More background info:
For the historical background and the diamond rush in general see under Kolmanskop
Pomona’s mining history actually predates the diamond rush. Before gemstones there was guano, mined off a coastal island also called Pomona, in the second half of the 19th century.
After the discovery of diamonds in 1908 and the subsequent declaration of the “Sperrgebiet” (‘forbidden zone’) by the German colonial government of South West Africa, diamond prospecting extended beyond the original area around Kolmanskop
. The Pomona mine was founded in 1912.
Soon the mining settlement established at Pomona almost mirrored that of Kolmanskop, albeit not quite on the same luxurious scale. Still, there was a community centre, the inevitable “Kegelbahn” (bowling alley), a school, a doctor’s surgery, and other amenities. Fresh water was brought in by narrow-gauge railway, as in Kolmanskop.
At its peak some 500 people lived in Pomona. Accommodation for the German colonialists and that for the local workers was strictly separate, with much more basic shared sleeping halls for the manual workers, while the modern luxuries were enjoyed only by the white elite.
The outbreak of WW1
brought an end to the German colonial period, and, again just like Kolmanskop
, mining activities were taken over by South Africa (today they are shared with Namibia under the company “Namdeb”). While in the initial years about 100kg of diamonds were mined per year, deposits eventually declined and Pomona was given up and became a ghost town
in the 1930s. So its lifespan was even shorter than Kolmanskop’s.
Today it’s an utterly forlorn place. Far from being the tourist attraction that Kolmanskop
has become, Pomona is visited only on exclusive (and expensive) 4x4 tours (see below) in vastly smaller numbers. But, just like Kolmanskop, it is an absolute dream destination for lovers of abandoned places and especially for keen photographers of such places.
What there is to see: I did this tour with my wife as the only clients that day (in August 2022), so it felt very exclusive. And it was! In the ca. seven to eight hours we spent inside the Sperrgebiet, and a total of 270 km driven, we never encountered a single other vehicle or person!
Our guide Heinz picked us up with his rough desert-worthy 4x4
from our accommodation in Lüderitz
… he was a little late – not his fault, it was the people supplying the snacks and lunch included in the price of the tour that had caused the delay. He introduced himself and conducted the tour in German, presumably given my German passport and place of residence (Vienna), and I’m glad he did, as it gave me an opportunity to use my first language in such an exotic place, which only added to the exoticness. The next day we had another tour with him (see Elizabeth Bay
) which was shared with two other tourists and conducted in English, so I found Heinz was fluent in English too (as well as Afrikaans, which he used with some of the staff at the checkpoints).
We first drove to the general Sperrgebiet checkpoint
, where our paperwork was processed, passports checked, and we had to go inside to sign a disclaimer form too. Then we drove a few miles further east along the B4 main road (past Grasplatz – where in 1908 the first diamond was discovered) to get to the Rotkop Gate
. There our papers were checked again and then we entered the Sperrgebiet. An abandoned yellow mining truck with flat tyres parked just behind the gate would be the only vehicle we’d encounter for the rest of the day inside the Sperrgebiet. The warning signs at the gate emphasized again that the restrictions in this area are really strict – non-compliance (i.e. entering without a permit, taking gemstones out, etc.) could result in serious fines and even prison sentences of up to two years!
We proceeded on a well-maintained gravel track southwards into the vast emptiness of this “forbidden” desert. After about half an hour we turned off the main track and headed for a small cluster of abandoned buildings. This was Grillenhall
, where fresh water used to be pumped up for distribution amongst the diamond mines and towns. It’s a mini-ghost town now, so the ‘urbexing
’ in the desert already began early.
As usual with locations like this, photos say more than any textual description can do – so do check out the photo gallery below
In addition to telling us about the history of the place, Heinz also pointed out some desert plants, including one carrying thick salt-water-filled “leaves”. So the desert isn’t all dry in fact. Furthermore he pointed out the bare bedrock visible in many places where the sand had been blown off. This was actually marble – but according to Heinz it’s not of good enough quality for being mined.
After Grillenhall we returned to the main gravel track. The course of this has to be changed on occasions, namely when shifting sand dunes cover the track. There was an especially impressive example of this: a long crescent-shaped dune high enough to entirely engulf a telegraph pole, complete with the cable, which then re-emerged on the other side, running parallel to the course of the previous track. Right by it a road sign warning of “sand” was just about poking out of the slope of the dune. Funny.
Eventually we turned off the track and went proper off-road driving – at one point up a large sand dune. There we stopped for tea and biscuits – and for taking in a grand view over a multihued desert vista.
We then pushed on to Pomona and stopped at the old mine and the former diamond processing plant – a large cluster of mangled rusty steel, big machines and the typical sieves for separating diamonds from the desert sand. The inside of two of the buildings was more than half filled by sand dunes. Wonderful photo ops! The very best discovery, however, was a skull of an oryx complete with its pointed horns. That would have made one hell of a souvenir … but of course you are not allowed to take anything out of the Sperrgebiet.
While Heinz drove off to the old school building to set up lunch, my wife and I explored the lower parts of the ghost town of Pomona, including the former workers’ accommodation. The local (black) workers slept in large halls with just small narrow individual niches for the nights – not much privacy.
We poked around some workshops
too, then slowly made our way towards the part of town where the more privileged German residents would have lived, including the mine director, the doctor, etc.; there was also a “Kasino
” (‘mess’, or community hall) and a dilapidated “Kegelbahn
” (‘bowling alley’ – far from being in working order like the refurbished one at Kolmanskop
Lunch was served inside the old school building and it was enormous – the lunch, not the building. It could have fed a dozen people, I’m sure. It consisted of cold chicken schnitzels, a huge bowl of pasta salad and nine pieces of home-baked pastries (so three each). Impossible to finish, even when washed down with a bottle of fizz …
After lunch, we stood on the porch gazing over the desolate desert and ghost town, with not a single sound to be heard. Suddenly Heinz broke the total silence by saying “Und immer dieser Krach hier, näch?” (‘and always all that noise around here, eh?’). This proved he has a good sense of humour too!
While Heinz packed up the lunch leftovers and everything, my wife and I went to check out Pomona’s cemetery
. This must be one of the most forlorn burial sites anywhere, on a desert hill far, far from any civilization. As the cemetery contained a couple of graves from WW1
, it had a German war grave commission sign by the entrance (“Kriegsgräberfürsorge”). Several of the graves had wooden crosses that were so weather-beaten by now that no inscription remained on them. A very atmospheric place.
Back at the ghost town, we noticed two buildings near the old school, including the mine director’s house, were padlocked. As was explained to us, occasionally these houses are used for overnight stays on multi-day desert explorations. I peeked inside through the windows and saw large panels with Sperrgebiet rules. There are quite a few …
After Pomona, we drove further south to reach what many people would consider the highlight of the tour: Bogenfels
. This would translate as ‘bow rock’ and is indeed a large rock arch, 180 feet (55m) high, with one foot in the ocean, the other on land. It is indeed a dramatic sight to behold, with the waves of the Atlantic
crashing at the bottom, thrashing the water into a foam. You can climb down to view the arch from below, from where its enormous size becomes even more palpable. Looking up the coastline you can see a couple of further rock arches, though of much smaller dimensions. There’s supposedly also a cave that, weather and tide permitting, you can climb down to and enter. We did not do this.
Nor did we explore the interiors of another set of ghost town ruins, namely those of the former Bogenfels diamond mine. But after Pomona these didn’t have the same allure and I only took a few pictures from the car. Again, one of the buildings, a pink house, looked well-maintained and apparently is occasionally also used for overnight accommodation.
We then set off on the long drive back to Lüderitz
. En route we passed a curious geological formation locally known as Schwarzberg
, ‘black hill’. And indeed the rocks are so black that you might think it’s a big heap of coal.
Eventually Heinz dropped us off in Lüderitz. The next day we’d see him again, namely for the half-day Elizabeth Bay tour
All in all
, the Pomona & Bogenfels tour was a definite highlight of my 2022 Namibia
trip. Quite an investment but I found it was worth it. Having had two more participants would have brought the price down, yes, but we actually enjoyed the fact that we had the entire ghost town, and the other locations, all to ourselves. So if you can halfway afford it, I can only recommend this great exploration of one of the loneliest areas on the planet, with some superb urbexing and outstanding photography opportunities. (For a comparison with Elizabeth Bay
deep inside the Sperrgebiet (‘forbidden zone’) south of Lüderitz in southern Namibia
Google Maps locators:
(ignore the marker pin saying "Kolmanskop" here; that's wrong)
Access and costs: by guided tour only, with a special permit required; very expensive.
This is something you simply cannot do on your own. As Pomona lies deep inside the “Sperrgebiet” (the large restricted diamond mining area in south-west Namibia, declared a National Park in 2008), special permits are required and only a single operator with a concession for offering tours to Pomona is licensed to do so. At the time I was in Namibia
(August 2022), this was “Namib Offroad Excursions”, or NoEx for short, who have joined forces with “Sandwich Harbour 4x4”. My Pomona tour was run by a local guy called Heinz Manns, who has deep roots in the area – his grandparents lived in Kolmanskop
before it was given up! (Driving past he pointed out which of the houses was his grandparents’). He’s a native German speaker, but is also fluent in English and Afrikaans. Tours can be booked via agents or direct. And this has to be done at least a few days in advance as special permits have to be issued for admission into the Sperrgebiet and you have to submit passport details for the paperwork. This is checked before entrance is allowed. The rules are strict.
The tour can be booked for any day, subject to availability – and I’d recommend booking well in advance.
The price tag for a tour like this is steep. Very steep! At the time of writing the price per person, based on four people sharing is in the region of 4500 N$, i.e. about 250 EUR. As my wife and I were the only takers that day, the price was even higher (almost double), and it was the single most expensive activity on our itinerary.
The price includes hot and cold drinks, plus snacks, served at various points on the tour as well as a lavish lunch served in Pomona, including sparkling wine, which further underscored the luxury aspect of the whole package.
You will be picked up straight from your place of accommodation in Lüderitz
in the morning at ca. 8 o’clock (might vary a little) and dropped off again after the tour at ca. 5 p.m. or thereabouts.
Time required: a full day.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The same tour operator that runs the Pomona & Bogenfels tour also runs half-day tours to yet another diamond mining ghost town
inside the Sperrgebiet, namely to Elizabeth Bay
And then there’s the much more famous ghost town of Kolmanskop
, which you can visit independently without a tour operator (but still need to buy a permit).
For a comparison of all these three ghost towns see here
NoEx and their partners “Sandwich Harbour 4x4” (based in Walvis Bay) also offer longer tours into the northern parts of the Sperrgebiet, with overnight camping, including a three-day “Shipwrecks & Diamonds” tour that involves visiting two shipwrecks on the desert coast (the “Shawnee” and the “Eduard Bohlen” – see under Namibia
!) before heading inland to the overnight camp. Over the next two days they explore yet more former German diamond mining ghost towns deep in the desert. But this is an even more expensive affair, costing between ca. 13,000 and 16,000 N$ (700-900 EUR) per person, depending on the group size (4 pax minimum).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Lüderitz
- Pomona 01 - Rotkop Gate
- Pomona 02 - Sperrgebiet warning sign
- Pomona 03 - driving in the Sperrgebiet
- Pomona 04 - stop-over at Grillental
- Pomona 05 - a former fresh water source and pump station
- Pomona 06 - old bedframe
- Pomona 07 - remains of a wagon
- Pomona 08 - still life
- Pomona 09 - shifting sand dune
- Pomona 10 - sign stating the obvious
- Pomona 11 - desert panorama
- Pomona 12 - desolation
- Pomona 13 - bent marble bedrock
- Pomona 14 - diamond processing plant
- Pomona 15 - inside the diamond processing plant
- Pomona 16 - indoor dune
- Pomona 17 - big engine
- Pomona 18 - another one swallowed by desert sand
- Pomona 19 - diamond sieves
- Pomona 20 - machinery
- Pomona 21 - quarter window
- Pomona 22 - bent and broken
- Pomona 23 - old water barrel
- Pomona 24 - oryx skull
- Pomona 25 - Pomona settlement in the background
- Pomona 26 - former prison
- Pomona 27 - ruin and dune
- Pomona 28 - railway remnants
- Pomona 29 - former workers accomodation, now filled with sand
- Pomona 30 - possibly a former bakery
- Pomona 31 - long wooden building
- Pomona 32 - inside
- Pomona 33 - barred window
- Pomona 34 - Kegelbahn
- Pomona 35 - ex-bowling alley
- Pomona 36 - cemetery
- Pomona 37 - one of the remotest anywhere
- Pomona 38 - houses of the diamond mine directorate
- Pomona 39 - a peek inside - lots of rules
- Pomona 40 - old school, where lunch is served by the guide
- Pomona 41 - lunch
- Pomona 42 - toilet
- Pomona 43 - Bogenfels
- Pomona 44 - rough coast
- Pomona 45 - more ruins at Bogenfels
- Pomona 46 - probably another bowling alley
- Pomona 47 - pink house
- Pomona 48 - Schwarzberg - black hill