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Saturday 11 Feb 2012
Kolmanskop, Namibia

The town consumed by sand dunes

or many visitors to Luderitz, one of the main attractions is the ghost town of Kolmanskop (or Kolmannskuppe in German) which appears on your left along the tarmac road just before you reach Luderitz.

The town was built just over 100 years ago when the diamond-mining boom started taking off in the area, and became a successful centre of trade, generating vast wealth for it's inhabitants allowing them to build mansions, a hospital, a theatre as well as a school. Prospectors from around the world descended on the town and some decided to settle, bringing their families, and adding their own contribution to the town's architecture. The grand theater hall, which doubled as a gymnasium, would regularly host lush dinners and concerts.

Around World War 1, the diamond reserves started drying up, and by 1954 the town abandoned. The nearby town of Luderitz became the new administrative centre in the area and Kolmanskop was left to the elements.

Ghost town
Ghost town in the desert

This is exactly why it is such a fascinating place: situated right smack in the middle of a wind-swept section of the Namib desert, the surrounding sands have encroached on the settlement taking over many of the buildings. The name "ghost town" couldn't be more appropriate as you wander down the sand-filled corridors of the hospital and up a creaky art-deco-styled staircase in one of the mansions, it was really quite a spooky experience. There aren't many places that you can see a sanddune forming in a living room!

Sand dune invading...
Sand dune in the living room!

I drove along in the morning with a Swiss/German couple staying in the hostel. Luderitz was experiencing a particularly nasty sandstorm at the time, so we were going to have to battle the elements ourselves as we wandered around the sand-scape of Kolmanskopp. Our guide was a fairly camp chappy that started off the tour by sitting down at the piano and singing the Namibian national anthem in the former theatre. He had impressive vocal skills, I told him he should be on Popstars!

The walls were all hand...
The walls were all hand painted

Wandering through the houses, you got a real sense of the grandeur of the era: old-style electrical sockets and the remains of chandeliers hung off the walls and ceiling in each room, plus you could still see remnants of the Art-Deco styled painted walls gradually chipping away. The mere fact that the walls were painted with such intricate detail, rather than wall-papered, shows the amount of money that must have been spent on decorating alone! Ice was delivered from Cape Town and was stored in large concrete rooms. Each house had an antique refrigerator which would have been cooled by a chunk of ice delivered each morning. The relics of days gone by were everywhere (even the cashier in the gift shop used a 1920s till) and were surprisingly well preserved.

It was nice that after the initial guided tour we were allowed to wander through the houses by ourselves, as this allowed me to get some very nice shots. This is considering the fact that the area surrounding the town is part of the Sperrgebeit (Forbidden Zone) where diamonds can still be found. Tourists are strictly banned from entering these areas... or even from stepping off the road on the way into town. If you happened to find a diamond and didn't report it, you'd earn a sizeable prison sentence.

Sand dune interior design
Sand dune interior design

While on the tour, the guide described how the residents always had issues battling sandstorms: sweeping the front porch was a non-stop activity. As I got blown around by the sandy winds, it was clear that it wouldn't have taken long for the desert to take over once a house was abandoned.

Kolmanskop closed early enough at 1pm so I decided to explore Luderitz a little more and take in some of the German colonial sights. It was quite a charming little town with a petite but very pretty waterfront. It was so nice, in fact, that I was seriously considering staying another night here relaxing, although that would have meant sacrificing visiting Walvis Bay and Swakopmund as I wouldn't have had time to do both.

I had a huge helping of mixed grilled fish (Luderitz is famous for it's fish and apparently the best oysters in the world!) and made the decision to leave Luderitz in the afternoon and head off north toward Sesriem. This of course meant tackling Namibia's infamous gravel roads...

Namibia only really has ONE main tarmac road that runs the length of the country. Minor roads are predominantly gravel, but I was quick to learn that wasn't all bad. In fact, despite a few hidden dips that appeared out of nowhere and sections of road that were muddy, my 2WD VW Polo could handle them with no problems! Most of the gravel tracks were of very good quality and not corrugated like the ones I experienced in Australia (the vibration from those almost caused my car engine to fall out!), and you could be forgiven for thinking you could drive along at 120 Kph... until you applied the brakes, then all hell broke loose! It was as if I was driving on ice, and applying the brakes almost put the car into a spin! Solution? Just to apply less petrol!

Thankfully 95% of the route was dry for me, unlike some other people I had met who got stuck in the mud.

(continued in next entry...)

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Sithern Efrika

Travel blog by peterforan

Great White Shark cage diving

Great White Shark cage diving


20 days to sample the "other" down-under... a trip covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in February. Cape Town to Vic Falls get the treatment, while I mix in a safari or two... Now where did I put that elephant gun?

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Photo Album

  • Sand dune...

    Kolmanskop

    Namibia

    Sand dune invading colonial house
  • Sand dune...

    Kolmanskop

    Namibia

    Sand dune interior design
  • Ghost town

    Kolmanskop

    Namibia

    Ghost town
  • Ghost town

    Kolmanskop

    Namibia

    Ghost town