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Compiled Sanet van Zijl | Main photo Paul van Schalkwyk
In 2015 the luxurious Strand Hotel Swakopmund opened. It was by far the most costly hotel project in the history of the country. In anticipation of visitors from all over the world that have not yet been to Swakopmund, or those that would simply like to know more about the quaint town, Strand Hotel decided to answer a few frequently asked questions.
1. Where does the name Swakopmund come from?
This is one of the most common questions from travellers. Many spot the “mund” in the name, acknowledging that this means “mouth” in German, and correctly concluding that Swakopmund is the mouth of the Swakop River; but what does “Swakop” mean?
A recent theory believes that “Swakop” is actually based on the San language, namely from “xwaka” (rhinoceros) and “ob” (river). Many find this far-fetched as it is well known there are currently no rhino within in the vicinity of Swakopmund, but once there were. Fossilized rhino footprints have been found in Walvis bay, recently uncovered by a shifting sand dune.
The German settlers changed “xwaka ob” to “Swachaub”, and the full form “Swakopmund,” or the mouth of the Rhinoceros River, was embraced in 1896 when the district was officially declared.
2. Why are the streets so wide?
The streets are wide because when the roads were first built in the early 1900’s, everything was transported by horse and carriage (or mule and carriage), and a lot of space was needed for them to deliver goods and then back out and turn around. In those days there was a lot of space and few people, so there was plenty of room to favour convenience over real estate.
Sunset over Swakopmund. Photo ©Paul Schalkwyk
German-style buildings can be found throughout Swakop. Photo ©Elzanne Erasmus
3. Why was Swakopmund founded so close to Walvis Bay?
Many people wonder why two towns were founded so close to each other in such a scantly populated country. The answer hearkens back to colonial days. Swakopmund was established in 1896 by German settlers, mainly for its freshwater source and reasonably accommodating port. If given the choice, the Germans probably would have claimed Walvis Bay, as there is also freshwater there and a far better port, but at the time, Walvis Bay was engaged by the British, and the Germans chose to rather bypass Walvis Bay and settle in Swakopmund. That is why there is so much German culture in Swakopmund. It was originally a German colony, and it still preserves much of its heritage.
4. Why is there so much mist in Swakopmund?
Swakopmund locals love the mist, saying the cool air moistened with ocean water is good for health. Whether or not you believe that, it is true that Swakopmund is often covered in mist.
In the daytime, air which is relatively moist because of the sea breeze moves inland, and then it condenses overnight with the cooling air. Westerly land winds blow the mist back toward the sea. The mist bank results mainly because easterly land winds pushing to the west bump up against the southwesterly winds from the sea causing a mist bank which normally settles anywhere from a few kilometres offshore to a few kilometres inland.
5. What is a Welwitschia?
The Welwitschia plant is one of Namibia’s most magnificent natural phenomena. Namibians like to claim the Welwitschia as its very own, which is almost true, but the Namib desert continues into Angola, where you will still find some of these hardy plants.
Taxonomically categorized as trees, they look more like ground shrubbery with a wooden mouth-like core and ample, thick leaves extending out on two sides. They appear to have quite a few leaves, but there are actually only two which split as a result of the dry desert air into many fibres.
They are unusual organisms, but perhaps the most incredible feature of the Welwitschia is that the oldest of them have been surviving in the harsh Namib desert for over 2000 years!
More information at blog.strandhotelswakopmund.com
Welwitschia. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk