Exploring the Sperrgebiet
Photo: Wiebke Schmidt
Exploring the Sperrgebiet
Unforgettable days in Lüderitz and the Tsau llKhaeb National Park
14 September 2020 | Tourism
The longer you stay in Lüderitz, the more you begin to fall in love with this charming harbour town. There is plenty to see and explore in this town and surrounding area.
I used to regard Lüderitz as being a quaint little town on the Atlantic coast in the far southwest of Namibia, but after spending several days in this harbour town it quickly became dear to my heart.
Similar to the rest of Namibia, the tourism sector in Lüderitz is suffering heavily on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of lying down, this has caused some of the local tourism operators to offer discounted rates on accommodation and meals as well as on tours, whether on land or by sea. This is a perfect opportunity for people who have never visited Lüderitz - or Lüderitzbucht as many “Buchters” still prefer to call it. Under the slogan “Local is lekker - Lüderitz is lekkerder“, this promotion will last until January 2021.
Establishments like Obelix Guesthouse and Zeepaard Boat Tours facilitate trips to Halifax Island, while Namib Offroad Excursions will take you on a half day trip to Elisabeth Bay, as does Coastways Tours Lüderitz, which also takes you on a tour to Pomona and the Bogenfels (the well-known Arch Rock). Lüderitz Safaris & Tours do not only show you around town, but also provide peninsula excursions to the old Sturmvogelbucht and similar peculiaritities around the bay. We were fortunate to be hosted by the restaurant Portuguese Fisherman, which offers great specials on the most delicious fish dishes. Visitors can choose and enjoy the complete offer of dishes or obviously decide on just one specialty.
The longest cul de sac ever
A journey of little more than 800 kilometres lies ahead of my colleague Tanja Bause and I, as we leave Windhoek for Lüderitz early in the morning. I have not been to the southwest of Namibia for more than 20 years, so I am very excited to see what this part of Namibia has to offer.
Eventually we reach and pass the small village of Aus - the settlement deriving its name from the Khoekhoe-language, meaning “big snake“. Being a former site of an internment camp from the First World War, this is where arguably the longest cul de sac of the world starts. Over the next 125 kilometres we are not allowed to leave the road, as we drive through the Sperrgebiet, the restricted diamond area. The rugged and vast landscape does offer a unique highlight though: just 20 kilometers after leaving Aus you reach Garub, a former police station of the Schutztruppe dating back to colonial times. It is here that you encounter the much acclaimed Wild Horses of the Namib - feral horses that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert over a period of more than hundred years. Luck is on our side, as we encounter some of them directly along the street. Among them is a herd of eight adult animals with a foal, which is a welcome sight, after these animals have become endangered on account of hyenas that have over the recent years targeted the foals of these world-renowned animals.
In Lüderitz we book into Obelix Guesthouse, a cosy establishment comprising of a restaurant with 15 rooms and family accommodation. It is managed by stalwart Brenda Kotze.
In the evening we are introduced to the members of the initiative “Lokal is lekker - Lüderitz is lekkerder“. They have followed their invitation and they plan to take us around Lüderitz and its surrounding areas - on land and by sea. We get to know Heiko Metzger of Zeepaard Boat Tours, Heinz Manns of Namibia Offroad Excursion, Luffie Druker of Coastways Tours Lüderitz, Marion Schelkle, who owns Lüderitz Safari Tours and has been promoting this town for decades, and finally Joel Fontes, who runs the Portuguese Fisherman, a man who literally spoils you with Portuguese specialities.
One highlight after the other
The day greets us with a bright blue sky and we are looking forward to our tour with the catamaran of Heiko Metzger. Fortunate for us, the ocean is calm and the Zeepaard is moving steadily in the bay’s waters. Returning to Namibia after he spent eleven years circumnavigating the world with his family, the skipper, who originates from Swakopmund, finally settled in Lüderitz, where he has lived ever since.
Starting from Shearwater Bay and sailing via Penguin Island, we pass Dias Point. Apart from the lighthouse and the former tower hosting the foghorn, one can see the spot, where the Portuguese navigator and seafarer, Bartholomeus Dias, erected a marker, the Dias Cross. Not far from here, we reach Halifax Island, which is inhabited by a small colony of the endangered African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus). Metzger proves to be a fountain of information about the living conditions of these flightless seabirds, and he tells us more about the guano mining taking place as well as the whaling history of this part of the coast, which still saw that activety right up to the time when World War I broke out.
Around noon we return to the waterfront and visit Joel Fontes’ restaurant. Joel has been living in Lüderitz for the past seven years and has been running the Portuguese Fisherman for about two and a half years. Enjoying bright sunshine with no wind to disturb the occasion, we experience a first small taste of Portuguese cuisine on the terrace of the restaurant.
It is here that we again meet Heinz Manns, a Lüderitz native, who will take us on a tour to Elisabeth Bay during the afternoon. The bay is located in the Sperrgebiet, which only last year has been formally turned into the Tsau IIKhaeb National Park.
After picking up the required permit at the former mining town of Kolmanskop - now a ghost town -, we are ready to depart to the less visited ghost town of Elisabeth Bay - often simply referred to as “Ebay”. We travel roughly 45 kilometers through the Namib Desert, before reaching the still active diamond extraction site of Elisabeth Bay Mine. Manns tells us, that this area must have been a very lucrative mining site before World War I. Thus, in the first year of its operation, after the construction of the plant and the town had been finished, diamonds to the value of 12.5 million carats were recovered at Elisabeth Bay - that amounts to roughly 34 000 carats per day.
Similar to the world-renowned Kolmanskop, this small town was founded at the beginning of the 20th century after the initial discovery of diamonds. The town however only remained inhabited and active for a couple of years. Today you can take a stroll among the ruins and try to get a glimpse of the atmosphere that must have prevailed here during those far-off years. The walls of built structures have been eroded over time by the salty air and the ever-prevailing wind. Visiting the ruins, you can visit the casino and most of the houses. Over decades of neglect, lichens - the original form of life - have formed on the outside of the wooden window frames. It seems as though nature is ready to reclaim its territory.
Trip into forbidden territory
During today´s trip we move even further south into the Tsau ?Khaeb National Park. Luffie Druker and his son Ramon of Coastways Tours Lüderitz (CTL) are introducing this natural wonder to us.
Our first stop is at Grillenthal, which is a pump station built around 1911. Fresh water used to be extracted from the underground Koichab River. Making use of a 600 kilometers long railtrack, potable water was thus provided to the diamond mining towns of Charlottental, Pomona and Märchenthal or for that matter Idasthal, Bogenfels and Kolmanskop.
Around lunch time, we reach the former diamond mine of Pomona. In the immediate time after its foundation around 1912, about 500 people lived here. Pomona comprised of villas, a school and a medical centre, and existed for nearly 19 years. It was finally abondoned in 1931 as a result of a steady decline in diamonds found here.
We continue our journey through a fascinating moon-like landscape. You cannot help but feel, that this area has remained unchanged since the formation of earth. Finally we reach the Bogenfels, a rock arch reaching into the Southern Atlantic. Long before we reach it, we can distinguish the arch majestically rising above the surrounding landscape. This imposing arch with a height of almost 60 meters and a width of up to 18 meters, was carved out by the sea aided by harsh weather conditions over millions of years.
Needless to say, we are again spoilt by Joel Fontes upon our return to Lüderitz and literally pass out on our beds after returning to Obelix Guesthouse.
Today it is Marion Schelkle’s turn to show us, what Lüderitz has to offer. She is a true native of this coastal town, and has been a tour guide and the business owner of Lüderitz Safaris & Tours for many years. It thus goes without saying that she not only knows the official history of this charming little town, but she is also familiar with some of the local family sagas.
We get to see the historic buildings of Lüderitz, including the well-known and neat row of historic houses with their colourful exteriors and designs, as well as the Felsenkirche, that unique German community church overlooking the bay. We will pass by the church again in the late afternoon, when the sun shines through the colourful and artfully decorated church windows - a spectacle that should not be missed.
Around noon we join the peninsula tour to Sturmvogelbucht, where a Norwegian whaling station was once found. Shortly after it came into operatiion and after only eight whales had been processed, the 1st World War broke out, causing it to be abandoned. The station never resumed activities, and today only a Norwegian log cabin and rusted boilers continue to bear witness of its existence.
“Lüderitz is closer than you think“
Before we return home, we take a detour past Kolmanskop, the most well-known of the ghost towns in the Sperrgebiet. Accompanied by tour guide William Thomson, we explore the buildings along the main road. It is fascinating to see how progressive these people were, with the current visitor quickly starting to appreciate the economic wellbeing that the local German citizenry experienced at that point in time.
We bid Lüderitz goodbye with a heavy heart reflecting on the wonderful days, which we were allowed to spend together with great people in a special place that offers so much to see and experience. A visit to the end of the longest cul de sac in the world is definitely worth your while. And there is truth in what we were told more than just once by the “Buchters”: “Lüderitz is much closer than you think“.
For more information visit: obelixguesthouse.com