Swakopmund, Namibia

Swakopmund (German for "Mouth of the River Swakop"). It has the ambiance of a small German town, and in a way seems to be stuck in time.

Captain Curt von François founded Swakopmund in 1892 as the main harbour for the Imperial German colony—the better deep sea harbour at Walvis Bay belonged to the British. Swakopmund was chosen for its availability of fresh water, and other sites further north such as Cape Cross were unsuitable. However the site did not offer any natural protection to ships lying off the coast, a geographical feature not often found along Namibia's coast. When the first 120 Schutztruppe soldiers and 40 settlers were offloaded at Swakopmund, they had to dig caves into the sand for shelter. Swakopmund quickly became the main port for imports and exports for the whole territory, and was one of six towns which received municipal status in 1909. Many government offices for German South-West Africa had offices in Swakopmund.

Soon, the harbour created by the Mole silted up, and in 1905 work was started on a wooden jetty, but in the long run this was inadequate. In 1914 construction of a steel jetty began. After World War I it became a pedestrian walkway. It was declared structurally unsound and was closed to the public for seven years, and in 2006 renovations to the portion supported by concrete pillars were completed. A new timber walkway was added and the jetty reopened to the public in late 2010.

After German South-West Africa was taken over by the Union of South Africa in 1915, all harbour activities were transferred from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay and the town became less prosperous. Today tourism-related services form an important part of the town's economy. Palm-lined streets, seaside promenades, a pleasant summer climate and some beaches have made it Namibia's leading holiday resort. During the December holidays, the cool Namibian coast offers relief from the intense heat of the interior. There is a well developed tourist infra-structure - hotels, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, museums, a snake park and aquarium.

The Swakopmund Railway station was completed in 1901 and now houses the Swakopmund Hotel, while the bells of the Deutsche Evangelical Church were imported from Germany. Standing close to the State House (Kaiserliches Bezirksgericht) is the Swakop Lighthouse: at just over 20 meters it has been functional since 1902.

The cold Atlantic Ocean meeting the Namib Desert creates a fog bank. This coolness is often a relief from the heat of the rest of Namibia, but does mean that Swakopmund is not the tropical sunbathing mecca that most people imagine. Our hotel receptionist told us it was normal for the "morning fog" to last well into the afternoon - and it is a thick fog in which visibility is about 100 metres

Outside of the town the two places to visit are: The Cape Cross Seal Colony is a few hours drive north through the Namib Desert: And to the south the Walvis Bay Lagoon is the home to thousands of flamingos. .

Cape Cross. In 1486, the Portuguese explorer, Diego Câo, erected a stone pillar topped by a cross, establishing Portugal's claim to the territory. The cross became a landmark and hence Cape Cross in English. In 1893, a Captain Becker of the German flagship Falke rediscovered the original Portuguese cross and took it back to Wilhelmshaven in Germany. The German Emperor, Wilhelm II, ordered that a replica should be made and re-erected in 1895. The original ended up in the German Museum for Technology in Berlin . Efforts to have it returned to Namibia have failed.

Cape Cross was exploited for guano around 1900, but today little remains of this activity -just rusted pieces of metal and a graveyard near the reception office at Cape Cross

The coastline of Southern Africa is the only place where you find the Cape fur seal. They fight, mate, reproduce and fish in the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, home to 210,000 seals during November and December. One of the most endearing features of Cape fur seals is their ears; they have external ears, as opposed to true seals, who don't..Visitors can view the seals from a 200m walkway, constructed of recycled plastic. The smell of the seal colony is memorable.

Walvis Bay seemed to have little to offer the tourist other than the flamingos. The Tourist Office was closed, and looked as if it never opened. The town is Namibia's only port, and that is what it is, a port. Hence tourists opt for Swakopmund. We took in the flamingos and the lagoon on our way from Sossusvlei to Swakopmund. And it is only 30km from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund.

We stayed at the Central Guest House. Easy to find, this small , central, guest house offers what it says on the packet - the "Central Guest House". Our reception was very good - Nadelle (?) welcomed us and answered our questions, sorted out dinner reservations in two different restaurants in town for our 2 night stay. We did not see the owner during our stay. It is only a 10 minute walk through the centre of town to the sea, and so everything is within easy reach. It is safe, in as much as we were advised we could walk to our restaurants after dark: we did so, and never felt threatened in any way.

The hotel is converted from a private house, so it was not purpose built and all the rooms differ. Our room, room 3, certainly did not look like any of the rooms in their brochure. It was uncomfortably small. I could touch one wall from the bed, and there was about 1 foot of clearance at the bottom of the bed. The bathroom required considerable dexterity to shimmy round the door, which filled most of the bathroom when open. The sitting room downstairs was a pleasant place to sit, unless there was a group gathering there, when it became crowded. Breakfast was somewhere in the middle of our breakfast experiences in Namibia. Good without being memorable Room Tip: Avoid staying in room 3. It is on the small side of small

We enjoyed our meal at the Hansa Hotel, but I can see why some people did not like it. The decor, menu and surroundings are designed to be what the town actually is, a German colonial town from nearly a century ago. I found the choices of fish and game both good and interesting - the game in the real sense of zebra, springbok, etc, and fish are local and fresh. My starter of scallops and mussels was particularly good. For the main course my wife had ostrich and I had a local fish, kingklip. OK the decor was "old fashioned" but it was meant to be German colonial. The service was formal, but that was what was intended. We paid £20 a head for an excellent meal.

The Tug, where we ate the second night, is very different to the Hansa. It certainly has a buzz about it. The place seems to be full, even when other restaurants in the town are not. The seafood in particular is fresh and well cooked. I don't think I would go as far as to say this is "gourmet" food, but it is "honest". I had their baked oysters to start, the oysters were excellent, but the piquant sauce overpowered the oysters. For main course I chose the Tug Seafood Platter, which was enormous, and in reality too large for me to eat.. But the ingredients were fresh and well cooked. One cannot knock the Tug, they have a formula, and they know their clientele. It is not cheap, but I felt offered good value for money. It is the place to eat in this town.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to get a larger photo

We stopped at Walvis Bay en route, but in truth, there was little to see other than the flamingos. Even the Tourist Centre was closed. Walvis Bay is (just) a port
Where we stayed at the Central Guest House. Our room was too small to take a picture of, but the Central Guest House was central. We ate at the Hansa and The Tug
The town still has a "German" feel, and was the only place in Namibia with up-market shops. The sea temperature is a cool 13C. We failed to buy the nice artwork.
The thousands of Cape Fur Seals, with their noise and particularly their smell, were a memorable sight and, well, smell. Quite aggressive little things are seals.
The current Cape Cross The "skeleton Coast" with its wrecks and lots of fishermen And the road north to Damaraland shows the vastness

 

On to Damaraland

Namibia Holiday