More background info:
Lüderitz is the place where the German
colonial story in South West Africa began.
But before that a Portuguese
explorer named Bartolomeu Diaz briefly dropped by and, as was customary back then, erected a stone cross to mark his appearance here – this is at the aptly named Diaz Point (see below
). But the Portuguese, noting the barren desert inland and the total lack of drinking water, quickly pushed on and made no attempts at laying claim to any land here.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the rich fishing grounds in the Benguela Current off the Namibian coast attracted fishermen, whalers and sealers, and on some of the offshore seabird colony islands guano was mined (for fertilizer). At some point the Dutch apparently laid a claim on the land around what today is Lüderitz but never made any use of that.
Then in 1883 a German trader from the Hanseatic city of Bremen, Adolf Lüderitz, teaming up with another German merchant, Heinrich Vogelsang, from the Cape region (South Africa
), landed at the bay and proceeded to buy it off the Nama people’s “kaptein” (‘captain’) Josef Frederiks, for a relatively small amount of money, but also a large cache of rifles (Vogelsang was something of an expert in selling guns back in those days). The bay was subsequently named “Lüderitzbucht” (‘Lüderitz bay’ – though the ‘bay’ bit was soon dropped). Later Lüderitz and Vogelsang bought a large coastal strip of land in addition.
Apparently this deal involved a rather big element of fraud. Vogelsang nominally bought a strip 40 miles long and 20 miles wide – but only after the transaction did he inform the Nama chief that the “miles” in question were not the familiar English miles (the equivalent of 1.6 km) but “German geographical miles”, which were the equivalent of 7.5 kilometres. Thus a vastly greater tract of land became Lüderitz’s property. Before reading up on the history of Lüderitz I had never even heard of German geographical miles – and I am from Germany! – so it must have been clear from the start that the Nama would not know anything about this either. Well, it’s not like treachery in colonialism was a rare thing …
Anyway, after a half-hearted challenge to this land ownership on the part of the British, it was agreed in 1884 that the Germans could have this outpost and develop it as their first African colony. And so Germany
’s late take in the “Scramble for Africa” began, which led to the complete annexation of South West Africa by the Germans – see also under Namibian history in general
Adolf Lüderitz himself, who had suspected that there would be minable minerals in the region, did not have much luck and made little money out of the land. In 1886 he went missing while out prospecting south of Lüderitz near the Orange River and was never seen again.
The German authorities developed the town and harbour of Lüderitz and it became an important supply base for the “Schutztruppe”, or ‘protection force’, as the colonialists called their military here. During the war against the Nama people between 1904 and 1907, they used a small barren island just outside the harbour of Lüderitz as a concentration camp
– see under Shark Island
Lüderitz’s harbour is still one of only two on the entire Namibian coast (the other, bigger one being at Walvis Bay further north).
After diamonds were discovered in the area around Lüderitz in 1908 – see under Kolmanskop
– the town quickly became very affluent indeed. In fact for a time it was considered the richest of any town in Africa.
, the German colonial Schutztruppe had to surrender to South African troops in 1915, and the colony was taken over by that then British possession.
While diamond mining in the immediate vicinity of Lüderitz declined in the late 1920s, fisheries were another economic development. Still, from the 1940s onwards Lüderitz suffered a gradual downturn.
In recent years, things have looked up a bit again, partly thanks to tourism, but also fisheries and the use of the harbour as a loading point for the ores extracted in a nearby large zinc mine.
It’s still a very remote spot at the end of the road – with a middle-of-nowhere feeling when you approach it by road from the east. But it’s a rather pretty colonial-charm place and a very practical base for explorations in the region.
What there is to see:
The main reason for most tourists, including those interested in dark tourism, to come to remote Lüderitz, is to use it as a base from which to visit the famous ghost town
. Proper ghost town
aficionados also use it as a springboard for tours deeper into the “Sperrgebiet” (‘forbidden zone’) National Park to also see Pomona
and/or Elizabeth Bay
But Lüderitz also has its own very dark site, though it is not very well developed for visitors; yet it deserves its own little chapter here:
Other than that, some may find that the German colonial-era remnants have a certain darkish element about them, though they are mostly seen just as architectural heritage – see below
on the Atlantic
coast in southern Namibia
, some 430 miles (ca. 700 km) by road from the capital Windhoek
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: quite remote, reachable by road only (long drive); not too expensive.
These days the only realistic way to get to
Lüderitz is by road – there is a railway line, but this hasn’t been used by regular passenger trains in many years. The town is at the end of the major B4 trunk road from Keetmanshoop, where it connects with the main north-south artery of the B1 leading to the capital Windhoek. It’s hardly possible to drive that sort of distance in one go, so intermediate stops are necessary. But the drive as such is easy and the B4 is one of the few fully tarmacked cross-country roads in Namibia
and thus suitable for regular two-wheel drive vehicles.
There used to be infrequent flights from Windhoek to the airfield near Kolmanskop 6 miles (10 km) east of Lüderitz, which were operated by Air Namibia, but since that company’s folding I presume these services have also disappeared, and anyway they would not be so useful as then you’d have to arrange private onward transport. A local private minibus company can also arrange transfers from Keetmanshoop – again, hardly of that much use to normal tourists.
Getting around in the old town is easy enough on foot – and there is no public transport in any case. If you come by hire car, as many visitors do, you can also use your car for the longer distances to e.g. Shark Island or Diaz Point (see below). Note that only the main roads in town and the B4 trunk road are tarmacked; side streets are sand pistes and minor roads out of town the usual gravel tracks. When walking around in the town centre you may be accompanied by numerous stray dogs, but I found them to be non-aggressive, just a bit persistent.
There are various options for accommodation
, ranging from camping (even right on Shark Island
), B&Bs/guest houses and self-catering units to the comparatively upscale Nest Hotel to the south of the centre.
For food & drink
, there are various restaurants, nothing too fancy, but good enough (I had some pretty good and surprisingly affordable seafood at Ritzi’s). Generally prices tend to be reasonable despite the remote location. There are two centrally located supermarkets, where self-caterers can get supplies.
The town itself can be sufficiently explored in (half) a day, but if you’re using Lüderitz as a base from where to do excursions into the Sperrgebiet (see below
) then you may need to stay here for several nights (I had three).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Many people only come to Lüderitz to use it as a base for exploring Kolmanskop
. Some may also consider the more adventurous (and expensive) tours into the Sperrgebiet to the further ghost towns of Pomona
and Elizabeth Bay
Within fairly easy driving distance is also Aus and environs
to the east of Lüderitz.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Lüderitz may be a bit sleepy and lacks the abundance of tourist facilities that Swakopmund
offers, but it’s a pleasant enough place to go for a wander in. The highlights are the many colonial-era buildings in German early twentieth century architectural style and with many a German inscription on them. There’s a “Turnhalle” (‘gymnasium’) next to a “Lesehalle” (‘reading hall’, i.e. library) a former “Kegelbahn” (‘bowling alley – see also Kolmanskop
), a former “Konzert- u. Ball -Saal” (concert hall and ballroom) that is now a hardware store, and other buildings are named after proper names, e.g. the Woermannhaus, named after Adolph Woermann, a trader and shipowner from Hamburg
, whose Woermann-Linie was the largest shipping line in the world at the time. Yet another building has the traditional miners’ greeting “Glück auf” on its facade. Quite a few colonial-era buildings are painted in bright, if not even garish, colours, which reminded me a bit of the Bo-Kaap district of Cape Town
Amongst the protected architectural landmarks are the grand Goerke House (once the residence of a diamond mining magnate) and the Felsenkirche (literally ‘rock church’), one of the oldest Lutheran churches in the country, as well as the old colonial train station – although these days it has largely lost its function. One old colonial house I spotted was in use as a government building, namely as the “Ministry of Works Transport and Communication Department of Works” (as a sign by the entrance states), whatever that may actually mean is a mystery to me.
In recent years part of the waterfront by the harbour has been developed, with leisure facilities, shops and restaurants, but it already feels a bit faded.
The commercial harbour is, as usual, out of bounds, but there’s a pier from where pleasure boats depart for scenic cruises or fishing excursions.
As you drive into town on the B4, which becomes Bay Street, you pass a hill on which large white letters, in the style of the famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, spell out the name “Luderitz”, without the German umlaut. The sign on the train station platform also lacked the umlaut dots – but someone added those by hand.
There’s supposedly also a Maritime Museum in Lüderitz, though I did not see this. The Goerke House nominally also serves as a museum, but at the time of my visit (August 2022) it was still closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Out of town there are various further bays, some used for windsurfing (especially during the annual “Speed Challenge”) as well as some beaches. And west of the town on a rocky promontory is Diaz Point, where the first Portuguese explorers landed and erected a cross, with a picture-book typical lighthouse thrown in for good measure.
- Lüderitz 01 - Hollywood-like greeting
- Lüderitz 02 - old train station
- Lüderitz 03 - platform and spelling-corrected sign
- Lüderitz 04 - central square with anchor
- Lüderitz 05 - colourful houses
- Lüderitz 06 - Goerke House
- Lüderitz 07 - Felsenkirche
- Lüderitz 08 - Woermann House
- Lüderitz 09 - library and gymnasium
- Lüderitz 10 - ex-bowling alley
- Lüderitz 11 - mining reference
- Lüderitz 12 - looking down the hill towards the bay
- Lüderitz 13 - Ministry of Works Transport and Communication Department of Works
- Lüderitz 14 - German archtecture and desert-worthy 4x4s
- Lüderitz 15 - sandy street
- Lüderitz 16 - stray dog
- Lüderitz 17 - Lüderitz harbour
- Lüderitz 18 - fishing trawlers
- Lüderitz 19 - waterfront development
- Lüderitz 20 - looking towards the town from the Shark Island causway
- Lüderitz 21 - sunset over the bay