Day 5, West Africa Cruise – Walvis Bay / Swakopmund

Latitude: 22° 40.6211′ S
Longitude: 14° 31.4368′ E

Day 5 brought the good ship Expedition to the port of Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Walvis Bay is the most important port in all of Southwestern Africa. It not only is the primary port for Namibia, but also Botswana and parts of Angola, South Africa and Zambia. Formerly a whaling station (walvis means ‘whale’ in German), today it is the best natural deep water port in this corner of the continent.

Prior to 1990 Namibia was a territory of South Africa known as South West Africa. After Namibia gained independence in 1990, Walvis Bay remained a small South African enclave because of its importance. It wasn’t until 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa that Walvis Bay was returned to Namibia.

We arrived in Walvis Bay around 9am and was greeted with a sandstorm. Around this time of year the winds start to pick up and sandstorms become more common. This was the first one of the year. This required us to change our plans. Instead of starting the day touring Walvis Bay in a boat and ending in Swakopmund, we did the reverse, which turned out to be even better than the original plan.

About 20 miles north of Walvis Bay is the city of Swakopmund, comparable in size but more of a tourist town than Walvis Bay. I was here in November for the Adventure Travel World Summit and already seen much of the town. While everyone else was visiting the craft market, I made a beeline for a cafe I had previously visited which I knew had wifi.

After an hour of uploading images, checking email and updating my social media account, we were on the move again.

Our next stop was the Goanikontes oasis out in the desert where we’d have lunch. The oasis was really a river bottom which was able to sustain some plant life. The most notable thing about the oasis was the moonscape which surrounded it.

The highlight of the day for me was getting to see welwichia plants. Welwhichia plants are in my book, among the top 10 coolest plants on Earth. At best, they look like a collection of curled up leaves sitting on sand, however, they actually can live for over 1,000 years which is amazing for a desert plant, and especially a plant which lives in the Namib Desert. Moreover, the welwhichia plant has never been kept in captivity. Even botanical gardens just a few hundred kilometers away in Namibia are unable to keep them alive. That such a hearty plant in the desert should be so fragile when cultivated, is baffling. They may lack the majesty of a redwood, but they score high

After the welwhichia stop, we drove past the dunes outside of Walvis Bay and headed to the docks to do a short cruise of the bay. The bay had more ships at anchor that I had thought, which was a testament to how busy the port is. The Namibian government is actually in the middle of building a new port which will be 10x the size of the current one. This should able to handle more shipping for even a larger area of Africa. The cruise was pretty uneventful save for the fact that we had all the Walvis Bay oysters we could eat (which are fantastic) and we had a seal actually jump on the back of our boat!

The one thing we didn’t get to do during our day in Walvis Bay/Swakopmund was to explore some of the dunes. There is a dune called Dune 7 (because it is 7 kilometers from the city) which is accessible by car, but we only passed by. The highlight of my trip last November was spending time in the dunes and photographing them.

This sort of completes what I’ve mentally considered the first phase of the tour. Namibia and South Africa are both countries which I had visited previously and countries which are also fairly easy to visit. From here on out, the countries are less visited, less developed and the visas are a more of a pain to deal with.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking more about the visia process and how being on a ship actually makes things significantly easier than independently in that respect.

Next stop: Lobito, Angola.