The Town Built on a Rock

Stay at Sea-View Zum Sperrgebiet and Experience Lüderitz
April 24, 2018
Experience the Wild West at the Kanaan N/a’an ku sê Desert Retreat
April 24, 2018
Text: Nina van Schalkwyk

Out on the ocean. Waves are splashing and the dolphins are chasing after us, jumping as if performing a circus trick, free to enjoy themselves, showing off. Their slick pale bodies dashing through the water, their dark skin patches revealed: Heaviside’s dolphins. They don’t follow us for too long, we’re obviously not interesting enough. The African Penguins don’t seem to notice us at all. Nor do the flamingos. The Cape fur seal’s whole-hearted jump is graceful but nothing compared to his dolphin brethren. An entire colony of seals is barking and yelping from a bare, windswept island close by.

 

luderitz
Goerke Haus, haunted or not? Nina van Schalkwyk.
Lüderitz
The oldest church in town, Felsenkirche, Elzanne Erasmus.
Lüderitz
A trio of African Penguins on Halifax Island, Nina van Schalkwyk.
Lüderitz
Classic buildings in Lüderitz’s main road, Nina van Schalkwyk.

Further along, Halifax. Several derelict wooden houses, slowly being dismantled by the constant wind. What else is there? Guano mining has long since stopped. Thank goodness. Now the poor penguins build their mounds of excrement from scratch and bury into them to lay their eggs. The gulls won’t be happy. They’ve been feasting on penguin eggs for years. René, our skipper for the day, points out a Mola Mola, or sunfish, basking close to the ocean surface. Naftalie, his second-in-command, offers us cups of steaming hot chocolate. Cups hand-made by René’s mother.

Three days and three nights in Lüderitz. The cool weather welcomes us after the heat that drove us from the desert near Sossusvlei. Settled in at the Nest Hotel’s Crayfish Bar and Lounge with a beer, overlooking the bay, we are glad about the exchange of sand for sea. Exploration of the beach below, the famous black rocks all around, desolate, as if no one has been here for centuries. I watch the red-beaked Oystercatchers standing proudly on the embankments, moving as soon as my shutter clicks. The sun dips lower. A lone traveller positions himself on the short jetty, covered up with an elegant hat and scarf, as if for a television commercial. The light turns golden. Everything is well. And that was the first day.

Lüderitz has a lot to offer when exploring on foot. Most importantly: start with good coffee. We take a short walk to the waterfront, from where we want to start our tour
of the town. The waterfront precinct was developed right next to the harbour, overlooking the coming and going of fishing boats, smaller craft and the occasional ocean liner. Ships rest their large bellies in the cobalt blue water. A calm surface hides icy temperatures below. Seabirds dive underneath, catching their morning prey. We walk across the road and through a wooden door set in a length of continuous wall. Inside: a secret garden. The Garden Café. An old house, from the era of the first Lüderitz settlers, filled with knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. An antique typewriter, black and white photos of the town in the previous century, tins, treats, freshly brewed coffee and cake. Outside, a magical haven. An old tortoise relaxes in the sun, moving his head just so to observe the newcomers. All around flowers are blooming, pots sprouting life across every inch of space. A comfortable, subdued place. The magic of it is enchanting. Finally, we leave to go sightseeing.

Architecture tempts snap happy camera fingers. We slowly make our way down the main road. Step, step, snap, snap. Some buildings are scruffy but solid. Others lovingly restored. Reminiscent of Swakopmund, but as it was many years ago. Peaceful, small, unbothered, not over-commercialised. The famous Blue House, or Haus Grünewald, which sits on Berg Street with other colourful abodes. Some front doors are still inlaid with quaint stained glass. The road is dusty and quiet, just off Bismarck Street – the main business artery where Lüderitz locals mill about on Saturdays. Not crowded either, just less empty.

 

Sea birds get a free ride on a lonely fishing boat in the harbour, Nina van Schalkwyk.
Naftalie from Penguin Catamaran Tours with cups of hot comfort, Elzanne Erasmus.
Lüderitz
There’s no better place to have fresh oysters than in Lüderitz, Elzanne Erasmus.
Lüderitz
The quirky style of the Garden Café, Nina van Schalkwyk.
Lüderitz

Goerke Haus. The haunted house. Which is impossible because no one ever lived there, or that is what I tell myself. But maybe that’s what makes it so atmospheric. As if it is pleading with its visitors to stay just a little bit longer. So that it can be lived-in. Up the creaking stairs, a look into the modest bedroom, then up to the attic where there is another bedroom, spooky, empty, lonesome. Who would have the guts to sleep there? Portraits of the Mr and Mrs hang on the wall in the foyer. He, who lovingly built the house for her. She, who couldn’t stand to live here, in this house, in this town at the far end of the world, the southern tip of the dark content. For whom her husband abandoned the house and moved her back to Germany. Only now, restored somewhat to its former glory, the house may seem content to be opened daily to be gawked at by visitors, who walk around inside, remark on the bright rooms, the antique furniture. What else do they expect of an old dame?

Close by is the famous Felsenkirche. The church, like much of the town, was built atop a rocky outcrop. It overlooks the town on one side and the ocean on the other. It is a famous picture: the church illuminated by the last rays of the sun, synonymous with Lüderitz itself. But today the light isn’t ideal, we will come back later, at five, when the church opens for visitors.

During our trip, we inevitably meet locals, friendly and welcoming. These interactions are what travelling is all about. We have the second draught of beer served so far in a newly opened bar. The owner’s face beams from behind the counter. Our friendly guide to all things local, Chrys, or Chryssoula Grünewald, manager at our hotel, Sea-view Zum Sperrgebiet, kindly organises a boat trip for us and gives us all the details we need on her hometown. She points out the landmarks of the area on a map before us. The small wreck found on the beach over there? Her grandfather’s. He built it himself, she says. He didn’t crash it there, though, she’s quick to add. He sold it to someone who then ran aground with it.

 

Lüderitz
A lonely hallway in Kolmanskop filling up with sand, Nina van Schalkwyk.
Lüderitz
Stunning stained glass windows as seen from inside Felsenkirche, Nina van Schalkwyk.

On our last day, we drive 10 km inland to Kolmanskop, Namibia’s famous ghost town. Crumbling wooden structures, curling wallpaper with art-deco patterns, rooms painted bright red or green or faded blue. Sunrooms that are open to the elements, the roof long gone, windows without glass. Floorboards, some missing, a striped pattern of light across them from the barely existing ceiling. Then the wind picks up, engulfs the area in a sandstorm. We find shelter and warmth in the café, a cheerful room in the old theatre. The wind howls outside. We shake sand from our hair. The café fills up with guests, seeking refuge from nature’s fury raging outside. It’s definitely not too early for a beer.

Back in town, we return to Felsenkirche, and at precisely five o’clock the heavy wooden doors open. The story of a secret letter and a time-capsule hidden away in the church’s cornerstone comes to light. A tale of how renovations of the church’s roof revealed hidden objects inside a copper cylinder which now stands inside near the entrance of the church. Newspaper clippings and bits of information, as well as a copy of the original letter found in the time capsule, are pasted on the wall behind it. My German is rusty, but the story is then related to us by Ziggy, a member of the church, who had been sitting quietly in one of the pews until it was time for him to lock the doors again.

 

Light filters through the derelict roof of an abandoned Kolmanskop house, Nina van Schalkwyk.
The Lüderitz museum’s vintage displays of specimens and skeletons, Nina van Schalkwyk.

FAST FACTS:

  1. Namibia’s most famous ghost town, Kolmanskop, is situated in Sperrgebiet National Park about 10 km inland from Lüderitz. It was named after transport driver Johnny Coleman, who abandoned his wagon there during a fierce sandstorm. The discovery of diamonds in the early 1900’s led to an influx of people. The settlement became affluent and by 1915 was one of the richest towns in the world. The town’s hospital had the first x-ray machine in the southern hemisphere. The decline of diamonds in the area, and the subsequent transfer of mining operations to the south, gradually resulted in the town being completely abandoned. Permits to enter Kolmanskop can be obtained at the entrance gate daily between 08:00 and 13:00. Photography permits allow for longer stays.
  2. The existence of the bay was first recorded in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias who erected a stone cross there and named the windswept shores Angra Pequena (Little Bay). A replica of the cross is situated at the original location.
  3. The discovery of guano deposits on the islands off Lüderitz around 1842 attracted the first entrepreneurs. They made the most of the opportunity to exploit the precious fertiliser which at the time was known as ‘white gold’. Three years later sources were exhausted and the bay was once again abandoned.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

  1. Garden Café, 17 Hafen Street
  2. Penguin Restaurant, 820 Diaz Street
  3. Crayfish Bar and Lounge, 820 Diaz Street
  4. Diaz Coffee Shop, 25 Bismarck Street
  5. Essenzeit, 39 Hafen Street.
  6. Barrels, 5 Nachtigal Street.

WHAT TO DO:

  1. Windsurf in some of the strongest winds on earth
  2. Take a boat excursion to Diaz Point and spot sunfish, whales and dolphins
  3. Look for the best-kept secret surfing spots and brave the icy water
  4. Explore wrecks and hidden caves south of the town
  5. Soak up the sun on the beaches
  6. Load up on fresh oysters
  7. Take a walk through history at Kolmanskop
  8. Take a 4×4 route through the desert
  9. Educate yourself on all things Lüderitz at the local museum
  10. Survive a sandstorm and live to tell the tale
This article was published in the August 2018 issue of Travel News Namibia.
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Magazine Subscription

Please fill out the form below and we will get in touch with you

Title

Full Name

Email

Delivery address

Contact Us

Please fill out the form below and we will get in touch with you

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Subject

Your Message