From Desert to Sea: Stunning Swakopmund

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My Love Affair with the Ocean

I wouldn’t really be an Australian if I didn’t have a healthy affection for the ocean with which my nation is gurt.

Some of my earliest memories are of being out beyond the breakers on my Dad’s shoulders and feeling both terrified and amazed by the ocean’s size and strength.

This fascination with the sea has been a driving force behind many of my life decisions and my travel plans.

My foot steps in the sand along the beach in Swakopmund.
My foot steps in the sand along the beach in Swakopmund.

I relocated to Newcastle back in 2004 for the express purpose of living on the beach, and when I was choosing a university to enroll in earlier this year – it was to Coffs Harbour for the cruisy beach lifestyle that I was drawn.

Likewise, some of my favourite travel memories have come from beach destinations. Whether it was the windswept and frigid Oregon coast, the garishly lit and deliciously lively Ocean City boardwalk, savouring the serenity on an isolated Zanzibar beach, or scuba diving off the coasts of Fiji and the Philippines – this desire to be close to the ocean has defined me.

So it was that I felt a growing sense of excitement and anticipation as our car made the long, bumpy, and dusty trek from Etosha National Park to Swakopmund.

Where the Desert Meets the Sea

It’s surreal when it happens.

Your first indication that there is a change coming is in the air. After a day of oppressively dry heat, the first hint of ocean cool is something biblical. It’s a tender kiss that soon goes into full blown, hand up under the shirt carress.

Then the sun-baked earth and the towering dunes give way and it’s like “Welcome to Jurassic Park” as the brilliant blue of the Atlantic and the idyllic little seaside town of Swakopmund comes into full view.

The towering dunes and parched desert give way to the churning Atlantic so suddenly that it seems implausible.
The towering dunes and parched desert give way to the churning Atlantic so suddenly that it seems implausible.

This trendy little colonial town with its cool nights, misty mornings, and German architecture seems so out of place after the parched desert you’ve spent hours driving through.

The town itself is quaint in a way that instantly wins your heart. The old-fashioned clock towers, the charming Germanic architecture, the palm trees that line the broad streets, and the distinctly African charm of its bustling markets and friendly people blend together in a way like something out of high fantasy.

Broad streets, European architecture, and palm trees.
Broad streets, European architecture, and palm trees.

Dining in Swakopmund

Our first port of call is lunch, and it’s no surprise that Swakopmund offers up delectable seafood in spades. Whether you’re craving a quick and dirty fish & chips, some surprisingly good Japanese sushi, or a full-blown decadent feast of lobster, escargot, and oysters, Swakopmund has you covered.

So good was the selection of seafood that I even took a break from eating every animal in Namibia.

Over the course of our three nights in Swakopmund we really mixed things up: fancy meals of fresh oysters and delicious kingklip at The Tug and Jetty 1905 as well as more down to earth fare at the blink and you’ll miss it Fish Deli.

Sushi at Fish Deli. This place was easy to miss, but it had great sushi, great Asian themed dishes, and traditional fish & chips.
Sushi at Fish Deli. This place was easy to miss, but it had great sushi, great Asian themed dishes, and traditional fish & chips.

There’s definitely plenty of options in this sleepy little seaside town, ranging from authentic local fare all the way up to the kind of high end dining that Jetty and The Tug both offer.

Like everything in Namibia, it’s cheap too. A good meal was a fraction of what I’d have paid in Australia.

Sushi at Fish Deli. This place was easy to miss, but it had great sushi, great Asian themed dishes, and traditional fish & chips.
The aptly named ‘Jetty’ sits at the end of Swakopmund’s iconic jetty. The perpetually rough Atlantic makes the whole structure shudder. It’s one of the more exciting meals you’ll ever have.

Staying in Swakopmund

As a seaside destination in a very dry country, Swakopmund is an understandably popular place for visitors both domestic and international.

Wherever you find tourists, you’ll also find an abundance of options.

As part of our famil with the Namibian Tourism Board, we were lucky enough to stay at two utterly beautiful properties: The Stiltz and the Desert Breeze.

Despite being in the same city and being owned by the same affable chap, the two properties couldn’t have been any more different.

Where The Stiltz exist in perpetually misty seaside tranquility, the stylish bungalows of Desert Breeze cut striking figures against the backdrop of the Namib Desert. What they had in common were one of the most delicious breakfast spreads I’ve ever sampled, friendly staff, and stylish rooms.

With the ocean purring in the background and colourful flamingoes nearby, Stiltz was a fantastic place to hang my hat.
With the ocean purring in the background and colourful flamingoes nearby, Stiltz was a fantastic place to hang my hat.
The silence that exists out on the fringe of the desert is just surreal.
The silence that exists out on the fringe of the desert is just surreal.

What to do in Swakopmund

Despite being seaside towns, Swakopmund and nearby Walvis Bay aren’t the best place in the world to escape for a sunbathing and swimming holiday.

The Atlantic is a frigid and angry beast for much of the year, making it more picturesque than it is pleasant for swimming.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to do both on and out of the water. Dolphin & seal watching, wreck-diving on the ominously named Skeleton Coast, wind & kite surfing, fishing, pleasure cruises, and more can be found in the area.

The town’s proximity to the Dorob National Park makes it something truly unique as far as beach towns go. Where else in the world can you enjoy fresh seafood in a waterfront cafe and be in the harsh desert less than an hour later?

Our own tour of Swakopmund would include a desert safari and a sandboarding excursion which I’ll write about a bit later.

Standing atop a sand dune trying to look wistful.
Standing atop a sand dune trying to look wistful.

Swakopmund was just so unlike anywhere else I’d been. It was at once a desert city and a seaside escape; somewhere both European and distinctly African.

It’s the kind of place you immediately fall in love with, and my only regret is not having had more time there to appreciate it’s unique charm.

Caren and Astrid wander along the beach on a cool June afternoon.
Caren and Astrid wander along the beach on a cool June afternoon.

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