The Namibian Riviera

Visiting a Peace Park
August 4, 2016
Gems of the Namib Desert
August 8, 2016
Visiting a Peace Park
August 4, 2016
Gems of the Namib Desert
August 8, 2016

Text by Sharri Whiting De Masi

It’s hard to believe that more than five centuries ago Portuguese sailors caught sight of the empty sands of Namibia’s coast and sailed away, never to return. Today visiting Europeans, who can’t find a single metre of beach at home that is not occupied by an oiled compatriot baking under a beach umbrella, will think they are either time travelling, already in heaven… or holidaying on Namibia’s Atlantic coast.

F rom Lüderitz in the far south all the way north to the Skeleton Coast, Namibia’s Riviera is lined with endless sand beaches, punctuated by fascinating towns and settlements. Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, the largest of these, offer dozens of activities to visitors all year round. And, for a tempting respite after travelling in the Namib, the temperature on Namibia’s Riviera is much cooler than in the desert.

Namibia’s coast offers sunbathers, anglers, walkers and horse riders remote stretches of sand as well as beaches with services nearby. In Swakopmund, the public beaches are close to restaurants, swimming pool, hotels and shops, while the more isolated beach at Landstrand Holiday Resort, owned by the City of Walvis Bay, offers tidal pools and wide beaches with facilities on site.

Photo ©Sharri Whiting De Masi
Photo ©Sharri Whiting De Masi
Photo ©Sharri Whiting De Massi
Swakopmund. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

North of Swakopmund dozens of kilometres of undisturbed beaches attract campers and anglers. Hotels on the rapidly developing north side of Swakopmund, and in the little town of Henties Bay and at Cape Cross, are ideal for those wanting to take long walks or go fishing in remote areas. Camping areas situated between Walvis Bay and the Skeleton Coast Park allow travellers to enjoy their own private stretch of beach.

The Namibian coast is a paradise for ecotourism. Lüderitz, an isolated and mysterious coastal town in the south, is home to a variety of aquatic birds, seals, dolphins and some of the best seafood in Namibia. While its windy beaches and ocean are usually too cold for anyone other than the most intrepid of swimmers, they are unspoiled, with ever-changing colours and light patterns.

Sandwich Harbour, about 50 kilometres south of Walvis Bay, an unusual fresh-water lagoon, is a bird sanctuary overlooked by massive dunes. Legend has it that before silt cut off access to the sea, a treasure ship ran aground and lies buried somewhere in the mountains of sand. But nature lovers outnumber fortune hunters as the primary visitors to Sandwich Harbor. Access is only by four-wheel-drive vehicle and a permit is required.

Boat tours out of the port of Walvis Bay take visitors into the Walvis Bay lagoon, the most important wetland for coastal birds in Southern Africa. Often departing in dense morning fog, the boats cruise to view flamingos, dolphins, seals, and also the wonderful and eccentric Bird Island, a man-made guano atoll. Before returning to port, most boats put to anchor to offer fresh Namibian oysters and sparkling wine to sailors in glittering sunlight.

The Cape Cross Seal Reserve, 130 kilometres north of Swakopmund, is unparalleled on the coast of Southern Africa – up to 250 000 seals congregate on the rocky outcrop, diving in and out of the water to hunt for fish. Hundreds of birds fly overhead, while jackals on the hunt can be seen slipping in amongst the teeming mass. Visitors are able to get a close-up look at – and a whiff of the aroma of – this incredibly crowded animal colony as they fish, mate, give birth and sun themselves on the rocks.

The crown of Namibia’s shoreline is the Skeleton Coast Park, a 16 400-square-kilometre national park with controlled entry, known for its 500 kilometres of protected coastline, where visitors may see shipwrecks and soaring sand dunes, along with extraordinary animals and wildlife. Park-managed accommodation includes a resort at windswept Terrace Bay and a camping ground at Torra Bay. The northern section of the Skeleton Coast Park is restricted to fly-in safaris.

Swakopmund, founded more than a century ago by German settlers, is quaint and thriving. Shops and boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and an upmarket hotel with casino sit amid the green grass and palm trees of this coastal oasis. While original German architecture gives an incongruous feel to this African town, it is precisely the confluence of cultures that makes Swakopmund – and Namibia in general – so interesting.

From Swakopmund it’s possible to sign up for a camel or horse-back ride into the desert, take a beach buggy excursion to the beach, or set off on a safari. Quad-biking in the extraordinary dune belt between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay is not only great fun, but offers a memorable view of Namibia’s 1 100-kilometre coastline. Rossmund golf course, 10 kilometres inland from Swakopmund, is an 18-hole grass course within a desert setting, one of the most unusual in Southern Africa.

Further south at Lüderitz, founded in 1883, there is world-class wind surfing, and also a challenging desert golf course that appeals especially to adventurous golfers. Distinctive German colonial buildings line the streets, perched on the rocks overlooking the bay, where penguins and seals can often be seen leaping in the waves. Ten kilometres inland is the strange and eerie ghost town of Kolmanskop, where the first diamonds were found in 1908. In the heyday of the town the citizens led sophisticated lives, enjoying pleasures such as French champagne chilled by ice shipped in from northern climes, until the diamond fields played out and the high life came to an end.

No matter where on Namibia’s Riviera you travel, there is something extraordinary to experience.

Don’t miss it!

Walvis Bay flamingos. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk
Lüderitz Waterfront. Photo ©Ginger Mauney
Sandwich Harbour. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk
This article was first published in the Flamingo December 2007 issue.

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