Updated: Nov 8, 2018
The Well-Polished Diamond
Namibia, November 2016.
Namibia has always been the sub-Saharan African country I wanted to visit first. When the opportunity arose to participate in a ten-day photography tour organised by Fotografie e Viaggi, an Italian company specialising in photography holidays and workshops throughout the world, I jumped at it.
One of the locations in Namibia that has fascinated me the most was Kolmanskop near Luderitz. This was not part of the itinerary of the tour, and so I decided to arrive a couple of days early and take a side trip by myself.
After the flight with Qatar Airways to Windhoek and an overnight stay, I took a domestic flight to Luderitz on Air Namibia. I picked up a rental car at the tiny airport and started to explore.
Digging in the Past
The main attraction is most certainly Kolmanskop, a diamond mining ghost town of German origin in the desert just outside Luderitz. Founded in the early 1900s after rich diamond deposits were found, this village had a bowling alley, a community centre that doubled as a theatre, an ice-making factory and a full-fledged hospital boasting Africa’s first X-ray machine. the main purpose of the machine was to check if miners had swallowed any diamonds before they went on leave. Kolmanskop was abandoned in the mid-1950s after richer diamond deposits were found elsewhere.
The people took away whatever they could carry and left everything else behind. The unforgiving Namib desert did the rest and created the present Kolmanskop. Houses and buildings are half buried by sand, which also penetrated into the colourful interiors, creating surreal still lifes.
The Luderitz area has more to offer – the beach on the Atlantic with a small, old shipwreck closely guarded by a lone Cape fur seal, lagoons with flamingos, and some roaming oryxes and gazelles.
The Roadtrip Begins
I returned to Windhoek, where I met the other participants in the photo trip upon their arrival. After picking up the four-wheel drive cars we drove towards our first stop, Sossusvlei. Here we found Namibia’s iconic and extremely photogenic sand dunes. The reddish sand continuously changes colour throughout the day, from a warm beige at midday to deep oranges around sunrise and sunset.
The Name Says It All
Passing through Sossusvlei you reach Deadvlei, another of Namibia’s highlights. It is a hike from the carpark to Deadvlei and the November sun is unforgiving, but it is well worth the effort. The white salt and clay pan with fossilised trees surrounded by the orange sand dunes is phenomenal for photographers – Deadvlei means Dead Marsh in Afrikaans. To my surprise there were quite a few tourists roaming around, so patience is needed if you want people-free photos.
We drove to the coast, the location of Walvis Bay and Swakopsmund. Here the German colonial heritage is felt in every nook and cranny. From the language the people speak to the Baeckerei on the street corner to the architecture, everything oozes Germany.
Further down the coast on a sandy peninsula, huge colonies of Cape fur seals were attending to newborn pups, defending them from relentless attacks by seagulls and jackals.
Danger is Still Lurking
This is called the Skeleton Coast, and with good reason. We found two of many wrecked ships. One is a rusty carcass of an old fishing boat near Walvis Bay, home to a couple of enamoured seals. The other was the Zeila, a fishing trawler that ran aground in 2008, now colonised by nesting cormorants.
It is impressive to see how well-organised Namibia is. My guess is that diamond dollars and inherited German efficiency have something to do with that. For example, you can drink water from the tap anywhere in Namibia, or at least everywhere we went. The gravel roads are well maintained even in the most remote areas. Things were spotlessly clean and well-maintained everywhere we went, and there was absolutely no sign of garbage anywhere. There was mobile network coverage everywhere, although I’m not sure that was a blessing for me. It was absolutely safe to go anywhere, even in Windhoek – there don’t appear to be any of the problems many other African cities have.
Too Close for Comfort
We left the coast and went in direction of Twyfelfontein, located inland, in search of the endangered desert elephants. In the afternoon we found a small herd consisting of a matriarch elephant with her siblings and young calves. We came too close for the matriarch’s liking, and she stormed towards us. We had just enough time to turn the car and speed off; this encounter that was too close for comfort.
The Best I Have Had in a Long Time
We passed Solitaire near Uis, consisting of a petrol station with a restaurant and bakery in the middle of nowhere, twice on our travels. We were promised we would find the finest apple pie in Africa here, and after consuming two huge pieces, we can testify to that.
For the next three days we roamed around Etosha National Park. It was the dry season, and the animals were drawn to the artificial water holes around the park. Here we encountered a couple of rhinos sparring with each other at the edge of a water hole near sunset. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A Roadside Dinner
During our safari drives we encountered all kinds of animals, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, elephants, many kinds of gazelles, and in the far distance we spotted some lions. A truly special sight was the cheetah mum and cub near the side of the road having a freshly caught Thomson’s gazelle for dinner, whilst we enjoyed the spectacular sunset.
Etosha doesn’t have huge numbers of wildlife as some other African safari destinations do. Sometimes it takes some driving to spot the animals, but we certainly had some very special encounters.
Namibia is incredibly versatile with its fantastic coast, stunning desert, and the wildlife in Etosha Park. This, combined with the beautiful and kind people of Namibia, made this photography trip truly special.
All images © 2018 Marco Duyves