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Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are neighbouring cities/towns, and can be covered in the same day of travel as they’re only 30 kilometres apart.
The lovely quaint town of Swakopmund originally started as a quay that allowed the Germans to develop their own interests in the area. When the control of the country was handed over to South Africa, Walvis Bay became the main maritime trade centre leaving Swakopmund to remain much as it has always been.
Swakopmund is the only real holiday resort in Namibia, and is located on the mouth of the Swakop River spreading onto the surrounding desert plain. Palm-lined streets, immaculate old buildings and well-kept gardens give it a wonderfully tranquil atmosphere and make it a pleasant place in which to take a rest from the rest of the arid country.
For those looking for an adventure, a number of things give the town a name as the centre for adventure travel; from free-fall parachuting to dune bike riding and sandboarding. These opportunities are sure to give the buzz that any adrenaline junky is searching for. During the summer holidays the night-life is surprisingly good, and it has some excellent spots for sundowners.
There are also plenty of places to shop for souvenirs, curios and semi-precious gemstones, as well as practical items. It has many places to take in the art of the land as well, with a number of commercial art galleries and curio shops to peruse. Leather goods are available as well, with some rather unusual kudu and seal boots and shoes for sale as a speciality of the area.
For those with an interest in collecting and history, antique books and African artefacts are sold by a shop that is reputed to be the best antiques shop in Africa. The number of museums in the area is extraordinary, with the Swakopmund Museum housing a large exhibition on life in the Namib Desert and the South Atlantic. There are also a snake park and marine aquarium for those interested in seeing some of the animals that will not be easily available to see otherwise.
The Mole is a small beach that was accidentally made when a harbour wall was built and caught the sand that the wind and sea currents brought into the harbour, blocking it before it was even finished and creating a beach that is relatively safe from the rip tide that can be experienced along most of the rest of the coast.
Finally, the town itself has plenty of old buildings that are perfectly preserved and show off the German roots of the town. Of special note are the Woermannhaus Building, old prison and the old railway station. Guided tours can be arranged, and a book is available for those who want to explore alone.
Walvis Bay seems to take up more space than Swakopmund, but it is quieter and has less character. It is perfect for relaxation and good food, as well as birding; large flocks of seabirds including migrant waders, flamingos and pelicans congregate in the lagoon, which most of the town’s activity focuses around. It is around 5,000 years old, and is the oldest lagoon on Namibia’s coast, providing food and shelter for up to 150,000 birds throughout the year, and food for 200,000 migratory birds on their bi-annual migration to the Arctic.
The town has a yacht club from which you can hire a boat or take a yacht to Pelican Point to see dolphins in the lagoon, and beyond. Bird Island is also a popular destination, and in October and November there are often whales in the water, including humpback, southern right, Minke and killer whales. In April there is a chance to see leatherback turtle.
Fishing is also a popular occupation here, with big-game fish in the water around the bay including copper sharks, steenbras, barber, goljoen and Garrick. As well as this, you can try watersports such as kitesurfing and windsurfing, with equipment and lessons available in one-to-one tuition. Surfing is also becoming more popular in the region.
Just outside the town is a diamond factory which gives tours to show the journey of a diamond from ground to jewel, and there is also a shop which sells the diamonds made in this factory.
Outside the town yet still in the area, riding is available for novices and experienced riders on well-trained horses into the moon landscape and the Swakop River Valley. Camel-riding is also available to take excursions into the desert.
For those with an interest in geology, mining or engineering, Rssing mine is an enormous open-cast uranium mine with some of the biggest lorries in the world. The mine has set up some viewpoints which give an extremely alternative view of the desert as well as information plaques and videos that take you through the mining process.