Relief and splendour for the soul
by Ron Swilling
Noordoewer, the border post between Namibia and South Africa, is perched a short stretch away from the flowing waters of the Orange River. As if the border acknowledges its official position, the sky appears to clear as you cross over the bridge into Namibia. The weather warms and the sky twinkles with myriad shining stars.
The route north and west to Lüderitz is hardly dull. The second-largest canyon in the world yawns massively along the way, exposing the majestic depths of the Fish River Canyon, and an exclamation of wonder and awe is involuntary as you gaze at this Earth masterpiece.
The northern side is home to a wide variety of accommodation and Ai-Ais offers a dip in hot springs further downstream. Kokerbome (quiver trees) greet the sky with their aloe-like leaves and sweet yellow flowers, springbok prance across the gravel roads, ostriches effortlessly outrun your car with their long-legged gait, and stately gemsbok swish their long tails and freeze, turning tail the moment you reach for your camera to record this animal of grace.
It’s comfortable travelling on the B4 tar road as you veer west from the C12 towards the coast and the Namib-Naukluft Park. Nearing Aus, the scenery transforms into streaks of burnished sand interspersed with grass in forever vistas that offer rest for the eyes, and relief and splendour for the soul.
From desert horses…
The Aus Information Centre is a good stop to gain general knowledge of the area, including titbits of World War I history and an introduction to the succulent vegetation. The centre also offers a chance to stretch legs and indulge in a good cup of coffee. A few kilometres further west, Klein Aus Vista is a friendly and appealing accommodation haven offering a choice of camping, rooms in the Desert Horse Inn or stone-walled chalets at Eagle Nest, a real treat. Twenty kilometres further on, the wild horses of the Namib Desert can be glimpsed at the Garub viewpoint, a short drive from the main road, for a dose of myth, mystery and wild, free living.
A unique blend of historical and desert town, Lüderitz (originally named Lüderitzbucht—Lüderitz Bay) is full of surprises—History is visible as you walk through the streets with the elaborate German architecture stemming from the diamond rush that transformed the sleepy town into a bustling hive of activity in 1908 when the first diamond was found. Diamond towns sprang up in the surrounding desert desolation and European luxuries flooded the barren south-western corner of the country. The residual energy is tangible at the intriguing old mining town of Kolmanskop on the outskirts of the town where the desert is in the process of burying the residual artifacts of opulence, greed and dreams under its apricot sands. Walking up Diamantberg Street to the 1912 Felsenkirche (rock church) and looking down onto the town, it is possible to imagine a time of diamonds, champagne and finery.
…to abandoned diamond mines
Like the promise of the old abandoned diamond mines, the town’s glory days have long passed, and empty fish-factory warehouses add to the nostalgic atmosphere. Residents have, however, dipped into their paint pots and an array of striking primary colours brighten many of the old buildings. The dusty past and the remnants of the diamond towns that poke their heads from the Namib sands can be visited on guided trips into the Sperrgebiet, the once forbidden diamond territory. In the town itself, treat yourself to fresh oysters and a tour around the oyster factory, visit the museum, take a drive to Dias Point and Agate Beach, or set sail on a schooner or catamaran for a sunset cruise through the icy waters of the bay where seals, penguins and dolphins frolic amidst the crashing waves.
The town holds an interesting mix of history in its weather-worn hands and is worth exploring on the recommended Noordoewer-to-Lüderitz route, past the awe-inspiring Fish River Canyon and west into the vast expanses of the ancient Namib Desert.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘10/ Jan ‘11 edition of Travel News Namibia.