There's no escaping the fact that Swakop (nobody who's been there more than five minutes calls it 'Swakopmund') is so German that it's almost more German than Germany ... in a turn of the century kind of way.
One of the absolute delights of visiting this bizarre little outpost of Germanity is the wonderful architecture. Windhoek also has some lovely examples of German colonial architecture, but they are scattered among more recent - and distinctly less lovely - modern architecture, whereas the centre of Swakop is dominantly colonial. It is encouraging to note that some relatively modern buildings have incorporated German colonial themes, which makes for a pleasingly harmonious whole.
The other joy of photographing Swakop's architecture is the amazing light, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. Because of the cold Benguela current that flows just offshore, the Namibian coast is usually foggy and direct sunshine is the exception rather than the norm (this is also what regulates the temperature and results in an almost total absence of rain). This adds a unique quality of light that should make the holiday snaps of even the most average of 'point and shoot' photographers look good!
It would be sacriligious to visit Swakop and not sample the seafood!
Dining al fresco on local seafood and washing it down with an icy glass or two of locally brewed beer as you look out over the ocean has to be one of the most pleasant ways to while away a few hours in Swakop. People get particularly excited by the excellent oysters and crayfish - a local form of lobster- (available in season, October - April) which are both generously proportioned and extremely reasonably priced by first world standards.
There is obviously much game on the menu in different incarnations from massive steaks to carpaccio. Most menus will feature springbok and gemsbok (oryx), and will sometimes offer kudu: all delicious! And of course, German cuisine means pork - scrumptious in every imaginable form from massive eisbeins through crispy schnitzels to more sophisticated fillets - usually with a cream sauce.
A less obvious local delicacy is asparagus - Germans the world over seem to get very excited by asparagus, and need little encouragement to relish their spagel in Swakop!
One thing's for certain: if you leave Swakop hungry, either you've done something very wrong or you must be a vegan (probably the only group who could legitimately gripe about not being well catered for)!
Glancing at a map of Namibia, you'll notice that several of the towns end in the suffix '-mund', which means 'mouth' in German, indicating that this is the point where a river meets the sea. Except in most cases, there's no river to be seen ....
Namibia has no permanent rivers, except for those which delineate its borders: the Orange in the south and the Kunene/Kavango system in the north. However, the interior is crisscrossed by a series of ephemeral streams and rivers that only carry flow after rain (and usually then, only after a particularly heavy downpour). These flash floods arise with no warning - often as a response to storms a long way high up the the catchment which you may not be aware of and their destructive power is terrifying. I recall watching a river come down in flood when I was working out of Opuwo in the Kaokoveld in 1993, and the spectacle was aweinspiring: the only warning was a dull rumble that grew into a deafening roar, and within seconds a dry river bed was transformed into a raging torrent 10m across.
Every so often, there are confirmed reports of tourists being swept to their death by flash floods: the moral of this story from a safety perspective is to never camp in a dry river bed, regardless of season.
These dry rivers are also extremely significant from a human perspective, as even though they don't carry surface flow, they transmit large quantities of water through the sand and gravel which fills the channel. Boreholes and wells sunk into these channel infill aquifers provide perennial sources of water in otherwise arid areas, and are among Namibia's most significant water sources. However, they are particularly vulnerable to overpumping, and if the rate of abstraction consistently exceeds the rate of recharge in the rainy season, then there is a very real danger that the source may dry up entirely. Another threat to these vulnerable water resources is mining of the river gravel to provide building aggregate, which removes the mechanism of both water storage and transmission. Swakop and the adjacent town of Walvis Bay draw their water supply almost exclusively from such aquifers.
So, what was Swakop called before the German colonials arrived? Wikipedia dishes up the following extraordinary explanation of Swakop's original name: "The name of the town is derived from the Nama word Tsoakhaub ("excrement opening") describing the Swakop River in flood carrying items in its riverbed, including dead animals, into the Atlantic Ocean." No wonder a name change was in order!
The photo was taken when the Swakop River came down in flood in the summer of 2000 and broke through to the Atlantic - the next time this happened was in February 2009 and then again in March 2011. Apologies for the poor quality of the scanned photo.
Swakop is the undisputed adventure capital of Namibia, and the ultimate destination for a Boys Only weekend (although I suspect that the girls will be queueing up for many of these activities too)!
The area around Swakop boasts a bewildering range of outdoors activities ranging from dune surfing ... to skydiving ... to beach fishing ... to ballooning over the Namib ... to quadbiking over the dunes. In fact the only notable exception in bungee jumping, and then only for lack of a sufficiently high place from which to fling yourself!
Obviously such adventure activities don't come cheap. However, compared to what you'd pay elsewhere, the prices are not unreasonable and add a completely different dimension to Namibia's traditional gamespotting and photographic options.
For those without their own transport, all reputable service providers should arrange pickups from town provided that you arrange this with them in advance.
As you might imagine in such a lucrative market, there are a number of service operators. I have listed one below just to indicate the wide range of activities available (and also because it has a German language option) but I would urge you to do your research before deciding on a particular company.
The one thing that I wouldn't bank on doing is swimming ... that would be seriously intrepid as the water is ICY!
Well I figured that since they had been in operation for 10 years and had a 100% safety record this would be a good idea. Ok, actually this is one of the craziest things I have ever done. Ground Rush Adventures is a class act. If you have ever wanted to skydive, these are the guys and this is the place to do it. They offer the highest tandem freefall in Africa. You just can’t believe the scenery below, then you jump out of a perfectly working airplane. What a blast! Of course I was glad they have a bar when you get down. I don’t remember how much I paid for the beers, but they were cold.
You get free collection and redelivery to your hotel. They have 2 video options. Go for option 2 so you have lots of copies of everything.
Go on – JUMP!
If you go to Swakopmund, you HAVE TO do sandboarding and skydiving!
Sandboarding can be done lying down. So you don't need to be a ski/snowboard expert to do this. Also, doing it lying down is faster than standing up. We reached speeds of up to 80 km/h (50mph)! If you follow the directions the instructors give you won't fall or eat sand. And it's fairly cheap. It's only 20-25usd for about 4 hours (including a lunch and the drive to and from the sand dunes-which takes about 15 minutes each way)
Skydiving. A word that can scare many of us. Many would not even consider doing this at home, let alone doing it in Africa - where safety is not always a top priority. But the people working at the small airport are experts from all around the world and they wouldn't do it if it wasn't safe for them. My instructor said that Namibia has high safety regulations for skydiving and that they had a safety record of 100% (before my jump). We jump in tandem, so I told myself that if the instructor thought it was safe for him it was probably safe for me too.
Everything about skydiving was great: the flight to 10,000 feet allowed us to do a scenic flight for about 20 minutes, the free-fall is a complete rush, the 5 minutes descent with the parachute open is a total freedom. The view we have over Swakopmund with the desert, the dunes and the ocean is really amazing! Expensive, but well worth it. In our group, 10 out of 11 did it and everyone enjoyed it a lot. The skydive alone costs 175USD. Plus 60 USD if you want the pictures or the video (70 USD if you take both). ===> Note that the video is a different signal from the NTSC signal in North America. So I needed to have it converted at home. Cost 10USD (still worth it)
It is a really famous dune. I am not sure why but it looms just off the C14.
You can climb it but, coming from Sossusvlei, we had had our fill at climbing dunes and, as magnificent as dune 7 is... it had no comparison to the spectacular dunes e had just come from!
There is apparently a picnc area at Dune 7 but take your own water and plenty of it.
Also I should point out another difference between this dune and the ones at Sossusvlei - this one has the sea breeze.... so the sand bloooows and I did not find that pleasant!
We drove up and down and around and about 'Walvis Bay Lagoon', 'the bird paradise' and 'the salt works' were what we were looking for. The single most important coastal wetland for migratory birds in the whole of Southern Africa. My guide book made this 45,000-hectacre Walvis Bay Lagoon sound grand and we thought perhaps there would be an announcement of the area... a sign, a something. But no, an industrial road which leads down to the salt works and with a sewage plant just over the other side!
It really is nothing to look at with no atmosphere at all and yet... the birds are pretty awesome.
Flamingo after flamingo and a whole host of others from pelicans to damara terns, chestnut banded plovers to sandpipers and waders.
I wanted to go on the Eco-Marine-Tours that I had read about which run kayaking trips... or I wanted to to on a Mola Mola Safari to see dolphins and seals.... I wanted to do something to reward my children for having sat patiently in the car for hours........ but I could find no evidence of these trips anywhere.... and I even went back into Walvis Bay town and broke into the Government Ministry of Tourism in my attempts... which shocked the officals but at the same time made them laugh... had I tried this back in London I am sure I would have been in serious trouble! Anyway, considering they were the Uber intelligence of tourism they were positively hopeless and I bade a fairwell to the flamingoes and carried on my journey!
Walvis Bay is apparently the country's 2nd largest city after Windhoek. It was a most confusing city to try to find anywhere!!!
Walvis Bay has a HUGE salt works and there is obviously a very large fish industry here too.
I don't think I found anything here to charm me. I found it rather a dull city. However, Walvis Bay is home to one of the largest flocks of flamigoes in the whole of Southern Africa and it is because of the flamingoes that we were here!
(also an ideal place to get that petrol tank back up to maximum capacity!)
Swakopmund can be your rest day after or before gruelling travel circumnavigating this huge country. The town attractions on offer such as the lighthouse museum and the aquarium do not seem unique or special. May be for somebody who has not seen similar venues is going to be informative at best. What most people do is adventure sports which in turn prove the statement above. What there is to see is outside the city on the Skeleton coast looking at seals or shipwrecks but this is not the city itself. It is hard call Swakopmund a beach vacation spot because the water of the Atlantic Ocean is freezing. Actually the Benguela current brings freshness strait from Antarctica. That said, there are always kids who seem to be brave enough to swim in any water and you might notice some fans of cold water dipping for health purposes; rather interesting considering that this is the Tropic of Capricorn and not Russia.
Want to have an outdoor adventure? This place is really a ‘One Stop Shop’ for outdoor activities in the area. I simply walked in and said I wanted to skydive. 2 hours later I was jumping out of a plane. These people are friendly and organised. Here is the large list of activities they can arrange:
* Quad Bike Rides
* Skydiving (through Ground Rush Adventures)
* Horse Riding
* Dolphin Cruise
* Balloon Flights
* Scenic Air Flights
Just stop in and see them!
They do take credit cards and usually you can start your planned activity in 1 hour or less. They also sell sports gear (clothes & equipment)
North from Swakopmund are mile upon mile of beach and one of the popular pass times here is fishing from the beach. The locals do it and the tourists pay big bucks to do it. Why? Well, you can catch many local fish just off the shoreline, but one of the most exciting to catch is the Bronze Whaler Shark. Other shark too can be caught such as Bull and Cow shark, but the Bronzie is the ultimate prize.
There are many local companies that offer fishing trips. Levo and Mola Mola are the most reputed.
Altes Amtsgericht translates as ‘Old Magistrates' Court’. It was designed by Otto Earl and built in 1906 to be used as a private school. When the school ran out of money the government used it as a magistrates court. It became a school dormitory in the 1960’s and now serves as municipal offices today.
What is the sink Experiment? Scientifically water going down a sink will rotate counter clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. I set out to conduct this experiment for Virtual Tourist here in Swakopmund, which is in the Southern hemisphere. This is due to the Coriolis Effect, a force caused by the rotation of the Earth. Guess what? IT’s A MYTH! I found that I could get the water to go in either direction just by diverting the water slightly. Often it ran in the ‘wrong’ direction. Don’t believe it? Come for a visit and try it for yourself!
I call it the War Memorial, but its actually called the Marine Memorial. It was erected and inaugurated in 1908 to honour the German Marines who were involved in the relief of Karibib and Otjimbingwe during the Herero uprising in 1904. The Schutztruppe (German Colonial Army) who were stationed in the territory at the time of the uprising were not at full strength so a troop of German marines who were aboard a German battleship awaiting repairs in Cape Town were dispatched. They defeated the Hereros at Otjimbingwe, losing one Marine. They then skirmished at Okahandja, losing another. Finally they relieved Otjimbingwe on 9 February 1904.