Location: Luderitz (rest)
Total Distance: 1315km
I was exhausted after the challenging eleven-day stint from Swakopmund, so spending two days in Luderitz was very much a needed and deserved break. It was also a chance to learn a little of the colourful history of Namibia’s first port town. We also had to meet with Namdeb whose diamond-rich land we need to travel through to reach the finish at the Orange River. We were briefed on the correct protocol and received our permits for me to cycle through the Sperrgebiet, starting tomorrow.
Our stay in Luderitz was made very comfortable thanks to the generous offer by the management of Obelix Guesthouse to put us up for the three nights of our stay. It has been a great base from which to explore and recharge for the final stanza of the journey.
The natural harbour around which Luderitz is built was first recognised by Bartholomew Diaz, the Portuguese sailor who was the first to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. Diaz erected a padrão (stone cross) in 1483. The town of about 12,000 people is built around the relatively shallow Roberts Harbour, with small clusters of houses built amongst the rocky terrain.
On the first day in Luderitz, I attempted to get the blood flowing through my overworked legs by walking (ambling) around the town, checking out the ornate German-era buildings and continuing to Shark Island at the head of Roberts Harbour. In 1905, the German authorities established a concentration camp there as a part of it’s efforts to commit genocide on the Herero people.
Luderitz was initially set up as a trading post for guano-harvesting, whale and seal hunting and fishing. The outpost was named after Adolf Luderitz, who came to own the coastal strip from Hottentots Bay to the Orange River, an area that today constitutes the Sperrgebiet (which is wider than the land that Luderitz’ purchased from a Nama leader).
In 1909 diamonds were discovered in the region which immediately brought on a diamond rush and initially immense wealth to Luderitz and surrounding regions. So many of the ornate, colourful German-influenced buildings in the town centre reflect the opulence of this German outpost, the most wealthy town in southern Africa for a time.
This morning, Elago drove Kas and I to visit Kolmanskop, 10km out of Luderitz. Kolmanskop, a ghost town, was built as the centre of the first diamond rush – it is a place I could have wandered around in all day. The buildings are extremely well-preserved due to the arid climate and the fact that the region requires a permit for tourists to visit.
Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, the residents built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital, ballroom, power station, private school, bowling alley, theatre and sport-hall, casino, ice factory and the first X-ray station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa.
The X-ray machine was used to check whether employees had swallowed diamonds in an effort to smuggle them out, as well as the usual purposes. A lot of castor oil was used to ensure any employee expelled the diamonds they had swallowed! Water was transported from South Africa. There was a saltwater swimming pool filled with sea water transported from Elisabeth Bay, 30km away. Kolmanskop had a railway link to Luderitz.
When the largest diamond-bearing deposits ever known were discovered near what is now Oranjemund, 270km south of Kolmanskop, it spelt the demise of the town which was totally deserted by the 1950s.
The diamonds originated from a rich pipe in the Kimberly Region of South Africa and over the millennia washed down the Orange River and out to sea. The diamonds found near the mouth of the Orange River are six times bigger (on average) than those found around Kolmanskop where about 95% were gem quality (not industrial). The mouth of the Orange River has 20% of the world’s diamonds (as I was told today). The further away from the Orange River Mouth, the smaller the diamonds. Diamonds found on the Skeleton Coast tend to be very small.