Slow days in Swakopmund

by Omega Mulwafu (Malawi)

I didn't expect to find Namibia


Most people travelling to Namibia head for the desert game reserves and dunes but there’s a lot to be said for the spending a few slow days in Swakopmund by the coast. What seems to be a long narrow road to nowhere in the desert suddenly reveals a European- style town, where palm trees flank the road and the ocean is visible in a manner most magnificent. This is Swakopmund, a little town on the Atlantic Ocean at edge of the Namib Desert on the South Western part of Africa. Founded in 1892 during the period of German colonial rule, it served as
the territory’s main harbour for years. The German influence, evident
in the cuisine and architecture, adds
to the time-out-of-place atmosphere of this little gem. Many of the old buildings housing shops, offices and accommodation are etched with the year in which they were built, while the roads are paved with concrete and not the usual tar. Swakopmund is much loved by Namibians as a welcome respite from the heat of the interior. Namibia typically has a dessert climate. The town is popular among visitors for of its old-world charm and relaxed atmosphere. The Kristall Galerie has to be Swakopmund’s best-kept secret. Few people know that Swakopmund is home to the world’s biggest quartz crystal cluster, weighing 14,100 kilograms and estimated to be more than 520-million years old. It took five years to dig out of the Otjua Tourmaline Mine, which is a two-hour drive away in the district of Karibib. In the Galerie, tours around a tunnel, a replica of the original mine are available. At the end of the tour you can opt to have jewellery custom-made while you watch. The Swakopmund Museum, founded in 1951, is small but comprehensive. Artefacts from the colonial era are on display with an informative exhibition, which shows the origins of the indigenous Namib tribes. The National Marine Aquarium is a must see for all visitors especially at around noon, when the sharks are fed. The Omeg House – a snake museum – is not for the faint hearted. The Atlanta Theatre houses the cinema and screens mainstream and art films on a
rotational basis. The more
bookish will enjoy the
House, a major
landmark of the
city, which houses the public 
library. A wide selection of hotels and restaurants and several coffee shops are a common sighting here. The Swakopmund lighthouse, built in 1903 at a height of 28 meters
 is an important landmark in the city. A must visit, is the State House, which was built as a magistrate’s
court in 1902; today it stands immaculately empty but makes for a good picture. No gamblers paradise, however the seaside town has a casino at the Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Centre. Like most African cities, curio markets are popular here and an appreciation of the Namibian culture can be felt in carvings that reflect the aesthetics of the various Namibian tribes. A bus ride after a 24-hour trip did not deter me from yet another ride – a quad bike ride! I’m no adrenaline junkie, but even I let out a squeal or several on those glorious sand dunes. Day trips into the dessert are frequently taken and are available. This town has something for everyone, be it camel rides into the dessert, balloon rides or indeed putting greens for the golfing enthusiast! Swakopmund is small, which sort of explains why there perhaps isn’t a need for an official public transport system. But what there is probably works better. If you’re standing on the street, some one in a car will hoot and offer to take you to your destination – even if it’s Walvis Bay, some 33km away. It’s a typical Swakopmund solution. The town does, however, suffer frequent sand storms, which keep the road sweepers busy. Not for nothing is Swakopmund known to be the cleanest city in Southern Africa. Life here is tranquil and you have to appreciate that; a late evening walk to the beach felt safe too. My 2-day bus ride through a country surrounded by sand dunes culminated in a very satisfying break. Bracing immigration officers and road travel delays on a long bus ride was all very worth it after all!