Standing on Namibia’s shore, I realised this was the first time I’d ever stood at the edge of a desert and dipped my toes in the ocean. One item for the bucket list ticked off right there.
It was completely unexpected. Namibia is a country that I never thought of visiting before the opportunity arose. But once arriving on a pleasant Air Namibia flight and being shuttled to the mid-way mark between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, I felt an immediate sense of calm and couldn’t help but be bewitched by the region’s stark beauty.
While a trip packed with activities lay ahead, the slowness of the region’s tranquil pace was infectious. I was here for work, but I felt a weight lift. It was as if I was on holiday.
The home base for the trip was the gorgeous Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Centre. Opened in the mid 90s, the hotel sits within walking distance of both the CBD, the beach and several restaurants down on the waterfront.
It’s a charmingly designed building, complementing the original structure, which used to be a railway station built in 1902. The manager tells me the railway track used to run through the area that now boasts the hotel’s swimming pool.
The Legacy-owned hotel can double as easily for business clientele as it can for tourists looking to lay down in luxury. It houses conference facilities, a private cinema, event spaces and several boardrooms. Aside from its pool and gym facilities, the hotel also offers a delightfully old-school bar and lounge called the Whistle Stop and Platform One, a sedate Victorian-style restaurant.
On the first night my fellow travel journos and I were treated to some of the chef’s finest offerings – usually served at a buffet.
We started with red pear, walnut and blue cheese salad and, for the main, were presented with a smorgasbord of seafood including battered calamari, cheese-stuffed mussels and, as the centrepiece, perhaps the largest kabeljou I’ve ever seen up close, grilled to perfection.
My appetite got the best of me and I left no room for dessert. A pity, because my companions told me the mini toffee apple served in cream was excellent.
A few metres from Platform One stands the hotel’s casino, offering everything from slots to roulette to Texas hold ’em, blackjack and more.
On a weeknight in winter, the room wasn’t exactly buzzing, but Legacy is planning group promotions in the near future to change this. Our hosts were also kind enough to comp us some playing chips for the blackjack table, so losing around 800 Namibian dollars (R800) didn’t hurt as much as it could’ve.
The following day we made our way to Walvis Bay for a boat ride courtesy of Catamaran Charters.
The charter makes its way a short distance outside of the harbour around Pelican Bay, taking in the local oyster farms, oil rigs, and the stretch of land known as Pelican Point, upon which is situated the region’s most exclusive hotel, a converted lighthouse called Pelican Point Lodge. It was an unusually clear morning – the locals told us winter days normally begin with blankets of mist – and the sun rays spun off the bay water like sparks.
Sunglasses are a necessity, as is sunscreen because even in winter the mercury can hit around 27 degrees Celsius and shade is something of a rarity.
What makes the boating experience so special is the local wildlife – seals, seagulls and pelicans – that seem to see the harbour cruise as the local lunch truck. We were frequently treated to sights of seals leaping on to the deck and waddling after the deckhands who were armed with buckets of fish. They even approached a couple of the punters who felt safe enough to pet them, although once these adorable creatures realised there was no food on offer they soon moved on.
As we moved deeper into the water we spied flocks of flamingos gathered on Pelican Point’s shores – a quick shout from the whole boat sent them skyward in a beautiful scramble along the surf – and dolphins swam beneath and alongside the catamaran. We were told whale sightings sometimes happened, but none appeared to greet us this time round. The boat ride finished with a lunch consisting of creamy Namibian oysters, sparkling wine and mussels.
After the boat ride the group was given the chance to see the coastline from the air, thanks to Sossusvlei Scenic Flights. Splitting off into a pair of Cessnas, we followed the route over the dunes and back up the coast, over diamond camps, saltpans, dried-up rivers and a couple of shipwrecks, beached quite a way inland.
The ride required combating the nerves – we experienced the odd wobble of turbulence – and packed water was vital. In the mid-afternoon sun, the plane’s aircon wasn’t really helpful.
Upon landing it felt as if our party had tried to cram too many activities into the day. By then, the heat had become oppressive and, while the flight was a great experience, it was hard to shake off a creeping drowsiness.
Fortunately we’d cooled down and recovered for the evening meal, hosted by The Tug restaurant right at the start of Swakopmund jetty. The Tug is a destination restaurant for people around the globe and it’s easy to see why: outside diners are able to soak up the evening sun on a raised balcony, while those inside are treated to a view of waves crashing below them through glass panels.
The restaurant’s menu is a decidedly rustic affair with diners able to choose from a large variety of locally sourced seafood, game meat and steaks, as well as vegetarian options. I opted for a Cajun spiced monkfish, which was presented with hand-cut chips. Monkfish is hard to get right – overcooking can make its texture rubbery – but The Tug didn’t disappoint, with the meal finely balanced.
The mists descended on our final day in Namibia’s playground as we headed into the desert for some quad biking through dunes surrounding Walvis Bay. While our guides at the company organising the ride, Desert Guides, made apologetic noises about the weather, I thought it made the whole experience magical.
As we rode up and over the dunes, we felt enveloped by the fog. The sun tried to fight its way through, but to no avail, and we could only see a few metres in any direction around us. It was as though we’d been given a private experience of Namibia’s desert; the outside world was obliterated and time seemed to stand still.
And this is perhaps the Namibian coast’s most wonderful aspect. Life can move at whatever pace one wishes on this coastline where Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are separated by a line of desert that meets the ocean.
If skydiving, camel riding and sand boarding (which Desert Guides also organises) are to your taste, the locals can meet your requirements. But if you prefer sipping a glass of wine at The Tug, staring off into a gorgeous sunset as waves crash just a few feet below you … well, that’s fine too.