Luderitz - A diamond in the Rough

Luderitz - A diamond in the Rough

18 November 2019 | Tourism

Surrounded by the mighty Namib Desert, Luderitz lies like a rough-cut gem along the notoriously treacherous southwestern coast of Namibia. A picturesque harbor town and thriving fishing hub, steeped in history. Founded in 1883, Lüderitzbucht (its original name in full) was the first German settlement of the then German colony Deutsch-Südwestafrika. A tobacco merchant from Bremen in Germany, Adolf Lüderitz, had instructed his representative Heinrich Vogelsang to purchase the Bay of Angra Pequena and surrounding coastal area from Nama leader Joseph Frederiks, intending to offer an alternative to German settlers, who at that time were leaving their motherland in droves for North America, where they were no longer lived under German rule.

Zacharias Lewala, a railway-employee found the first diamond in 1908, which resulted in a diamond rush all along that stretch of the Namib Desert. It led to wealth and prosperity in the otherwise barren landscape of the desert.

Kolmanskop

10km inland from Luderitz is the abandoned ghost town of Kolmanskop where the remnants of the affluent “diamond rush” era lie almost buried by the encroaching Namib Desert’s sand. The truncating roofs and large bay windows of these ornate buildings erected in style with the German Belle Époque era, overlook a vast, lonely landscape, where brown hyena footprints stand in stark contrast to the residences of times past. The true scale of these homes and their ornate architectural detail can only truly be appreciated in person, guided by the tales and sagas of diamond discovery and the affluent lifestyle of this bygone era. Kolmanskop is open from Monday to Sunday (8am to 1pm) with guided tours at 9:30am or 11am. The best time to visit Kolmanskop is in the early morning, when the wind is still and the golden light best showcases this abandoned gem. Permits can be purchased from Lüderitz Safaris & Tours - a hub of information on Bismarck Street in the centre of Luderitz.

Become a Local

Many activities on offer in Luderitz take one out of the town itself to the various attractions that line the coast. However, setting time aside to wander the streets, breath in the fresh sea air, speak to the locals, stop for coffee and appreciate the historical buildings and romantic lifestyle, is the charm of Luderitz. Despite the harsh weather conditions and remote location Luderitz retains its old world charm, with fine examples of stately German colonial architecture, picturesque on Diamantberg, and along the dust roads of the old town. Many of these stately homes are open to the public and a map can be obtained at the information center. The Luderitz museum on Diaz Street houses a collection of memorabilia about the history of Luderitz and Namibia - a worthwhile visit to contextualize the rich history of the town. Make sure to visit the Felsenkirche, one of the oldest Evangelical Lutheran churches in the country built in 1912 - an iconic Gothic-inspired landmark in the Luderitz townscape. The striking stained glass windows are best appreciated in the afternoon light.

Wine and Dine

I am reminded of being in continental Europe, Greece, Turkey or the Middle East as I sit at the Diaz Coffee shop, sucking fresh oysters at a café on the harbor or enjoying traditional Cataplana at the Portuguese Seafood Restaurant - a nod to the history of the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, who erected the limestone beacon (Padrão) at Dias Point, before successfully rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1448 (almost four centuries prior to the annexing of German Lüderitzbucht). At night the dimly lit, frosted-streetlights create an eerie, movie-set atmosphere set in years gone by. Join the locals for a beer and some home-cooked food at Barrels Restaurant or sit at the harbor with take-away food and absorb the beauty of the harbor lights that glisten on the water.

Don’t miss out on experiencing the harbor at dawn and jump on board an early morning Catamaran Safari accompanied by dolphins, penguins, seals and if you are lucky a Southern Right Whale. It is a great way to get an overview of the layout of Luderitz and the surrounding islands that are steeped in history. Book a day in advance and pack a windbreaker, you wont regret it.

Accommodation

Accommodation options are varied in price, style, quality and location. For the more adventurous traveler the opportunity to camp-out in the elements in a sheltered boat wreck at Dias Point or a perch on the rocks of Shark Island peninsula, or a sleep-over in a church, may be your call. One can choose to stay at the comfortable Lüderitz Nest Hotel with uninterrupted views of the sea or any of the numerous coastal establishments. Probably the most charming way to experience Lüderitz is to stay in one of the historical mansions - the self-catering stables of the colorful Sandrose House is an experience not to be missed. Whichever you choose, you will be assured of hospitality and loads of information. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.

The Peninsula

Pack a picnic and get ready to explore the 60km round trip of the Peninsula, where you could very well be on the moon. The vast expanse of the moon landscape and the ocean breeze has a way of numbing the mind and feeding the soul. Explore the many fjords, coves and bays, where flocks of pink flamingos ride the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Signature shipwrecks line the treacherous shores and if you are lucky enough, you might spot a brown hyena skulking along the shoreline. Have a braai at Große Bucht with expansive views of the ocean, stop and watch windsurfers tackling the lagoons at speeds pushing 100km/h and enjoy a stop at Dias Point, where a replica of the original Padrão can be visited. A little coffee shop nestled on the shore is a welcome break away from the wind.

With patience and a sharp eye, you may spot Southern Right Whales in the bay, welcomed back after years of evading the coastline in fear of the whale hunting which took place at Sturmvogelbucht until 1914. Remnants of the inhumane whaling station still rest on the shores - a historical site nonetheless. There are many different ways to experience the Peninsula, from wandering the shores uninterrupted for miles, to Kayaking around Halifax Island (weather permitting) or taking on the challenge of fishing in the bay (permits compulsory). For more information about the activities of the Peninsula visit the information centre where you can equip yourself with a detailed self-drive map marked with areas to explore by off-road vehicle or quad bike - an activity to add to you itinerary.

Much like the rest of Namibia one needs time to fully experience the romance of Luderitz, and it is worth planning your trip well in advance, to ensure that you don’t miss out on the many activities it has to offer. To round off your Luderitz trip take an exclusive guided tour through the restricted Sperrgebiet diamond mining area - to explore the Old Elizabeth Bay Mine or Bogenfels Rock Arch - and further uncover the mystery of this historical area. Permits are mandatory when entering this area and booking in advance is suggested.

As you bid a fond adieu to the romantic town of Luderitz, keep an eye out for the legendary wild horses that roam the sparse landscape between Luderitz and Aus. Decedents of animals abandoned by German troops in the early 1900’s, these feral beauties are the only wild horses in existence to have adapted to the harsh desert conditions and stand as a universal symbol of freedom without restraint - the perfect way to sum up a holiday in the splendid, hospitable and yet inhospitable isolation of the deep south.

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