Text and photographs Ron Swilling
There’s something about being out in the desert that is powerful beyond measure. I’m not sure if it’s about tuning into the ancient energy, being alone in a place where you can hear the silence thunder in your ears, or just the completely out-of-the-ordinary nature of it. Whatever it is, the desert on the outskirts of Swakopmund is simply breathtaking.
And that was the response I received when I asked the couple I had just met to describe this extraordinary landscape. I caught sight of them as I approached from the gravel road. They were sitting on the edge of the viewpoint just breathing it all in, the collage of earthy desert hills extending to the horizon. This was no rushed job for them, just pure relaxation, appreciation and pleasure. It made me reassess my manner of travel and reminded me to slow down and feel the presence of the mind-boggling vista around me.
It had taken me years of visiting Swakopmund before I discovered that an enjoyable trip out into the desert is just a hop, skip and jump from the old German town. It has fast become a favourite journey. The adventure begins just out of town as you turn off onto a salt road towards the Namib-Naukluft Park. It crosses the Swakop River, edged by small tamarisk trees and dotted with flamingos, and veers eastwards and northwards to the desert oasis of Goanikontes.
I spent some time appreciating the spellbinding scenery before following my new-found friends to lunch, stopping at the beacons along the way. A series of numbered beacons placed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) reveal wonders such as lichens, dollar bushes and old wagon paths. Many a passing traveller had dripped water onto the lichens, causing them to glisten happily in the sunshine.
“Aaaaaah!” I couldn’t help exclaiming as I dropped down to Goanikontes, instantly realising that the road leads right into the landscape I had just been gawking at, goggle-eyed. I felt like I was the privileged voyager in a fantastical realm who had been allowed entry into the magic kingdom. Soon the small hills surrounded me. A patch of verdant green appeared unexpectedly between the desert colours as I neared the Swakop River.
Benches on a green lawn and under a canopy of palms mark one of the most fascinating lunch spots in the Swakopmund surrounds. Known for its oasis character and historical appeal, it was a vegetable-growing centre at the beginning of the twentieth century. The charm of Goanikontes has been retained in the original farmhouse, taking you back in time to when Namibia was a German colony. Laughter and good company (and the presence of an inquisitive goat or two) added to the unusual green setting surrounded by stark mountains.
We realised with surprise that the shadows were beginning to lengthen and considered our choices for the rest of the afternoon. We could continue on the more bumpy track to the Welwitschia Plains past kilometres of mine construction, or circle back to Swakopmund via the B2. I opted to avoid the stony road in my small vehicle, deciding to rather join a guided tour to visit the welwitschias in a more secluded and secret spot. Waving goodbye to my companions, I continued through the desert to pop out on the B2, heading westwards to the sea and the setting sun.
It was a day that I could happily place on the top shelf of my Swakopmund adventures. So, fellow travellers, buy your permit at the MET offices in the centre of town, pick up one or two good friends or family members, sprinkle a generous amount of wonder and appreciation, and set out for some remarkable day-tripping in the desert.
First of all…
Permits for the Namib-Naukluft Park/Welwitschia Plains are available at the MET offices, in the NWR building, corner of Bismarck Street and Sam Nujoma Avenue.
Monday to Friday: 8:00–13.00 and 14:00–17:00
Weekends and public holidays: 8:00–13:00
And now, into the desert
Head in an easterly direction on the B2 towards Usakos and Windhoek and make a right turn onto the C28 to the Namib-Naukluft Park/C34 to Walvis Bay. Veer left after approximately 4 km to follow the C28 towards Windhoek. The signpost to the D1991 and Goanikontes is visible around the 10-km mark. The Moon Landscape viewpoint is reached after 14 km and the turnoff to Goanikontes is a further 2 km. It is only 3 km from there to the desert oasis. If choosing the circular route back to Swakopmund, continue for 18 km on the D1991 to the B2. It is 40 km on the tar to Swakopmund.
If driving to the Welwitschia Plains, backtrack 3 km from Goanikontes to the turnoff and continue for 17 km to a T-junction. Follow the signs for 17 km to the welwitschias, returning afterwards to the T-junction, which is 9 km from C28. From here, it is 35 km to the intersection (that is the C28 & C34 to Walvis Bay) and 4 km to reach the B2 and your starting point.