Tuesday 19th July
The seaside resort town of Swakopmund is located on the north-western coast of Namibia 280 km from the country’s capital; Windhoek and around 30km from the countries main trading port of Walvis Bay. With a slightly cooler coastal climate and a relaxing holiday town feel, Swakopmund is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. It was founded in 1892 as the main harbour for German South-West Africa (which today is Namibia) and has a population of around 45 thousand. It prides itself on being the adventure capital of Namibia (that sounds familiar – where have we heard that phrase being used?) on account of being orientated around tourism and tourist activities whilst surrounded on three sides by the red colored sand of the oldest desert in the world; The Namib Desert, so it’s not surprising that one of Swakopmund’s most popular tourist activities is Sandboarding.
After leaving Cape Cross we arrived in Swakopmund late morning. Our first stop was at the office of the local tour operator where we were given a range of activities to choose from if we wished to partake. We had decided long before arriving (and long before departing from NZ) given our love of snowboarding as a family that sandboarding in Namibia was at the top of our to do list. We would be picked up the next morning from our “hotel” and taken to the dunes.
The anticipation that had been building reached it’s climax when we pulled up alongside a very respectable establishment called Hotel Deutches Haus in the centre of town. As we were duly informed that it was our accommodation for the next two nights our lowered expectations rose rapidly and although Lux Belle Mare it was not it …it certainly reminded us of some of the guesthouses we had stayed in when traveling through Germany. In fact you could have been forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in Germany as the architecture, signage and language in Swakopmund were predominately German orientated. As I was told prior to arriving there are parts of Namibia more German than Germany.
Andy and Mike our guides arranged our keys and handed them out as we unloaded the truck with our gear in preparation and anticipation of a couple of nights in crisp linen with a hot shower. As we traipsed through the main reception area to find our rooms we must have looked a sight to other guests given how sandy, rough and unwashed we all looked. Unpacking our bags I swear we had half the Namib desert in there…sand was everywhere. The rooms were fantastic in that they were 2 level with 2 single beds and a bathroom upstairs (BB & KK) and a double bed with bathroom downstairs (Noelle & I ). We set up the mobile kitchen in the hotel carpark and prepped a lunch and hung out eating sandwiches and having a beer with Andy giving a briefing on the next couple of days and with the exception of the group dinner later that evening (at the local Brauhouse – awesome German food and Beer by thw way) we were free to do what we wanted. With lunch eaten, dishes done and the kitchen packed everyone went their separate ways with most heading to their rooms for a shower. For the four of us I think we averaged a time of 20 minutes each that allowed us not only to remove sand from places I didn’t know sand could get into but we took advantage of the first consistent hot shower for around 2 weeks – bliss!
As a family we spent the afternoon walking around the town which was not large and didn’t seem busy especially with wide streets and what we considered to be little traffic. We found an antique shop as one of my key goals was to get an old map of Namibia when it was still South West Africa. We succeeded in finding a copy of one.
That evening as a group we went out for dinner and enjoyed a meal in civilization. After being out in the wilderness and around minimal people for a few weeks to walk into a pub full of people was a challenge on the senses. At that point we actually missed being in the bush however the food was great, the company great and the night great fun. With fresh linen under our backs we slept in what seemed like luxury (but in fact was probably no different to our beds back home).
Wednesday 20th July
A surprise was finding out that breakfast was included with our room, it was a small buffet and we entered the small but classical dining room in the morning to find Charles our cook and TK our driver enjoying theirs not having to work for the day. We were being picked up at 09.30am so we also enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and got our gear ready. Alter Action Sandboarding http://www.alter-action.info/web/ was the company who would take us to the dunes about 10 minutes drive on the outskirts of town. Swakopmund has the ocean on one side and sand on the other three. Arriving with their other customers of the day we congregated with the dunes we would be riding a short walk from where the vehicles were parked. Most of the customers were participating in the lie down boarding which uses a thin piece of board with the rider lying on it and heading down the sandy slope. We opted for the stand up boarding using snowboards and boots like we would for snow although the boards had a formica base. Once fitted out a briefing was given and then we walked the 300 or so meters to the base of the 100 meter dune.
The dune being just inside a designated national park meant no fixed structures allowed and lets face it having a lift on the dune would spoil a pristine landscape. Interesting fact #1Mad Max fury road was filmed in this area. The walk up was tortuous in the mid morning heat and although they had placed a water station (jerry can and cups) halfway up the free flowing sand in snowboard boots made you work for every inch of elevation. The view from the top was awesome with strong vistas out to all angles. A Nigerian oil rig was close to shore having been there for 2 years as the oil market bottomed out. Cheaper to lay it up than drill. Another briefing then came the messy bit…..waxing the board. Due to the friction created by the sand you need to wax the formica by taking a large dollop of wax and smearing it across the base. Using a handful of sand you then rub the wax off the board which gives it a finish that allows for gliding down.
Unlike riding on snow where your front foot is used to drive the board you need to use the powder riding technique of weighting your back foot minimizing weight on the front which not only stops it driving into the sand but just dead stops it. The sand gives a slower ride than snow and the boards are less responsive especially when turning so you really need speed to effect a turn. The boards do not have the edges a snowboard does as the sand moves and digging an edge in to carve a turn has no effect …you come to a stop. Best advice……. go straight, build speed then start some wide turns….if you try short turns you bleed speed and come to a halt pretty quick.
The first run was a lesson in sand and board dynamics and fine tuning the advice we had been given and all too soon the run was over…. no matter we had two more hours to enjoy. All of us got our riding dialed in pretty quickly and it was awesome to think that in around two weeks time we would be riding on snow. The hardest part was the walk up to the top which tested the fitness and seemed much harder than Mt Kinabalu ever was (probably wasn’t).
We all took tumbles which was part of the fun and our showers were possibly in vain and a waste of resources. Alter Action had a couple of staff filming and photographing on the dune capturing some great shots. They have a jump set up near the top of the dune and BB was keen to hit it , I wasn’t so much but peer (son) pressure forced me to line it up. Given the steepness of the dune as you enter the ramp you cannot see your landing so you hit it with blind faith going what seems to be fast but is actually not. Great fun although the landings were often more spectacular than the jump itself. BB also tried the lie down boarding racing down the dunes at some quick speeds.
The heat and walking up was energy sapping and after two hours it was over but we were buzzing with the experience and being able to fulfill another family goal. As usual we were the last ones off the dune and unknown to us as we were walking back to the vehicles their cameraman snapped a shot of what I personally feel to be one of the best family photos we have. Back at the vehicles an early lunch was provided as were a couple of esky’s of cold drinks. Noelle doesn’t drink soft drink but in this case she had a fanta from memory to quench her thirst. We also felt the kids had earnt theirs whilst I tried to rehydrate with a few cans of Windhoek lager. Many tourist related activities (and we live in an adventure capital ourselves) are often seen as slickly run mass market operations but the professional yet relaxed setup combined with Beth’s personal touch, the stunning exotic location and fun aspect of this completely met our expectations and values of what we enjoy. Price wise we felt it was awesome value as it was up to the individual how much they got out of it and we worked to extract maximum value. If your ever in Swakopmund take the opportunity to hit the slopes.
Back at the hotel we decided we had better do some laundry and talking to others in our group there was a laundromat a few blocks up the street. With a bag of clothes (most of our clothes actually) we found it and unlike other laundromats we have used this one was staffed and for NZ$10 we had our clothes washed, dried and folded for us. I then found a hair salon and got a Namibian cut again for a pretty good price. Laundry done we then hung out at the hotel repacking our bags in preparation for the next morning. For dinner a few of us decided to revisit the Brauhaus we ate at the night before. It was packed and we couldn’t get seats so we tried other places around the town with all of them full. This was a Wednesday night ? and in the end we found a quirky pizza joint that had 3-4 tables and a small bar (that was full) but we were able to get a couple of fantastic pizzas and took them back to the hotel to eat. As it was we were pretty flat after our mornings exertions. We were meeting at 9am the next morning to reload the truck and head towards our next destination which was back into the desert. This mini break had been refreshing and the realization was starting to set in that we only had three more days left until we reached Windhoek and the end of our overland trip. Even worse it meant that our extended leave from NZ was fast coming to a close.
Mineral mining is the main driver behind the towns economy with it having seen major growth over the past years. It seemed that all the major mining nations had representation in the area which gave the town a real international, yet frontier feel. The housing stock was similar to NZ houses in that they were modern and possibly the only difference was that in the yards most didn’t have grass…it was sand. Imagine raking the lawn rather than mowing it. We visited a real estate office to get a feel for local house prices and it was attractive………locals said that prices were high but in Queenstown terms they were half to a third of the price.
We would love to go back and spend some more time in Swakopmund and use it as a base to head further up the Skeleton Coast. The vibe of Swakopmund compared to it’s larger and close neighbor of Walvis Bay suited us and again showed the diversity of Namibia and what it offers the traveler. Once more we had been spoilt and fortunate to visit a lessor seen part of the world but a part that will live on in our memories for a long time to come. If you want to experience a little bit of German heritage and history with an African flavor then Swakopmund is your place.
Thank you Alta Action for the wonderful experience !