Namibia Part 5: Swakopmund

The road to Swakopmund

The road between Uis and the coast isn’t perfect by western standards but it felt like bitumen after what we’d endured the past day. Also, the drive to the tiny coastal resort town of Hentiesbaai (Henties Bay) takes roughly just 90 minutes, easy!

To break up our journey, we stayed a night in a large, comfortable three bedroom apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean called Desert Rose Resort and Spa. This complex appeared to have everything one needed for a summer family getaway or a fishing trip. There was a big water slide and playground visible from our living area – which looked closed in gusty August. Our unit also had a big freezer and grill, no doubt to barbecue the day’s catch!

Our three bedroom apartment at Desert Rose in Henties Bay
Our apartment at Desert Rose in Henties Bay.

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The smelliest place in Namibia

Because check in wasn’t until later in the afternoon, we headed up north, past town, to visit the Cape Cross Seal Colony. There were plenty of salt pans to look at on this road north, plus impromptu ‘stalls’ selling large lumps of crystallised salt.

Salt flats on the Atlantic Coast.

At the time we visited, the seal colony cost 40NAD for two vehicles and four adults to enter. I noticed a black backed jackal running towards the beach en route (on the hunt for a young seal for lunch, maybe?). In the middle of the rocky promontory covered with seals was also a stone cross (a replica) erected by Portuguese explorer Diego Cao in the 15th century.

The seal colony at Cape Cross
Cape Cross – the smelliest place in Namibia!

Nothing can quite prepare you for the smell of thousands of writhing live seals lying atop guano, fish carcasses and dead family members, some only recently demised.

Pro tip #1: Bring a buff or scarf to wrap around your face, and expect the smell to linger for hours!

Coming back to Hentiesbaai, we checked into our apartment, then stopped at a small seafood restaurant called Fishy Corner to find something to eat. Due to Wayn’s seafood allergy, we didn’t eat here but our friends commented that the food was very good. Instead, we dropped in at the excellent Spar supermarket next door. Here in the carpark, we had our first interaction with a trio of street urchins, which are surprisingly uncommon in Namibia. Three young boys, aged between 5 and 15, asked us first for change, and then food in return for watching our vehicle. I ended up buying them each a 9NAD cheese roll from Spar. The right thing to do? I’m not sure. I wondered only later if they perhaps had been wagging school but I’ve no idea if education is compulsory in Namibia.

Pro tip #2: If you can’t be bothered to cook, many Namibian supermarkets have a deli and/or hot food counter where you can pick up a very cheap and yummy looking hot meal or freshly made roll takeaway.

We cooked dinner that night, pleased to have a proper kitchen at our disposal. The following morning we walked along the windswept beach, whose pale sands bled into rust-coloured dunes. It was hard to imagine that the Atlantic Ocean ever got calmer than this…perhaps Namibian kids learnt to swim early in life?

The view of the Atlantic Ocean from Henties Bay
The Atlantic coast from our apartment in Henties Bay.

Swakopmund, Namibia’s adrenaline capital

Then we were off (on a very good tarred road) to Swakopmund, one of Namibia’s largest towns – a well preserved German-style settlement sandwiched between sand dunes and sea. The country’s adrenaline capital, there are a heap of high octane activities to do in Swakopmund, from sky diving (which I was not allowed to do thanks to the city’s blemished record – a double accident in the past decade) to sandboarding and quad biking.

Swakopmund's scenic jetty
The historic jetty at Swakopmund.

I chose to do the latter two: sandboarding with Alter Action first, then quad biking with Desert Explorers the following day. This would get us well acquainted with the great sand sea that lay inland.

Dorob National Park sand dunes just outside of Swakopmund
The dunes of Dorob National Park.

Pro tip #3: Do the activities in that order or sandboarding will feel pretty tame! If you haven’t got time, just go quad biking, it’s awesome!

With sandboarding, Alter Action are a really professional operator that pick you up from your accommodation in Swakopmund, kit you up, then feed you a fresh lunch of cheese, cold cuts and salad afterwards.

Alter-Action sandboarding
At the top of the sandboarding dune.

You get two choices: lie-down or stand up. With the latter which is 100NAD dearer, you get to experience both.

Lie-down sandboarding involves lying tummy down on a piece of Masonite, smooth on the bottom side. You pull the front edge up towards your face to prevent eating too much sand and then somebody pushes you down the slope. I managed to hit 56kmh on one go. Fun!

Alter-Action Sandboarding
Trying to hit the top speed of 60kph.

I also tried stand up, which is essentially just like snowboarding but on a much more forgiving surface. This was great for me as I had never boarded before. Being 200m up was plenty challenging anyhow, and there was even a timber platform the more daring could jump off.

Stand up sandboarding with Alter-Action
Learning to stand up sandboard.

Pro tip #4: You have to walk up the dune each time you come down it. Bring water, sunnies, sunscreen and your camera with you. Staff will help cart your pack down at the end. Just be aware that everything gets sandy and you’ll be finding sand in every crevice for the next few days!

Quad biking the next day with Desert Explorers was something else. We booked a two hour excursion and were again picked up from our apartment. On arrival, we were assigned a guide – a good looking bloke by the name of Max – whose bike managed to break down close to the big dunes we boarded the day before. When everybody’s motor was running fine however, man it was the best fun roaring up and down the side of the dunes.

Quad biking the sand dunes at Dorob National Park just outside Swakopmund
Quad biking – something I was born to do!

Pro tip #5: It can be very chilly on a quad bike, unlike sandboarding which is a hot and sweaty exercise. Bring a jacket, buff and sunglasses.

Swakopmund is clearly a summer getaway for wealthy Namibians and it also feels like an international backpacker haven. The overall impression I got was that locals weren’t the friendliest (compared to elsewhere in Namibia). Nobody says “hi” to you on the street and shopkeepers tend to keep their doors locked, pressing a buzzer to let “appropriate” customers in.

A mansion by the waterfront at Swakopmund
One of the many fine holiday homes on the coast at Swakopmund.

However, the restaurants we went to were really good and it’s a top place to relax, refuel and find any modern amenity you need such as Wi-Fi, currency exchange facilities and souvenir shops. For lunch, we loved espresso coffee, melktert and gigantic toasted sandwiches at the highly rated Village Cafe on Sam Nujoma St.

Giant toasted sandwich at The Village Cafe in Swakopmund
The big toasted sandwich at The Village Cafe.

For dinner, you can’t go wrong with a two or three course meal at Farmhouse Deli or Ocean Cellar, both reasonably priced and set in the swanky Strand Hotel.

Great seafood at Swakopmund's Ocean Cellar Restaurant
The po’boy at Ocean Cellar.

Aside from food, another highlight was the tiny Swakopmund Museum beneath the lighthouse on the waterfront.

The Swakopmund Museum Entrance
The small but very interesting Swakopmund Museum.

Established in the 1950s, this place invokes nostalgia and has lovingly curated collections of everything from stuffed native wildlife (including a black rhino and pangolin) to a perfect early 19th century dentist’s surgery. The old man at the desk also had a 1950s record playing which only added to the atmosphere. All in all, worth visiting for only a few dollars per person.

Swakopmund's lighthouse
The historic lighthouse at Swakopmund.

Throughout the four days we spent here, we based ourselves in a beautiful three bedroom Airbnb apartment on Schlacter Street, a block from the beach. Sunsets, when it wasn’t foggy, were amazing from both the master bedroom and living room. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, sign up using this link and get $50 off your first stay:

Then we went south to Walvis Bay for the flamingos and then hit the road in earnest again, to Sossusvlei (Part 6 of our adventure).

If you’re nervous about driving, don’t be! Read this post for some handy tips:

Ten Things to Know When Driving in Namibia

To read about our trip, the entire three week self-drive safari is chronicled on these pages:

Part 1:

Namibia Part 1: A Self Drive Safari

Part 2:

Namibia Part 2: Exploring Etosha National Park

Part 3:

Namibia Part 3: Palmwag

Part 4:

Namibia Part 4: Uis

Part 5:

Namibia Part 5: Swakopmund

Part 6:

Namibia Part 6: Sossusvlei

Part 7:

Namibia Part 7: Wolwedans

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