Exploring Namibia’s Diamond Area
Exploring Namibia’s Diamond Area
12 November 2018 | Tourism
The towns of Oranjemund and Lüderitz are steeped in history and great places to spend a holiday.
As recently as a year ago, visitors were required to obtain a permit if they wished to visit this quaint, little mining town with its eclectic accumulation of houses and dwellings set on the northern bank at the mouth of the Orange River. Having been proclaimed as a Namibian town way back in 2011, President Hage Geingob only officially opened the town to the general public on 21st October 2017.
Having been a closed-off mining town for 81 years has both its advantages and disadvantages, one of the latter being the fact that the town was previously never developed to benefit from the tourism industry. While this still limits the town as a tourist attraction to some extent, much has been achieved and there is plenty to do and discover, so as to keep you well occupied. One of the major benefits derived from remaining inaccessible for so long, is the town’s rustic atmosphere as well as the sense of meeting a tight-knit community as soon as you enter. This small-town image is enhanced when encountering kids on the green lawns of the various public areas, playing quite innocently among the Oryx, which have wandered into town. Everyone seems to know each other when walking around town and visiting the local supermarket.
The town is an oasis amongst the otherwise bleak desert landscape, which surrounds it. Thanks to water from the perennial Orange River there are plenty of big trees, which provide welcome shade and you will come across some beautifully kept gardens.
Meeting Fanie Smit, the owner of “Op My Stoep Lodge”, certainly was a highlight of my stay in Oranjemund. Born in Argentina and emigrating first to South Africa and then Namibia at a young age, he originally worked for Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) before opening up a restaurant and eventually Op My Stoep Lodge. He is a self-taught chef and remaining in the lodge for dinner is an absolute treat, especially when choosing his speciality: steaks. Fanie can provide you with a wealth of information about the town in terms of its history and people. He remembers great anecdotes about the characters that the town has served up through the years. Don’t miss Op My Stoep for a chat with Fanie or just to enjoy delicious food and a cold beer.
What to See and Do
The Orange River is the only perennial river in the region and forms a floodplain with islands and sandbars in its river mouth. These provide a habitat for a variety of endemic plants, which in turn serve as home to a large diversity of bird species. During summer it is the sixth richest wetland in southern Africa, in terms of the number of birds supported. It is considered to be one of the most important coastal wetlands in Southern Africa and at times supports more than 20 000 water birds. Furthermore it is the only place in Southern Africa where the nearly exterminated Barlow’s lark can still be seen.
Play Golf amongst the Grazing Springbuck
Golf lovers can get their fix on the superb 18-hole golf course. Expect a few visitors on the fairways as the green grass attracts some springbuck, Oryx and ostriches.
Learn more about the town’s History
A visit to Jasper House Heritage Centre will show you how pioneering miners lived in years gone by. The displays give insight into how they adapted to living and working in an arid and challenging “Sperrgebiet” (restricted diamond area). The building in which this museum is found has its own historic significance in that it was the first mine manager’s residence.
Swartkop Nature Reserve
Situated nine kilometres east of the town and towards the North of the road, you will find the Swartkop Nature Reserve. Explore the park and find flora of the northern Richtersveld and plants typical of the Namib Desert as well as game wandering in this area.
Right from the first time I visited the sleepy little harbour town of Lüderitz, I fell in love with this place and it keeps growing each time I return to it. Just getting there is an adventure unto itself. Leaving the little settlement of Aus, you need to keep your eyes peeled for the famous feral horses at Garub, before hitting the dune belt, where you need to look out for drifting sand and small dunes forming in the road when the infamous Southwester has been pumping. Seeing Kolmanskop on your left 10 kilometres before reaching town, is the first reminder that you are entering an area rich in history, colourful characters and inhospitable, yet beautiful landscapes.
The town offers plenty of accommodation and a wide variety of activities, many focussing on the ghost mining-towns but also introducing you to the landscapes surrounding the Bay. Lüderitz is a great place to explore on foot. This allows for time to discover and admire the architecture of the early 1900’s and remain in awe of the decadence displayed by some of the buildings, which were the product of the diamond rush. Be sure to bring along plenty of time when visiting, as there are loads of buildings to keep you busy.
What to See and Do
One of the main for tourists to flock to Lüderitz is the iconic Kolmanskop ghost town - “Kolmanskuppe” as it was known under German rule. It is a typical example of how unsustainable exploitation of resources can lead to great and immediate wealth, to just as quickly collapse as a result of a mass exodus of people once nothing is left to exploit. Zacharias Lewala had no way of knowing what would happen once he picked up this funny stone in the Namib’s sand. The resulting diamond boom would cause the establishment of the mining town Kolmanskop in a most inhospitable and desolate region, in which normally no-one would have settled. The riches earned through diamonds were immense and the small town had all the luxuries money could buy, even a baker with a fully mechanised oven and an ice plant for cooling, not least to cool down the drinks offered at the bar. These days Kolmanskop is a ghost town where one can only imagine the decadence witnessed in that area for a relatively short period in time.
Go on a half-day tour with Namib Off-road Excursion and visit the ghost town of Elizabeth Bay a mere 25 kilometres south of Lüderitz. The ghost town is situated close the active Elizabeth Diamond Mine.
A small but extensive collection of artefacts relating to the town’s local history is displayed here - especially of the German colonial history.
Weather permitting, go for a day’s swimming and tanning at the white sandy beach of Agate Beach. Pick up semi-precious stones washed out onto the beach and you will understand where this beach derived its name from: the many Agate-stones.