The Glory Days of Kolmanskop Roll On
Kolmanskop is one of the most popular tourist magnets in Namibia’s hinterland, with something to offer both adventurous souls and history buffs.
Here’s why you should make tracks through the shifting desert sands and pay a visit to Kolmanskop on your trip to Namibia.
A Fascinating Back Story
Kolmanskop came about in the late nineteenth century, when a transport driver, Johnny Coleman, found himself marooned in a sandstorm.
He made his way to safety on foot and left his wagon to suffer the ravages of time, where it became a landmark known as Coleman’s Head, or Kolmanskop to the German-speaking population. The wagon vanished with time, but the name remained, although it later became famous for far more than its mere existence.
Over time, a railway was constructed along this route, ferrying passengers between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz. In 1908, Zacherias Lewala, a railway worker doing some routine maintenance on the railway tracks, noticed some unusual stones and took them to his boss, August Stauch. Curious, Stauch sent these trinkets to a mining engineer friend who confirmed they were diamonds.
Despite his best efforts to keep the gems a secret, news of their discovery spread rapidly, and before long, wagonloads of prospectors made their way to the sand dunes surrounding Kolmanskop.
Kolmanskop in its Heyday
Soon, every available piece of land was staked out and awash with laborers scouring the sands for these valuable stones. Jam jar after jam jar of these riches came to light and before long, by 1912, Kolmanskop was responsible for over 11% of diamond mining in the world.
With their newfound riches the prospectors were able to establish a well-organized, thriving town in the area of Kolmanskop.
Despite the desert remoteness of the surroundings the town boasted an opera house, top-class hospital, bakery, butchery, post office, bowling alley, a bar, and an ice-making plant.
The inhabitants lived an extremely lavish lifestyle, with green lawns nourished by imported water, huge mansions, and all manner of exotic pets. Rumor has it that champagne was cheaper than water, and thus served up at every opportunity.
Unfortunately, the diamonds came to an end, and so did the little town of Kolmanskop. By 1956, everyone had moved off to the richer pickings available elsewhere, leaving Kolmanskop at the mercy of the elements.
Over time, the sands turned this once grand town into a fascinating playground for modern-day travelers, constantly molded and altered by the whims of the wind.
Why Visit Kolmanskop?
Nowadays, visitors to Kolmanskop can only guess at the wonders that stood in place of what remains, but you’ll find plenty of clues along the way.
Still today, Kolmanskop offers glimpses of grander times as grand old buildings impart a hint of a bygone era. Walls with half-peeled wallpaper reveal layers of colorful paint and the wind rippled sand that has built up over the years is evident in many of the rooms, left half-intact. Sand-filled bathtubs, doors propped open by dunes and buildings engulfed to roof level by the sand create a kind of faded elegance.
It’s fascinating to see how nature has reclaimed what is hers in Kolmanskop.
As you wander among these long-forgotten spaces, you can only guess at who once lived here and what their lives must have been like. You can amble over to where the bakery, hospital, and opera house once stood, or gaze in awe as the sun shimmers its welcome across the dunes.
You’ll never tire of photographing this place, with its contrasting architecture now in decay, and the melancholy scenes of abandon. Scramble up to the top of a double volume building and capture the dunes from above or frame them in a doorway, itself half-filled with these golden sands.
Kolmanskop is a photographer’s playground for amateur and professional photographers alike. There is something photographable wherever you look as desert meets sky over the sands of time and the roofs of half-submerged buildings.
How to Visit Kolmanskop
You’ll find Kolmanskop along the B4 highway about 15-minutes’ drive from Lüderitz. You can visit any time by purchasing a permit on site or from the Lüderitz Safari and Tours offices.
There are two main types of permits:
Adult permits allow access from 9am to 1pm. Children under 6 years old get free entry and children between the ages of 6 and 14 pay only a fifth of the usual charge.
Photo permits for serious photographers allow access from sunrise to sunset.
Guided tours at various times of the day provide fascinating insights into the history of Kolmanskop, and budding photographers will also benefit from the photographic tours on offer.
Most trips to Namibia start and end in the bustling hub of Windhoek. Don’t miss the chance to explore this vibrant city by staying over for a few days.
Arebbusch Travel Lodge is the perfect place to rest and refresh both to and from Namibia’s exciting attractions. Get in touch and get your plans in motion for an unforgettable Namibian getaway.