Tsau //Khaeb National Park, the forgotten Park

Elisabeth Bay - Photo: Heiner Dillmann

Tsau //Khaeb National Park, the forgotten Park

09 September 2019 | Tourism

Heiner Dillmann

Formerly known as the Sperrgebiet National Park, the Tsau //Khaeb National Park spanning an area of roughly 26 000 km² was proclaimed as recently as 2008. The Name “Tsau //Khaeb” is local vernacular for “soft sand”, which well describes this as yet undeveloped conservation area.

The Sperrgebiet was declared as a restricted mining area in September 1908 by the German Colonial Administration, giving sole mining rights to the Deutsche Diamantengesellschaft, following the discovery of a diamond near Kolmanskop by the railway worker Zacharias Lewala. After the capitulation of the German administration in 1915, the mining rights were transferred to De Beers, who kept it as sole owner until 1990, when the government of newly independent Namibia purchased 50% of the shares and NamDeb was formed.

The park essentially remained undisturbed and closed to the public for more than 100 years. While aimed at protecting the mineral wealth of the area, it contributed largely to the safeguarding the succulent Karoo ecosystem.

The park has a giant rock arch, a meteor crater, fossil and archaeological sites, including one of Africa’s most important shipwreck discoveries and some of the most pristine and wild landscapes of the planet. Some 1 050 plant species are known to occur in the park - nearly 25% of the entire flora of Namibia is represented on less than 3% of the country’s surface. This has led to the listing of the Succulent Karoo as one of the world’s top 34 biodiversity hotspots.

Currently access to the Tsau //Khaeb National Park is still restricted with only the Museum at the Kolmanskop Ghost Town being open to the public and two concessions, one for a day tour from Lüderitz to the Pomona Ghost Town and Bogenfels and one for a day tour to Elisabeth Bay having been awarded.

4x4 vehicle is the preferred choice
I am fortunate to have visited various sites within the Tsau //Khaeb National Park which included visits to the ghost towns of Elizabeth Bay and Pomona as well as the world-renowned Bogenfels (rock arch). As part of a unique trip to Oranjemund, I was fortunate enough to join Ulf Grünewald of the Lüderitz Nest Hotel and 21 Rotarians, who were allowed by NamDeb, to undertake a day trip through what was then still known as the “Sperrgebiet No. 1” (situated between Lüderitz and Oranjemund.

We left Lüderitz in the early morning hours having to stop at the security gate, which was easy to pass on account of the two official Namdeb-vehicles, which accompanied us, making sure that nobody got “lost”. After a short stop at Grillental an old water station where fresh water was pumped from underground to the mines at Pomona and Bogenfels, we drove onwards to Schwarzer Berg (black mountain), where we turned off the main road onto an off-road track leading through dunes and sand. An off-road vehicle is the preferred choice in this area - it required some serious pushing to on or part to ensure that all vehicles managed to reach Pomona Mine, which remains exactly as was when it was abandoned all these years ago. Although the wind and climate has taken its toll on the buildings and equipment, one can still distinguish processing areas (under roof), diamond sieves and other mining equipment. It is only a short drive from there to the Pomona ghost town, where we enjoyed lunch in the school building, which is still being maintained and used. Amongst the ruins of Pomona photographers will find prime photo opportunities.

Sparkling diamonds in the moonlight
From Pomona we were required to pass through various valleys, of which the Märchental (fairy valley) is probably the best known. Here all loose sand and gravel has been removed to sieve out the alluvial diamonds, which have been deposited in this area by currents and wind. An urban legend of Märchental tells of workers sliding over the sand on belly-boards during the nights under a full moon, in the process easily picking diamonds which were sparkling in the moonlight. While prevailing, strong winds have redeposited some sand in these valleys, visitors can still clearly distinguish the bare rock that was exposed over time by this mining operation.

Early in the afternoon we reached the Bogenfels, which was on this occasion covered by a thick bank of mist. This is a regular occurrence - on the four occasions that I visited the Bogenfels, it was hidden by mist twice. Being allowed to view the crystal-clear pool of water right under the arch compensated for the lack of a photo-view of the rock arch anchored in the sea.

From the Bogenfels you need to drive back onto the main road and as you drive towards Oranjemund the landscape offers less excitement. Once you approach Oranjemund, the road tends to remain closer to the shore and you are greeted by huge mining dumps comprising of sifted sand, which had previously been collected from the beaches and dumped back along the beach in huge mountains. You witness the tremendous destruction caused by this mining operation, after having had the opportunity to marvel at the Sperrgebiet, which could on the other hand only remain intact and be preserved on account of the mine’s existence in the first place.

Hopefully nature will find a way, in which it can restore some of the damage done to the beaches of the southern Sperrgebiet once the diamonds are depleted and diamond mining stops, leaving these breath-taking landscapes for tourists to enjoy once the touring-concessions have been formulated. Until then, the Tsau //Khaeb National Park will still remain the “forgotten park”.

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