line the road north, from ‘Mile 4’ to ‘Tolla Se Gat’.

Lichen fields are fenced off on the eastern side of the road north of Wlotzkasbaken, to protect them from vehicles and quad bikes. Contrary to appearances, the desert is an extremely fragile environment. Vehicle tracks can remain on the gravel for decades and lichen populations are easily destroyed. Lichen, a combination of an algae and a fungus living symbiotically, depends on the sea mist for its survival in the desert and is vulnerable to disturbance.

I was happily walking between the lichens when I stopped in my tracks, just as I was about to put my foot down on a horned adder! That woke me up quickly. The little guy didn’t move and made no sign that he had nearly been trodden on by a dirty boot and 60kg of human. I said a quiet thank you to my angels and continued northwards past Henties Bay to Cape Cross. The flat plains gained shape and then evened out again, and rustic tables with blocks of salt crystals from the Henties salt works lined the roads. The entrepreneurs worked on an honesty system. The prices were painted on the table and a buyer was required to put the amount in a bottle with a slot in its lid. I couldn’t resist this charming system – or salt, a commodity that once held the power of gold.

At Cape Cross, I first paid a visit to the graves of the guano collectors and those who once lived in this barren area, and afterwards continued to the replica of the cross erected by Diego Cão in 1486 and the bustling cacophony of Cape fur seals. The smell reaches you first, then the sound of braying, barking and bleating. Some seals are fast asleep, some are wanting to joust with all and sundry (or so it seems) and others are swimming in the waves, while lost little ones call for their moms. It’s wonderful mayhem out there.

The cold and the hour of the day forced me back into my vehicle and onto the salt road. Smelling like seal and with my car heater on to thaw my hands, I drove back to the misty town with my headlights on and my heart full.

Ron SwillingRon Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the information on the Wild Horses in the Namib Desert for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.

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The stewardship of the Skeleton Coast

One of the world’s last wilderness areas lies sprawled against Namibia’s north-western boundary. Edged by the icy Atlantic, the desert sands stretch along the coast and into the hinterland, part of one of the oldest deserts on the planet.

Skeleton Coast Skull by Peter Tarr

Skeleton Coast Skull by Peter Tarr

The Skeleton Coast is the famed no-man’s land that has fuelled prospectors’ search for legendary riches and hidden wealth and has lured explorers and adventurers. It has a fragile and transient natural beauty that can be seen in the tenacity of a plant growing on a rock face, a lizard or beetle’s ingenious means to survive in the desert, the changing face of sand-dunes, the chilly coastal fog hovering over the sea or the fleeting light that briefly turns the land into a sensuous feast of colour and texture as the sun sets for the day.

Skeleton Coast by Gondwana Collection

Skeleton Coast by Gondwana Collection

The area referred to as the Skeleton Coast runs from Cape Cross in the south to the Kunene River in the north, bordering Angola. It was first called the Kaokoveld Coast until the name Skeleton Coast was coined in 1933 by veteran Namibian journalist, Sam Davis, an apt name for an area that is strewn with whale and seal bones, flotsam and jetsam and has a history of ships wrecked along its treacherous coast. Davis reported on the disappearance of Swiss pilot, Carl Nauer, who supposedly crashed along the desert coast while flying from Cape Town to London, saying that Nauer’s bones might one day be found along the Skeleton Coast. It was a name that encapsulated the dramatic desert coastline and the name stuck.

Abandoned rusting mining machinery adds to the air of desolation. Prospecting hasn’t proved viable over the years and prospectors moved on to greener pastures. Crisscrossing vehicle tracks and ugly scars in the earth remain from diamond dreams.

Namibia Skeleton Coast source: Wikipedia (Patrick Giraud)

Namibia Skeleton Coast source: Wikipedia (Patrick Giraud)

Although nomadic Strandlopers are believed to have travelled along this coast for centuries, the first historical record of seafarers approaching the inhospitable coast is from the renowned Portuguese navigator, Diogo Cão. Cão, on his second trip down the African coast in search of a route to the East, erected a cross or padrão at the place which became known as Cape Cross, in January 1486. This was to have been his last journey and the caravels returned home without him. He is thought to have perished in the desert.

Nearly three hundred years passed before Captain Messum recorded seeing Cão’s cross in the mid-1800s while searching the coast for guano deposits and looking for fabled bays. He is said to have gone ashore at Cape Cross and explored towards Brandberg. Thirty years later, in 1879, Captain WB Warren of Swallow, an English cruiser, noticed the cross. Swallow accompanied the Christina to unload supplies for the Dorslandtrekkers. They were eventually forced to offload at Walvis Bay, unable to find a suitable landing place along the desolate coast. The German gunboat Wolf found its way to Cape Cross in 1884, with wooden noticeboards proclaiming protection of the Reich, and a few years later, in 1893, Captain Becker of the Falke saw Cão’s leaning cross and took it aboard. It made its way to different museums over the years and can now be seen in the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin.

Skeleton Coast Landscape. Source: Gondwana Collection Namibia

Skeleton Coast Landscape. Source: Gondwana Collection Namibia

The intrepid explorers who traveled from the interior braved the harsh elements, lack of water and difficult terrain, often narrowly avoiding a tragic end. The first to undertake a large-scale expedition of the area was geologist, Georg Hartmann, on behalf of the South West Africa Company in the years between 1894 and 1900, looking for locations to establish a harbor and for guano deposits.

The loneliest stretch of coast is a graveyard of shipwrecks that quickly disintegrate into the sand and sea, providing temporary roosting sites for cormorants. The ‘Coast of Hell’, a name dubbed by writer, Lawrence Green, is known for its dense sea mist, gale-force winds, currents, swell, reefs and shoals. One of the better known stories is that of the Dunedin Star, a British cargo liner that struck a shoal in November 1942. The rescue operation involving two convoys, several ships and a Ventura bomber proved as dramatic as the shipwreck itself, having a domino effect of disaster when the tug boat Sir Charles Elliott ran aground and the Ventura bomber became bogged down in the sand.

Even today, with modern technology, those caught in a flash flood, an impenetrable mist, a saltpan or a sandstorm will testify to the power of the desert.

Skelleton Coast. Source: Gondwana Collection

It has been realised over the years that the Skeleton Coast is home to a wealth of desert-adapted flora and fauna that have developed ingenious survival mechanisms, depending on the life-giving coastal fog that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean. Lichens, welwitschia and lithops live in the ancient landscape where desert elephant roam the river-courses and gemsbok stand atop sienna dunes seemingly defying the gods.

It has also been found that this desert environment has a delicate fragility and balance that is easily disturbed. Vehicle tracks persist, scarring gravel plains for decades, while lichen is destroyed when vehicles are driven across it, and take as long as 100 years to recover.  Fortunately, the Skeleton Coast Park was proclaimed in 1971, reaching from the Ugab River to the Kunene, a thin belt 30-40 km wide and 500 km long, with an angling campsite and restcamp at Torra and Terrace Bay, respectively, and limited access into its northern reaches. It also forms part of the proposed Namib-Skeleton Coast National Park, stretching along the entire Namibian coastline from the Orange to the Kunene.

In 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, Namibia’s founding president, San Nujoma, recognised that ‘… the Namib Desert is Namibia’s unique stewardship…’, and that the future of this fragile desert ecosystem lies in our hands.

References:

Schoeman, Amy: Skeleton Coast, Venture Publications, Windhoek & Protea Book House, Menlo Park, 2010

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