High-tide rolling in Walvis Bay

2013-04-30 13:35
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Battle of the Cunard Queens

Take a look at the Cunard fleet made up of the Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and its flagship transatlantic liner the Queen Mary 2.

It’s not easy to forget Walvis Bay. The orange sand granules you’ll find in every conceivable crease and crevice, courtesy of one of its desert attractions Dune 7, are sure to keep reminding you long after you have left. But that's the allure of Walvis Bay, the curious blend created by the Atlantic Ocean and Namib desert.

A strange equanimity

We arrived on the final leg of the RMS Queen Mary 2’s World Tour, which ended in Southampton for 2013. Greeted by the sea-faring faces of the fishing community of its 46 000 inhabitants, it is very much a working port, receiving about 3 000 cargo vessels each year along with the occasional cruise ship - or in this instance the world’s largest ocean liner. Docking over a weekend adds to the small-town feel as most of the shops are closed or about to close at lunch time.

Here’s how to make the most of a snap visit when cruising to the lucrative port which acts as a gateway to a number of principal shipping routes. 

High street sights and sounds

Head to the Town Museum for a quick and free introduction to Walvis Bay’s history and archaeological exhibits. As the only sheltered, deep-water port found along the aptly-named Skeleton Coastline, Walvis Bay has developed into a modern little town, well-connected to the rest of Namibia. Its history dates back to the 1400s when Portuguese navigators Diego Cao and Bartholomeu Dias first explored the region, to its well-established German legacy of the 1800s when missionaries claimed sovereignty over the then German South West Africa. Most recently, Walvis Bay was also a hotly-disputed part of apartheid-era South Africa up until sovereignty was handed back in 1994 following independence. Take a stroll down 5th Road to check out the town’s oldest building, the Rhenish Church, the timber structure of which was originally built in Hamburg back in 1880 before being shipped to Namibia.

Spectacular bird life

A blossoming little waterfront found at The Lagoon (Selene Brophy)

If you have more than a passing interest in birds then you’ve come to the right place. The Natural Lagoon is made up of the largest single body of shallow water on the West Coast of Africa and forms part of Walvis Bay’s more than 110 000 acre Nature Reserve. Head out to Lover’s Hill, a 3.5kms walk out along the promenade for prime viewing of about 60 000 coastal birds in one single sitting. Greater and Lesser flamingos, rare white pelicans and Arctic terns are just some of the ornithological attractions found along these wetlands. A kayak tour along the Lagoon also comes highly recommended. Otherwise take a short trip down the C14 along Rooikop Road towards Walvis Bay International to make the most of Bird Paradise’s useful watchtower vantage point.

Dune7 extreme

Do not underestimate this heap of sand (Selene Brophy)

The seventh highest dune in the world at 163 metre – this shifting outcrop of the Namibia desert might not look like much but attempting to summit vertically from the middle soon tests your mettle. But it’s definitely worth giving it a bash, even if you opt for the gradual incline along the side. As you reach the top, the dizzying heat in your cheeks is cooled by a welcomed breeze and a view of the town’s unique ocean-desert appeal. Otherwise hop on one of the quad bikes for hire at Dune7 and get a first-hand idea of what it might be like to explore an alien planet – the area has been used as the backdrop to many a futuristic feature film, most recently for the controversial Mad Max production.

Venturing further a field
If you have the time and would like to venture further, the following is worth the effort:


This beautiful extension of the coexistence of ocean and desert has developed into a popular holiday resort. It is also rich in 20th century German-style buildings, an early 20th century lighthouse, the Ethnology and Natural History Museum and the 1901 railway station which is now the Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Centre.

Sandwhich Harbour

You will need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach this former port, about 48kms south of Walvis Bay. You will be rewarded with a haven for migratory birds and the opportunity to seek out the legend of an old buried treasure ship amongst the dunes. It is important that permit access is required and certain parts of the harbour are only accessible on foot.

Key things to note:

Sitting along Walvis Bay (Selene Brophy)

-    The currency is Namibia dollar – equivalent in value to the South African Rand. Rands are accepted but change will be given in Nam dollars. Banks are open week days 8:00 to 15:30
-    Walvis bay Info, Civic Centre, Nangolo Mbumba Drive. Tel: 064 209170
-    The above activities can be arranged through the tourist office on board your cruise ship or you can opt to self-drive. It is important to note car-hire is not cheap in the area and petrol stations do not accept credit cards
-    South Africans do not require a visa when visiting Walvis Bay. Photo ID and a pass from your cruise ship are however required when docking. It is vital to observe the port departure times.

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