This article first appeared in Indwe magazine in October 2016
I met Lady Gaga in Walvis Bay, a pale pink pelican with chutzpah. That was my unique introduction to a new destination – it really doesn’t get any better than that.
The deep water emerald lagoon is the jewel in the Walvis Bay crown and a major tourist attraction. We set out from the dock on a crisp clear July winter’s morning and as soon as we had cleared the jetty, in swooped Gaga with her feathered entourage, and, not far behind her, an opportunistic seal called Kamachoma who casually propelled his large frame on board, assumed the ‘gimme fish’ position and waited patiently for sardine treats from deck hand Jonas Johannes. Both animals are tame and living free in their natural habitats, and are regular guests on the Mola Mola boats. I’m an animal fanatic so for me the trip couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
Walvis Bay, meaning Whale Bay in Afrikaans, is a small harbour town of 50,000 people on the desert coast of Namibia. It was discovered by Bartholomew Diaz in 1487, founded in 1793 by the Dutch and later annexed by the British. In 1910, it became part of the South African Union and was only returned to the Namibians in 1994 by the outgoing South African president FW de Klerk.
The lagoon teems with wildlife. Aside from the menagerie that followed us throughout our three-hour excursion, red medusa jellyfish pulsate along beneath the surface of the bay, Heaviside and Bottlenose dolphins are common sightings in the sea beyond the lagoon and on Pelican Point, home to around 50,000 Cape fur seals, there are black-backed jackals, flamingos, and the elusive brown hyena. Kayaking and surfing are two popular aqua sports in this area.
When Isabelle Horlbeck-Bellwinkel stopped at an old wreck and brought out the bubbly and trays of oysters, the day was made. I’ve always avoided oysters but was converted that morning, faster than you could say ‘tabasco’. Namibian oysters are famous the world over and thrive in the sheltered nutrient rich lagoon waters. The oyster farm, identified by the rows of colourful bobbing barrels that float the nets, nurture thousands of oysters at any given time that will mature in as little as 9 months. In France the same process takes up to four years and the oysters there cannot compete with the fleshy, creamy ones produced on Namibia’s coast.
On the way to Swakopmund, another desert town 20 minutes from Walvis Bay, is Bird Island, a 17,000 square metre platform about 400 metres offshore, completed in 1937 and inhabited by thousands of nesting sea birds whose guano is harvested at a market value of up to US$285 per ton for use in fertilizers and other products. On the solitary B2 ‘highway’ you’ll also pass quad biking outfits that beckon with an exhilarating way to explore the caramel coloured dunes that stretch between the two aforementioned cities. It’s an adrenalin rush on four wheels and the views from up top are stunning as you find yourself in the middle of the desert itself, surrounded by undulating caramel coloured dunes for as far as the eye can see. Other recreational activities in and around Swakopmund include sand boarding on the famous Dune 7, helicopter and microlight flips, camel safaris, horse riding, fat bike tours, parachuting and hot air ballooning to name but a few. For the less adventurous, time can be spent at art galleries, craft markets and the Swakopmund Museum, or indulging in a tall glass of beer and traditional dishes like eisbein at reputable restaurants like the Swakopmund Brauhaus or Jetty 105 at the end of the pier on Molen Road, a landmark that was built in 1904 and re-opened for pedestrian use in 2006.
Swakopmund was founded in 1892 and initially belonged to Imperial Germany. Once called the gateway to South West Africa, it is known today as Namibia’s premier beach holiday resort town that bustles during peak season in December. Sandwiched between the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean, it’s home to approximately 30,000 people and has attracted the likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt whose daughter Shiloh was born there.
Many of the grand buildings in Swakopmund date back to the colonial era of the late 1800’s with exterior timber panelling reminiscent of a mix of German and English Tudor style. Buildings and monuments of note in the city include the Freudhaus and Hohenzollern Building, the War Memorial, Princess Rupprecht House and the Kaserne buildings that originally served as a military barracks.
Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, and many other towns and villages in Namibia I visited charmed me with the warmth of its people and the beauty of the nature that encompasses wherever you go. With eleven ethnic groups and a strong German and South African heritage, Namibians pride themselves in their solidarity across a rich and diverse multi cultural society. Their hospitality – ‘gemütlichkeit’ – is unforgettable.
Transport from Cape Town to Walvis Bay: Air Namibia
Walvis Bay lagoon cruise: www.mola-namibia.com
Accommodation Swakopmund: Strand Hotel www.strandhotelsswakopmund.com
Quad Biking operator: www.daredeviladventures.com
All images by Allison Foat/CAPETOWNDIVA
FYI: This trip was sponsored by Namibia Tourism