Swakopmund: A Namibian Love Affair

Nestled between an unforgiving ocean and a scorched desert, Swakopmund is the stuff legendary love affairs are made of…

Consider the Atlantic Ocean for a minute. A cold, rough, angry and unforgiving mass of water, propping up an equally unpredictable southern sky.  Especially the stretch along Namibia and the  south-western coast of Africa.

 Or so it has been described by some. In the original Greek the name is closely associated with the Titan god Atlas ‘holding up the sky’.

 The Atlantic also has a well-founded reputation for flinging seafarers out onto jagged rocks and burning shores, as well as being a paradise for all manner of marine creatures.  Seals, dolphins, migrating whale, fish and a plethora of sea birds.

 Now also consider the Namib Desert.  Dry, barren, sand whipped and just lying in wait to bleach the bones of anyone foolish enough to take a wrong turn or find themselves deposited onto its beaches by the Atlantic.  Partners in crime, may be an apt description.  At least, this is part of the popular perception of the oldest desert in the world, together with its spectacular sand dunes and remarkable reptiles.

Then there is the town of Swakopmund, situated right on the edge where desert and ocean mix in a fiesta of radiating heat and battering ice-cold surf.  Given what we now know about the Atlantic and Namib, you can be forgiven for branding the founder of the town a certified lunatic as he strode onto the beach near the Swakop River mouth, on what I’d like to think was a sunny September day, and decided that this was the place for a town.

He had his orders and part to play in the colonial chess game of the time.  Whatever the motivation, thankfully Captain von Francois founded this little gem in the desert in 1892 – by erecting a flagpole and knocking together three small buildings.  Given the Zeit Geist of the time, the work was more than likely also carried out in that very order. Back in those days nothing motivated hard work more than a fluttering flag on a foreign shore, it would seem.

Fast-forward 124 years and you will find that the flagpole and three small buildings have gone forth and multiplied.  Today the  town covers an area of approximately 200 square kilometres, is home to about 45,000 people and boasts at least three flagpoles.  I made up the flagpole numbers, though I am sure there must be at least a few more by now…

Anyway,  the town is a hub of activity where Swakopmunders, businessmen, miners, tourists, tour guides, hoteliers, Chinese shopkeepers, street vendors and prim and proper German pensioners all rub elbows with each other. All this elbow rubbing conveniently takes place in and around coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and a host of retail outlets. It is therefore little wonder that Swakopmund is Namibia’s premier holiday and retirement town, with loads to offer the visitor and pensioner alike.

Activities in and around the town include trips into the dunes, quad biking, skydiving, fishing, walks along the beach, scenic flights, bicycle tours, scenic drives into the Namib Desert to name a few.  You can also sample the local restaurants and coffee shops or browse through the bookshops and curio stores.  There is indeed a little something for everyone in this town.

Being presumptuous and assuming you are an energetic person, I will focus on what the town offers in the form of activities and excursions for  visitors, with different options for stays of 24, 48 and 72 hours which lend themselves to active people of all ages. Assuming the norm applies and you all arrive in the late afternoon or evening, my suggestions start with the first morning you wake up snug in your comfy duvets or sleeping bags.  Here goes!

The 24-hour fling

Your third day should see you taking things a little easier as we are tempted to do when we know it’s our last day before moving on.  Maybe some reflective leisurely activities should be the order of the day.

For those into fishing, book or undertake your own fishing trip along the coast, but make sure you have a license to do so (ask your receptionist to help).  Boat-based fishing trips are also available and can make for some rewarding fishing.  It’s the perfect way to reflect on your stay so far.

For a laid-back urban experience, start the day by having some famous German-brew coffee – in town, then  browse the bookstores and curio shops, take in a tour of the town, followed by a light lunch.

As an alternative, why not round off your stay in Swakop (by now familiarity allows you to call her by her shortened name), by booking a scenic flight.  Various packages are available.  The more popular flight seems to be the one that takes in the dune sea, Sossus Vlei and Sandwich Harbour.  Naturally you also get to see Swakopmund from the air.

A little advice: when you book your flight, you will be asked how much you weigh – it’s best to be truthful on this occasion.

After your day of fishing, sight-seeing and or scenic flight, finish off the day with a stroll along the Jetty and dinner right there on the edge of the Atlantic.  Then it’s probably time to get a good night’s sleep before you continue on with your journey through the Namib Desert and your next destination

But you are guaranteed never to forget your affair with this lady of the desert and the sea.

Article by Karl Terblanche is a Namibian-based photographer, writer and film-maker. His work can be viewed at katimaging.com