The opportunity to combine business travel with leisure is often more of a fantasy than a practicality. When we got the opportunity to run our Enneagram workshop for a bank in Windhoek, we were excited to combine the two. No sooner had we buttoned down dates for the course and reserved our weekend accommodation, we received a request to change the workshop dates. We scrambled to move flights (very limited availability after Covid) and reorganize accommodation in both Swakop and Spitzkoppen.
We’d planned to hire a vehicle, thinking that we’d pick something up at the airport. The day before we left, Geoff casually decided to check availability and pricing. He contacted 3 different rental agencies. No hire cars. At all. In the entire country. WTF!? 😱 Geoff joked with the Hertz lady: “You have no cars in Namibia and we have no electricity in South Africa”. She politely refrained from saying which scenario she preferred.
What a mess! Our jam-packed mini break (as we are wont to do) was entirely based on non-stop action from literally dawn to dusk. We envisaged dashing between Walvis Bay and Swakop, maxing the golden hour for photography. We NEEDED a car! 😭 Oh well, we’d Uber. What! No Uber or Lyft in Namibia either!? We contacted Spitzkoppen lodge in desperation. “We don’t offer a shuttle service, but you can contact these shuttle services yourselves.” Upon investigating this option we realised that to get to the Lodge and then to Windhoek, would set us back R10 000.😳
I contacted Ilse, our AirBnB hostess in Swakop. In a few hours she had arranged for the Flying Coffee Pot 😂 airport shuttle to collect us from the airport as well as miraculously sourcing us a vehicle through a friend of Paul, her hubby.
I’d prefer not to remember the smaller details that caused us quite a lot of anxiety, i.e. realizing that we could fly directly to Walvis instead of Windhoek (this after I specifically checked a few weeks beforehand 🙈) and so changing flights last minute; and also trying to reserve the promised car on the incorrect website, while boarding the plane. 🙄 All’s well that ends well and as our flight took to the air, confirmation of our vehicle reservation came through on Geoff’s iPhone. 😅
We got picked up at the airport and taken to Swakopmund car rental and picked up our 4×4. (R700 for a fairly short drive) They reconfirmed that we had booked the very last car. Coincidentally the “incorrect” rental company reverted just then to say they had absolutely no available cars of any type. We were delighted and beyond grateful for our brand new Nissan Nivara single cab. We drove up the road to our AirBnB @32 Woker street. Ilse met us and showed us our spacious room and gave us tips for sightseeing and dining out.
As it was already 3pm we headed off towards Walvis Bay. We didn’t get very far before we stopped to take photographs of an impressive bridge. We were amused to find two white camels beneath the bridge, peacefully munching away on the sparse green shrubbery. 🐪 🐪
We marveled at the sight of the ocean on our right and the red dunes of the Namib on our left. Such dramatic landscapes. We paused to watch some dune kite surfers soaring along the dunes and up into the skies.
There has been a lot of development in this area since we lasted visited in 2012. Lots of modern lock up and go holiday homes, which we learnt belong mostly to Germans and South Africans, who come to spend the summers of their retirement. We also visited the brand new shopping centre The Dunes and bought flip flops for Geoff and two new peak caps.😂
We headed for the lagoon to visit the flamingos. They were plentiful, but spread out over a wide area and extremely reluctant to face the camera. Over 150 000 migrant birds and 150 different species, spend their summers here, just like the German tourists. Both the Greater and Lesser Flamingo were in town and we also saw the Great White Pelican. Geoff managed to capture a few shy individuals.
Driving on, we noticed some white peaks in the distance and realised we were at an extensive salt mine. Trucks were continuously bringing in loads of salt, loading it onto conveyer belts, which seem to endlessly rain salt onto these beautiful peaks. It looked like snow on a mountain range.
Walvis Bay Salt Works is the largest producer of solar sea salt in sub-Saharan Africa. We chatted to the polite and friendly gate attendant, who welcomed us taking a pic or two from the boom. We’re pretty sure it would have been strictly verboten in South Africa.
Walvis Bay owns one of 3 Ramsar wetlands. A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, also known as “The Convention on Wetlands”, an intergovernmental environmental treaty established on 2nd February 1971 in Ramsar, Iran by UNESCO, which came into force from 21st December,1975. Wikipedia
Continuing along a track that almost felt re-claimed from the sea, we drove on a narrow finger of road with water lapping on both sides of the vehicle. We came across a distinctly pink lake with a reddish river flowing nearby. The pink colour is created by the presence of salt-tolerant algae combined with other microorganisms which release a reddish-pink substance called beta-carotene as a part of their photosynthesis process. 👀
In every direction was either crusty white salt, foraging flamingos or the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Eventually we reached a point where to continue to Pelican Point, we would’ve had to engage 4×4. As it was getting late and we were wary of being caught in a sudden mist after dark, we turned back.
Before long we were compelled to stop again. The golden hour was upon us and we took some interesting shots on the beach.
The route back to Swakop was magical as the sun began sinking into the sea and the dunes were transformed bright orange. Many vehicles were stopped on top of the dunes or down at the shore, their owners enjoying the view over sundowners.
The oil rigs, which have become part of Walvis Bay’s skyline, looked like big ships or lighthouses on the horizon.
Amazingly, “There are about 138 rigs active along the coast of West Africa. Walvis Bay provides a world-class repair and maintenance stop over for these vessels. Because of these rigs, and the increased activities and interest in potential oil and gas discoveries off the coast of Namibia, the rig service industry in Namibia is substantial”. (Erongo.co.na)
By now it was close to 8pm. We abandoned our plan to return to our house to change for dinner and instead headed directly to “The Tug” restaurant located on the waterfront. What a delightful experience. The service, the ambiance and the food were all outstanding. We revelled in the flavours of the oysters 🦪, the excellent South African wine and the delicious fish and calamari. Even the veggies and cheesy chips were especially tasty. Outside the iconic pier bravely withstood the waves from the relentless Atlantic.
A restful sleep despite Geoff’s bizarre dream involving Keith Richards and some car repairs 🤭 we woke to a cool misty morning. After a welcome pot of coffee we headed out to take pictures of some of the grand old buildings of Swakop and admired the unique architecture of this colonial German settlement that was founded in 1892.
Haus Hohenzollern was built as a hotel for Hermann Dietz in around 1906. Despite its elegance it had a racy reputation, reputedly used as a brothel and gambling house. The gambling got so out of hand that the magistrate revoked the hotel’s licence. It was converted to sectional title units in the 1980s.
Despite its fort-like appearance the Kaserne was built in 1905 as a barracks; after all, no fort worth its salt would have such large, low windows. Living quarters were needed for the regiment sent to Swakopmund to fight the Herero uprising, and to build a landing pier and railway line to the interior. Today it’s a youth hostel.
Woermann House was built in 1894 and added to around ten years later. It was used as the headquarters of the Damara and Namaqua Trading Company, a subsidiary of German shipping company Woermann. The tower was used to store water. The building was later used for 40 years as a school hostel and restored for use as a public library in the 1970s.
We found ourselves down at the pier once again. It’s hard to resist a stroll along the 260m long walkway where we admired the powerful pillars withstanding decades of pounding surf. We took more photos before agreeing it was time to head out of town.
The jetty was originally built out of wood in 1904 to aid disembarkation of German troops and settlers as the surf was often life-threatening. Also the offloading of goods from ships could take weeks. Swakopmund was totally unsuitable as a harbour, but because the British owned Walvis Bay, they were forced to use this as a base. The wooden jetty was replaced by an iron one (and lengthened) in 1912. Beginning in 1986 and completed in 2006 further renovations were made.(Discover Namibia)
We picked up breakfast at the local Food Lovers. 3 pies for R50 😆 and an halloumi and avo salad for a picnic lunch.
Our plan was to take the scenic coastal drive to Henties Bay, some 70 km north. There is something special being on a road that just skims along between Ocean and desert. The C34 is 437 km long. The surface of this road is sand and salt and runs from Swakopmund to the tiny settlement of Terrace Bay. The road has no markings. The absence of and freedom from any restraints is quite surreal. Regular turnoffs lead down to the sea presumably for anglers. The turnoffs are numbered Mile 25 etc.
Shortly before Henties we passed the shipwreck of the Zeila, an offshore fishing vessel that ran aground in 2008. The cold Benguela current creates treacherous seas and heavy mists, making it one of the most dangerous coastlines. Portuguese sailors referred to the Skeleton Coast as the “Gates of Hell”. 😱 The carcass of the trawler has become a home for cormorants who rest like hyenas on the decaying bones of the ship. There were also a few persistent human hyenas plying us to buy their minerals and semi-precious rocks. We took pity and gave them a few Rand, and were a bit perturbed when they asked us for water. It’s a long way from any water source!
Henties Bay was a big surprise. It’s no little forgotten fishing village and the development here seems to be astronomical with loads of brand new holiday homes, mostly vacant. As a result, the absence of cars is noticeable. We had a look around, watched some horses cantering along the endless and breathtaking coastline, and then filled up with fuel and headed due East towards Spitzkoppen.