Kolmanskop and Sossusvlei

Namibia (2005)

Namibia is a country of extreme harshness, contrast and beauty. Two areas in the southern part of the country stand out as visually unique. They have been photographed by tourists and landscape photographers many times. This is my take.

Kolmanskop is a ghost town situated 10 kilometres from Luderitz on the Namibian south coast. It was here in 1908 that a labourer working on the rail link picked up a diamond. This find sparked a rush of prospectors to the area. The town was named after an early Afrikaner traveller called Jan Kolman whose ox-wagon became bogged down in the surrounding sand dunes.

The town was the headquarters of Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) when the area was the centre of diamond exploration in the 1920s. It boasted a casino and skittle alley during its heyday. However, richer deposits of diamonds were found around the mouth of the Orange River in 1928 and in 1944 CDM relocated to the town of Oranjemund. The last of the Kolmanskop residents, including hospital and transport staff, left in 1956 abandoning the town to the encroaching sand dunes.

The deserted rooms of many of the often ornate houses are slowly filling up with sand. This together with the filtered light and the haunting winds that often pick up during the day, make it a particularly visual feast and it has become a popular tourist destination for visitors to the area.

Sossusvlei (vlei – Afrikaans for marshland) is a large ephemeral pan within a sea of red sand dunes situated in the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia. The vlei and its surrounding dunes (some reaching 200m), is one of Namibia’s most popular tourist attractions. The vlei marks the end of the Tsauchab River’s journey to the sea. Thousands of years ago the river reached the Atlantic Ocean, but the encroaching dunes have blocked its course. The pans can be dry for as long as a decade and only receive water during exceptionally rainy seasons.

The pan is the most accessible part of the 300 km long and 150 km wide sand sea which covers a 32 000 sq km area along the west coast of Namibia. It is believed that the sand originated in the Kalahari Desert a few million years ago. It was swept down the Orange and Fish rivers and has been deposited along the Namibian coast by the north-flowing Benguela Current.

Nearby, Dead Vlei was originally part of the greater Sossusvlei, but was cut off from the course of the Tsauchab River around 500 years ago. The trees have long since died, but their skeletons have remained due to the slow rate of decomposition in the dry, salty environment. The camel thorn trees stand out in stark contrast to the white floor of the pan.