Where the great dunes of the Namib Desert reach the sea. Flamingos, pelicans and a finely-timed drive along the sea's edge.
The drive from Sossusvlei to Swakopmund is a long one crossing the Gaub and Kuseb passes and, incidentally, the Tropic of Capricorn!
The landscape was mostly quite desolate, very rocky in tlited plates as we climbed to the mountain passes.
We were stopped by a Tracks & Trails guy (these were our contact people in Nambia) to remind us to drive on the left - this was me moving closer to the centre of a long desolate stretch to find a more comfortable line. It was a fortunate encounter as we asked about the road our Imagine Africa agent had recommended we take and we were a bit dubious about. Rightly so, as it turned out. It was a road which required a permit and we were advised to use the C14 which was actually a very good gravel road. Sobering to pass a crash which had just happened a little later, an overturned tourist 4x4 - we guessed they had been tempted to go too fast because of the good road surface and lost control. It looked as though they had got out OK and there were several people stopped to help.
Nevertheless, it was still something akin to heaven to return to tarmac in Swakopmund!
Swakopmund grew out of the German requirement for a harbour in Namibia, which was a German protectorate at the end of the nineteenth century, the only natural harbour at Walvis Bay being under British Control. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful but the seeds of the town were sown and today it retains a strong Germanic character.
Today it is a popular seaside tourist town with many places to stay. We spent two nights at Villa Marherita, a lovely large colonial house built in 1913, where we had the Romeo and Juliet room with a lovely wide verandah with seats. It was cold when we were in Swakopmund so we were glad of the heater in the room.
We explored the town a little, going down to the jetty by way of the Marine Denkmal, a 1913 German memorial to the Marine Corps which helped defeat the Hereros who had risen up against German rule. Quite surprising to see it still standing unmolested, the Germans having effectively abandoned the country at the time of the First World War after which Namibia (the name being assigned only in 1968) became a League of Nations 'trust territory' under the protection of South Africa. However, South Africans were as set on exploiting the country and its peoples in much the same way as the Germans had and a hard-won independence was established only in 1989.
We had come to Swakopmund principally for the trip to Sandwich Harbour - as this is not recommended to do on your own we took a tour with Sandwich Harbour 4x4 whose office is in Walvis Bay. The natural harbour at Walvis Bay, the coast's only deepwater port, looked as if it was becoming more industrialised. Talking to the locals they seemed very apprehenisve about a Chinese "invasion" and were hoping that oil would not be discovered.
We climbed into our 4x4 which turned our to be a rather ordinary-looking van, but our driver was massively experienced and a great deal of fun.
The area is also noted for its seal colonies and huge numbers of flamingos. Seals I'm not keen on and this feeling was reinforced when we stopped at a seal colony on the shore - it absolutely stank - no-one ever mentions how badly seals smell!
The flamingos, however, are gorgeous and we saw large numbers feeding close to shore before and after the drive down to Sandwich Harbour.
From Walvis Bay we were taken south into the dunes for some great fun driving up and down them. We got stuck at one point and a more robust 4x4 was called to tow us out of the sand!
Our drivers parked the two vehicles in a deep hollow in the dunes and set up our lunch table - another really good meal.
Our driver was especially proud of the bags of fresh oysters he'd provided and they looked very fresh but having had food poisoning from seafood in Sicily I didn't want to risk it even though I was sorely tempted, one or two people had quite a few and suffered no ill-effects that I saw, I'm sure they were fine.
After lunch it was back into the vehicles for the exciting drive down the coast to Sandwich Harbour.
There was a lovely group of pelicans on the beach and flamingoes searching for food in the lagoons at the base of the dunes.
At Sandwich Harbour the dunes from the Namib Desert meet the sea. They are enormous and tiring to climb, but well worth it for the view from the top.
Inland the dunes stretch away as far as the eye can see, a huge sea of sand, the western edge of the Namib Desert.
We left after about ninety minutes to be sure to get back along the coast before the tide came in fully. Away from the coastal strip we were able to have more fun dune-driving before heading back to Walvis Bay.
As a grand finale our driver distracted us with talk of having spotted an animal in the dunes before slipping backwards down a steep dune - they certainly don't need rollercoasters in this country!