Did You Know?
Namibia’s protected coastline stretches 1 570 kilometres, linking 12 000 km2 of windswept ocean to almost 110 000 km2 of desert desolation. Both the sea and landscapes form part of a vast, formally protected area that is unique and parts of which have become a World Heritage Site. Namibia is the only country in the world that federally protects its entire coastline.
STROLL THROUGH SWAKOPMUND
There aren’t many towns that offer quite as much to the traveller on foot as Swakopmund. The historic town is located where the desert hugs the Atlantic Ocean, north of Walvis Bay, and was the preferred settlement of early German colonists, perhaps due to its temperate climate and use as a harbour. Swakopmund has a distinct, quirky style that’s managed to survive despite lots of development. A walk along its roads reveals little treasures that would easily be overlooked otherwise. Keep your eyes open for the details, the history, the strange and the heart-warming. Swakop is always best on foot.
SKYDIVE – I DARE YOU!
For the ultimate adrenaline junkies – what could possibly sound more thrilling than a tandem plummet down to earth from the heavens? Join one of the bespoke skydiving operations in Swakopmund for a rip-roaring view of the desert from above!
WALK THROUGH HISTORY AT SWAKOPMUND MUSEUM
Get cultural and delve deep into Namibia’s history at the Swakopmund Museum at The Mole for displays of indigenous plants, animals and minerals and a large collection of historical artefacts.
It’s the closest thing to being a mermaid and living under the sea, when you walk through the glass-tunnel, fish all around and above you, even a shark flicking his fin as he passes.
BEER ON THE BEACH AT TIGER REEF
The sand between your toes. The cool, refreshing breeze hits your face. The wind fluffs your hair, moving between the strands like loving fingers caressing. The sun can be anywhere on its axis, from high above or hanging low across the horizon. It doesn’t matter. Its warmth is comfortable and friendly. And in your hand is an ice cold beer (or any drink you prefer). It’s the pleasure of a beach bar.
VISIT THE KRISTALL GALERIE
The quaint coastal town of Swakopmund has a character entirely of its own. Surrounded by desert and lined by a chilly ocean, the town with its palm trees, wide streets and old German architecture seems to be out of place and out of time. Few foreign visitors pass through Namibia without spending at least one night in this popular town and locals flock to its cooler climes in the summer heat.
There are as many gems at the coast as sand grains. These gems include everything from Mother Nature’s hand to all things designed by man. Treasure-hunting for a gem you can take home with you? Swing by the Kristall Galerie where some of the planet’s most incredible crystal formations are displayed. Here you will discover how truly rich Namibia is in minerals, rocks, and meteorites that all trace back to the history and workings of our planet. The intriguing visit starts with a walk through a cave, a replica of the original Otjua Tourmaline Mine. Kristall Galerie is also home to the world’s largest quartz crystal cluster.
Enthusiasts, collectors and those who simply appreciate beautiful things will find something to take home at the adjacent shop. Look for your birthstone among all the colourful, shiny gems.
It is hard to imagine that forces such as heat and pressure deep within the earth, in combination with wind and water at the surface, are creating new geologic wonders at this very moment.
WALK ALONG THE JETTY
The most amazing sunsets are guaranteed as you stroll along the Swakopmund jetty with the mighty Atlantic crashing below – the best way to conclude an adventure-packed day.
SURF AND TURF AT ANCHOR’S IN WALVIS BAY
Just as the sands of the Namib Desert meet the restless Atlantic, creating a most unlikely match made in heaven, so does the prime, tender beef of our inland perfectly accompany the flaky fresh fish of our ocean. The Surf and Turf at Anchor’s restaurant, Walvis Bay, combines two of Namibia’s proudest products on a plate.
BOOT BEER AT BRAUHAUS
I promised myself I’d only have one beer today…
Discover the famous glass shoe at Brauhaus in Swakopmund. This is no Cinderella story, but one of a boot filled with beer. Prost!
Get up-close and personal with a seal. Make friends with a pelican. Glasses of sparkling champagne and fresh Lüderitz oysters. If you’re lucky, a whale might even swim near the surface of the water. After all, the harbour town’s name comes from the Afrikaans word meaning Whale Bay. Also on the (photographic) hit list are turtles and disc-shaped sunfish (Mola mola). Friendly seals flop onto the boat, wetting the nearest passenger in the process. And as they wait for their share of sardines, a photo-op is not out of the question. The pelicans may swoop past and grab a fishy morsel from the outstretched fingers of your guide / boat captain. It’s an animal party, and everyone’s invited.
KAYAK ON THE WALVIS BAY LAGOON
The ancient-looking head of a leatherback turtle pops out of the water. Heaviside’s dolphins skim past, diving underneath. Lively seals play about in the water. Want to come eye to eye with these fascinating animals like never before?
With a multitude of adventures to choose from at the coast, it can be tricky to pick one. We highly recommend sea-kayaking on the Walvis Bay lagoon, a 100% eco-friendly activity. Enjoy the Atlantic Ocean from a whole new vantage point. With an experienced guide by your side, it is easy to get the hang of this sport. While kayaking on the calm waters of the inner lagoon area, exploring the islands at low tide and discovering the oyster farm, you get to see an abundance of birds. The variety of bird species is impressive, and your guide will be able to tell you all about them.
Teeming with thousands of graceful pink flamingos, amongst other birds, the lagoon is a must-experience, especially for marine fanatics, avid birders or anybody who wants to be active while exploring the beauty of our coast.
Flamingos at Walvis Bay
The Walvis Bay Lagoon, a Ramsar Site, is by far one of the best spots to tick both Greater and Lesser Flamingos off your birding list in Namibia.
A 34° incline does not seem like much on paper or when it is mentioned in a sandboarding tutorial, but when you’re coming down a dune face your perspective quickly changes. Swakopmund’s dunes on the Namibian coastline of the Atlantic are a sandboarder’s ultimate fantasy. The curves and crests that rise as high as 300 metres in the oldest desert on earth hold a fascination that seems to call people from all over the world to the dunes, whether they have any intention of sliding down or not.
One thing that we surely have in abundance in Namibia is sand. So our own version of snowboarding was created – sandboarding. A few enterprising winter sports enthusiasts were quick to realise that it was possible to sled down sand dunes on thin wooden boards. It was not long before sandboarding became a national pastime, and a few years after this invention someone got the idea that you could strap a snowboard to your feet and go “dune-boarding.”
Sandboarding was born in Namibia after pioneer Derek Bredenkamp ventured down a dune on his plank in 1974. This activity was commercialised in 1996 and shortly afterwards dune-boarding also became the in thing. These heart-racing activities still attract travellers of different ages for the adventure of a lifetime. Both activities are a great spectator sport, too, as it is always fun to watch others getting the hang (or slide) of it.
Nowadays there are a variety of lie-down and stand-up boards available. The sandboard base is much harder than the one used for snowboarding. To glide over the sand the bottom of the board is waxed, usually with paraffin-based sandboard wax. A smoothly polished board is perfect to travel down the grainy dune slip faces with a soft ‘swoosh’. And it is best to take the instructor’s advice to heart: keep your mouth closed at all times!
Sandboarding is a great way of having fun in the ancient dunes of the Namib Desert. The biggest dune faces are reserved for stand-up boarders, while the lie-down boards can be used on a variety of routes. If you choose to lie down, you go head-first down the slopes. Sandboarders have clocked up more than 80 km per hour! The only “downside” to this popular activity is that once you reach the bottom you have to walk back up that huge dune.
Sandboarding is not for adrenaline junkies only. Anyone can do it. If you find yourself going too fast, you just dig your feet into the sand for brakes. The stand-up version, on the other hand, is indeed tougher. It takes a good day on the dunes to get the hang of it. Pros make it look easy, of course, but it is definitely trickier than it seems, although by no means dangerous. If you start going too fast for your liking, all you have to do is aim for the ground. If you are feeling brave, you can even try the ramp.
The greatest danger is that with every breath you take in the pure goodness of unpolluted air, a substance with the risk of getting you high on life. Before you know it, you will have become addicted to the Namib and what it has to offer. No joke. It happens to many who venture naively into this inhospitable enormity.
These are all 100% eco-friendly adventures. We believe in leaving nothing but footprints behind.
FAT BIKES FOR THE ACTIVE
Stretching from horizon to horizon, the Namib Desert attracts a lot of attention from all over the world. The urge to explore this vast, enigmatic space has prompted the introduction of fat bikes – exploration made fun yet eco-friendly. Passionate explorers and nature lovers can discover the dunes leaving nothing behind but tracks that are shortly afterwards filled with a new blanket of fine grains due to the sweeping winds. Experience the serenity of the oldest desert in the world. It is glorious, wonderful, smile-inducing freedom. And your legs will thank you!
QUAD BIKE ADVENTURES
When the exploration bug bites there’s no point in resisting the temptation to go quad biking in the desert. It’s plenty of fun and an adventurous way to get better acquainted with the elements. Get geared up for the wind and sand that comes as standard and hop on your choice of automatic or manual, guided by a well-versed desert tracker. On these trusty four-wheeled bikes you follow a path of plenty patrol deep into the meandering dunes of the Namib. If the hum of a bike gets you fired up, speeding vertically up the sides and ramping over the edge of skyscraper dunes will certainly feed your adrenaline addiction. If you’d like to marvel at the landscape at a slower pace, your guide will definitely accommodate you. But always remember one thing: stay on the tracks! Not only is the desert our proud heritage undeserving of more human traces, it is also ruthless in its ability to engulf man in the ocean of identical dunes, leading to a search party rather than an after-party.
CAMEL RIDE THROUGH THE DUNES
What is a desert experience without a ride on the back of a camel?
These are all 100% eco-friendly adventures. We believe in leaving nothing but footprints behind.
CLIMB A DUNE IN THE NAMIB
There’s a trick to climbing a sand dune. You stand at the foot, stare up at the massive slope that leads skyward, take a deep breath and begin your climb. Pretty soon you’ll realize that placing one foot in front of the other is not likely to get you there in the way you expected. Sometimes your foot will slide backwards as you try to propel yourself forwards. Or sink deeply into the bottomless yellow sand. Perhaps you will revert to your animal nature and scramble up the incline on hands and knees. Eventually, you will reach the top. And what an accomplishment it will be. Feel on top of the world. All around you is one of the oldest deserts on earth. All around you is vastness and silence. And you in the middle of it all.
These are all 100% eco-friendly adventures. We believe in leaving nothing but footprints behind.
CAMP ON THE MOON 30 KM FROM SWAKOPMUND
The earthworks for the construction of the campsites at the Moon Landscape in the Namib Desert started about two million years ago. The Swakop River, in its youth a mere few millennia ago, was a vigorous, raging torrent that carved out a huge valley through soil and hard layers of granite. As you drive along the edge of this valley, its sheer size and the brutal, arid, moon-like topography will overwhelm you.
The best approach to this impressive area, known as the Moon Landscape, is along the C28 from Swakopmund. But first, you need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s offices in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay or Windhoek. To reach the Moon Landscape from Swakopmund, you take the turn-off from the C28 onto the Welwitschia Drive just after entering Namib-Naukluft Park. The variations of light and shadow early in the morning and late afternoon provide excellent opportunities for photography.
Pitch your tent at Goanikontes Oasis for an exceptional camping experience on the moon. It is out of this world!
VISIT THE CAPE FUR SEAL COLONY AT CAPE CROSS
The Cape Cross Reserve’s Cape fur seal colony can be overwhelming to see. Spread along the beach and over the black rocks are thousands of mammalian bodies. It is loud. It is smelly.
There are 21 colonies along the Namibian coast. The Cape Cross colony is one of the two largest colonies, which together provide 75% of Namibia’s seal pup population. The Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) can be found all along the south-western coast of Africa from the Cape Peninsula in South Africa to Cape Frio in northern Namibia.
How is it possible that these mammals can survive diving and swimming in the icy cold water of the Benguela? Cape fur seals sport vitally important dense fur, with a thick layer of blubber that insulates their bodies. On hot days, though, these adaptations can be fatal, especially for young pups that cannot reach the ocean in time to cool down. A large proportion of pups do not survive the start of summer.
The limestone cross that was erected in 1484 at Cape Cross by Diogo Cão is one of four that the Portuguese explorer erected on the western coast of Africa. Called padrão, the stone crosses were meant to signify claims made by Portugal. The padrão at Cape Cross stood virtually undisturbed for 400 years until a German corvette paused in the bay. The captain realised the importance of the cross and had it shipped to Berlin. In 1895 a granite replica was erected in its place. About a century later a second cross, made from Namib dolerite, joined the older one as a tribute to history’s many explorers.
At the end of the 19th century, the main attraction of Cape Cross was its large deposits of guano, then known as “white gold” and used as fertiliser. The Damaraland Guano Company was established there for the purpose of exporting the bird droppings to Europe. Harvesting guano was so lucrative that the settlement at Cape Cross had a police station, post office and even the first railway in the country.
The breeding season for Cape fur seals begins in mid-October when bulls come ashore and establish territories, which they defend for about six weeks. Male territories contain from seven to 66 cows, or 28 on average. Pregnant cows give birth in early November. Mating takes place just a few days later. After eight months, the pups are born, ironically during the hottest time of the year, November and December. New-born pups weigh 4.5 to 6.4 kilograms and aren’t much longer than 65 centimetres.
The Cape Cross Seal Reserve is situated 130 km north of Swakopmund. Between December and June the reserve is open on weekdays from 08:00–17:00, and between July and November from 10:00–17:00.
Henties Bay’s Dead Sea
Some 30 km north of the coastal town of Henties Bay on the C34, 300m after the sign indicating “Cape Cross 20km”, you will find a heap of rocks with a white arrow on them. This is the turn-off that will lead you to Henties Bay’s very own Dead Sea. Significantly smaller than the endorheic lake in the Jordan Rift Valley, this popular local swimming hole (mostly frequented in the summer months) was once the site of the Strathmore South tin mine. The high salinity and minerals present in underground water that have seeped up into this old excavation site has created an impromptu salt bath where you can float on the surface of the water without sinking down. Some swear by the healing powers of the mineral-rich waters, while others simply enjoy the novelty. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a quirky and off-the-beaten-track point of interest for the adventurous spirit. Take caution on your quest though, as the ragged edges of the hole can be unstable.
CATCH A FISH OFF THE ATLANTIC COAST
When a long weekend rolls around, the entire Namibian population seems to flock to the coast, tackle in tow and sunscreen sorted. For visitors looking to try their luck at angling on the Atlantic coast, there are plenty companies that provide the gear and guidance needed to dabble in the sport Skeleton Coast-style. A simple online search for angling safaris in Namibia will reveal options of fishing from a boat or the shore. As the locals prefer fishing from the sea shore, it is quite the cultural experience. We recommend you pack your patience. Angling’s key feature is to wait patiently for long periods of time. The reward, however, is reeling in a catch and basking in the glory. Prepare your spoils on a traditional open fire right there on the beach!
VISIT A SHIPWRECK
Once proud and mighty ships sailing the perilous seas, they are now reduced to wrecks half-buried in the Namib Desert. Survival was understandably the foremost thought of all souls aboard these stricken vessels. Often the terrible decision was whether to stay aboard and hope for rescue from a passing ship or defy the pounding surf and risk a raft, or swim ashore and face blistering sands, raw winds, a relentless sun or dank fogs.
Seaward, the south Atlantic offered little hope and landward lay a sea of sand, offering nothing but a waterless wasteland. Some survived; others died a lingering death on the legendary coast of skeletons.
What once became the grave of many a sailor, is a sanctuary for animals and also turned into one of Namibia’s most famous landmarks. While you can reach some of the shipwrecks by car, others can only be seen from a plane. Both Scenic Air and Skeleton Coast Safaris offer scenic flights which are ideal for a sky adventure. Learn about our most famous shipwrecks to decide which ones you would like to visit:
In 1907 the 2 200-ton German freighter Eduard Bohlen began her last voyage. Her bow struck sand 500 metres from shore, south of Conception Bay. Despite frantic attempts to prevent her beaching, chains and propellers were no match for the energy of the waves, which pushed the doomed ship shoreward.
She is now berthed 400 metres from the shoreline. Here she plays host and centre stage to tourists taking the extraordinary sand safari between Walvis Bay and Lüderitz. Small aircraft drone overhead whilst their guests capture the surreal scene below on camera before flying on to relax at their desert destination. The Eduard Bohlen is Namibia’s most famous shipwreck.
At the end of 1942 the British steamer Dunedin Star left Liverpool for Cape Town, carrying munitions and supplies for the Allied forces and more than a hundred crew and passengers. After hitting an underwater obstacle off the Skeleton Coast the captain managed to beach his ship 500 metres from the coastline. All the passengers were taken ashore. The shipwreck triggered the most dramatic rescue operation in the country’s history – by sea, air and land. More than three weeks later every passenger was safe, the only casualties being two rescue crew members. Part of the cargo was salvaged as well.
Even the most advanced electronic equipment sometimes is no match for wind and waves. The Suiderkus left Cape Town in 1976 on her maiden voyage to trawl Namibian waters. She ended up on the rocks at Möwe Bay, with a loss of N$3.6 million in the latest of navigational equipment and fittings.
Just south of Swakopmund the hake trawler Kolmanskop caused a spectacle in 2006 when she got lodged between rocks after being driven ashore by 50-knot gusts of wind that propelled her 20 km northward from her mooring in Walvis Bay Harbour.
The Zeila stranded in August 2008 at a popular fishing spot about 14 km south of Henties Bay. The Namibian fishing trawler had been sold as scrap metal to an Indian company and was to be towed to Mumbai. Just out of Walvis Bay the vessel came loose from its towing line and was swept north.
GET LOST (OR DON’T) IN THE SKELETON COAST
If the name itself does not give you the chills, stories of early sailors meeting their fate along this daunting shoreline definitely will. Portuguese seafarers, the first Europeans to experience its inhospitality, named it ‘the gates of hell’. Local San called it ‘the land that God made in anger’. The Skeleton Coast is a place of dramatic environmental extremes and runs for 500 km from the Ugab River in the south to the Kunene River in the north.
Still largely wild and untouched, the biggest risk today when visiting the area is getting a flat tyre, or even worse, a flat camera battery. The Skeleton Coast attracts local and international visitors alike who feel the need to escape from civilisation. Pitching their tents in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, they spend long summer days angling and barbecuing fresh fish on an open fire while enjoying unpolluted, bright starry night skies.
You, too, can get lost in the Skeleton Coast in a lost-in-its-sheer-splendour kind of way.
A surprising diversity of animals occurs along the coast. Aside from cetaceans and massive Cape fur seal colonies, plains animals include jackal, hyena, ostrich, gemsbok, giraffe, desert-adapted elephant and springbok. Furthermore, the image of a lion walking along an isolated beach has captured the imagination of filmmakers, scientists and wildlife enthusiasts around the world. This area is notoriously known for desert-dwelling lions, a phenomenon that today occurs only along Namibia’s northern coastline.
The northern section of Skeleton Coast National Park is a tourism concession area that is restricted to fly-in safaris or visitors to Shipwreck Lodge, while the southern section is accessible to the general public visiting Torra Bay and Terrace Bay. These two camps are only open in December and January.
Torra Bay is situated about 270 kilometres north of Henties Bay and Terrace Bay is another 50 km to the north. Travelling time from Swakopmund is around five hours. These famous destinations rank among the favourites of avid anglers. A total of 500 fish species abound, upping your chances of your dream catch. Keep in mind that you will need a fishing permit, which you can obtain from the MET office in Swakopmund. Terrace Bay is also a popular gateway to explore the Uniab River Delta, a great destination for hiking, bird-watching, game viewing and exploring the dunes.
When visiting the northern section of Skeleton Coast National Park, look at the following accommodation options:
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is situated in the Kaokoveld and overlooks the rugged landscape of a wide valley that slopes down to the ephemeral Hoanib River. Enjoy a luxury stay in an en-suite tent.
Shipwreck Lodge with its unique shipwreck-shaped chalets is located only 45 km from Möwe Bay in the Skeleton Coast concession between the Hoarusib and Hoanib rivers.
To incorporate your trip to the Skeleton Coast with other parts of Namibia, opt for a safari with Skeleton Coast Fly-in Safaris.