In the late nineteenth century, a transport driver by the name of Johnny Coleman became stranded in the middle of nowhere during a sandstorm. He was forced to abandon his wagon and find his way to safety on foot.
His wagon remained half submerged in a crest of the desert, becoming a landmark in the shifting sands known as Coleman’s Head or Kolmanskop to the German-speaking population. The wagon disappeared over time, but the name remained. Today Kolmanskop is still a landmark in the area, although for an entirely different reason.
When you take a guided tour from your accommodation in Windhoek to spend a few days in Lüderitz, Kolmanskop is likely to be on the itinerary.
Kolmanskop Rises to Fame
For many years, Kolmanskop was little more than a point along the railway line between Lüderitz and Keetmanshoop. All that changed in 1908.
Zacherias Lewala was the first person to discover the riches of this area when he picked up some unusual stones during routine maintenance of the railway tracks. He took the nuggets to his boss, August Stauch, who asked a mining engineer friend for his opinion on them.
The stones were confirmed as diamonds and the rush was on. The more Stauch tried to keep his find a secret, the more the news spread. Soon, wagonloads of prospectors were setting out from all over Southern Africa to stake a claim among the drifts of Kolmanskop.
Before long, every bit of available land was staked out. Laborers went out day and night to scour the sands for glittering gems, returning with jam jars filled to the brim on every outing.
By 1912, Kolmanskop was producing over 11% of the world’s diamonds.
Despite their inhospitable surroundings, the prospectors were able to establish a thriving town at Kolmanskop. In just a few years, a state-of-the-art hospital, bowling alley, opera house, butcher, baker, post office, pub and ice plant were all set up. Champagne flowed freely and was believed to be cheaper than water, which was brought in by train.
The prosperity was short-lived; in this case the diamonds weren’t forever. As the pickings dwindled, prospectors left for the new diamond fields to the South. The last 3 families departed in 1956, leaving the town at the mercy of the Namib Desert.
Today, this once-grand place is a crumbling ghost town, visited only by curious tourists on guided tours. These take place at 9am and 11am daily and can be booked in Lüderitz with a tour operator. Alternatively, you can drive out to the entrance of Kolmanskop and join a tour group there.
There’s not much left to see among the wreckage. Here and there a misplaced bath tub rides the crest of a dune and peeling paint hangs forlornly from the walls of what were once mansion. The sand has moved in everywhere, flooding rooms and gardens, slowly burying the town in its path.
During your excursion, the expert tour guides do a great job of bringing the town back to life with their anecdotes of the excesses which were once the norm in Kolmanskop. It’s fascinating to see how nature has swept aside the trappings of civilization over time.
Any trip to Namibia starts with a stop over in Windhoek. Get off on the right foot by staying with us at Arebbusch Travel Lodge before you embark on your travels to Etosha National Park, Swakopmund, Fish River Canyon and beyond.