Swakopmund and Walvis Bay may be considered as a unit, so closely are the two towns identified with each other, but in general Swakopmund is considered the better place to stay, at least if you are a tourist. This time however the camp site we chose was full, some sort of caravan club convention it seemed, and so we moved on reluctantly to Walvis to look for an alternative spot.
Little did we expect to be confronted by one of the most beautiful bird spectacles we have ever seen. A true flamboyance of flamingos filled the Bay.
As luck would have it we had chosen a camp site 500 m from this spectacle and would wake up and go to bed with it for the next 3 days, unable to drive past without stopping to stare and wonder and try and capture the photographic spectacle.
I can now definitely confirm Walvis is the place to stay, no contest.
At low tide the golden glow of the setting sun on Walvis lagoon illuminates hundreds of flamingos, massed next to the edge of the road, happily feeding in the shallow waters with gulls and plovers and terns swooping overhead. The water glowed a luminous pink. Rafts of pelicans glide past and the air is filled with the calls of feeding birds.
South of Walvis bay is Sandwich harbour. It is reputed to be the most impressive water bird site in Southern Africa and we were keen to experience it. The only down side is the reputation of the harbour as a treacherous 4x4 route. The best way is to drive along the shoreline, but this is only viable at low tide. Otherwise the track is submerged. The legend has it that there have been countless adventurous casualties, washed away at high tide. The alternate route is described, even by the experienced locals , as an extreme dune road.
We finally managed to sort our permits but the admin used precious time and we left late into the rising tide.
The first 20 km we negotiated with little difficultly but about 8km from our destination we found the tide washing up to the cliffs and no way forward. Reluctantly we turned around and settled on a look out dune for lunch. As we relaxed there groups of guided tours came past and powered through. We were puzzled but decided if they can do it why can't we and we turned again for a second try. We lost them on the extreme dune route. Clearly they had lighter loads or more powerful engines . We could not justify the risk and again turned for home
Another time perhaps in this beautiful dunescape.
Disappointed by the failure to reach Sandwich Harbour we headed down to an alternate view point on the other side of Walvis Bay called Pelican point.
This is a narrow spit of sand which cuts around the back of the lagoon . There is a light house which has been converted to a very exclusive lodge and a windswept expanse of sand. It is an amazing spot and the flamingos were again there in their numbers feeding on the shore line as the wind carried sand and dust across the landscape. There is an unknown wreck which adds scenic texture. Further towards the point the seals sunbathe on the shore and the gulls and turns swoop and set.
The sand is thick and we got stuck many times, only to discover as we turned onto the gravel road, that we had forgotten to engage 4x4 for the whole trip. Not bad for a 4 ton two wheel drive !!
One of the popular excursions from Swakopmund is the living desert tour. We did this 8 years ago on our first trip and it was so good we had no hesitation in repeating it this time. The guide is a gifted and inspirational teacher and takes you out to the desert to understand the ecology and geology, and show you the hidden wildlife surviving on the most limited resources. It gives a real sense of balance and appreciation of how incredible natural adaptation can be.
Under his guidance (and he does make it seem easy!) out pop specially adapted geckos and lizards and skinks from inside the dunes. They all survive on beetles who in turn feast on seed blown in by the desert winds from the four corners of Africa. The desert chameleon hiding in plain sight is always a favourite. It teaches you to look hard and look beyond the surface appearance of dry lifelessness. A valuable life lesson in many circumstances.