As an ex-travel agent, this used to be my favourite activity to sell along the Namibian coast -Turnstone Tour’s full day out to Sandwich Harbour, where barren landscapes meet the Atlantic Ocean. On top of that, lunch is served in the dunes close to the beach. How much better can it get? During our December holidays I decided that it is time to find out what I have been selling for so long…
The husband and I wake up early. Not because we have to, but because the excitement is giving us more energy than our small flat can handle. So we eat breakfast, we pack our camera equipment and then we go wait outside. We are of course about thirty minutes too early for the pick-up. But what the heck – we are ready. And so we wait. While waiting I realise that activities do start rather late at the coast. But as we wait, the sun appears from behind a thick layer of mist and the reason becomes clear. There is little fun or beauty in driving along the coast when it is covered in a thick layer of mist.
Finally we are picked-up in a custom built Land Rover. Sceptical about our transport, I say nothing but do wonder how the Landy will fare. We head straight out of Walvis Bay southwards. Directly outside Walvis Bay one finds the salt works. It is much bigger than I thought and Bruno, our guide and owner of Turnstone Tours, tells us that this particular salt mine produces about twenty-two tons of salt a day – only for road works. Once we have passed through the salt works the beach and Atlantic Ocean stretches out before us.
It is low tide and the driving is easy as we head to Sandwich Harbour. We head inland for a while, passing through barren landscapes of salt pans and hummock dunes covered by vegetation. And then finally we head for the beach. As it is low tide, we drive between towering dunes and the ocean.
The origin of Sandwich is unclear, but folklore has it that a ship called the Sandwich stranded there on the sand in the 1400’s. Sandwich became quite busy after that as it became Africa’s first meat market with sailors bargaining for cattle with the local Topnaar who lived further inland in the Kuiseb River. Unfortunately it was also later used as a waling station. Today the remains of Sandwich Harbour are nothing more than three wooden houses all partially covered by sand and reeds.
Sandwich has definitely become a top selling activity at the coast for both local adventurers and foreigners. Other than the fact that Sandwich is completely isolated and secluded, it is also a bird sanctuary for some 34 different species sometimes accounting for up to 40,000 birds. And if the tides allow and you can walk around, you might also see jackals, seals and even whales.
We arrive at Sandwich with time to spare and so we head for the dunes – on foot. We walk along the base of the dunes, circling it from behind to make the climbing slightly easier. We climb and we climb and then finally we are on the highest dune. The views from up here are incredible and my poor Canon works over time to capture it all. But the tide is rising and we have to make our way down the dunes. Fortunately going down is much easier and quicker.
I now have no option but to trust our Land Rover and its driver as we race across the beach back to safer ground. The tide has risen so much that we have to wait a couple of times for waves to break before we can continue along narrow stretches of beach washed by growing waves. But soon there is no time for waiting and we hold on for our dear lives. Adrenaline pumping, we arrive on safe ground well-aware that another tourist outfit is still well behind us. Thinking that the joy-ride is over, Bruno takes us into the dunes. There is no better way to drive dunes but to do it with speed. It feels like the longest but best roller coaster I have been on, until we finally stop. With weak knees I get out of the Land Rover and walk to the highest point a few meters away. Sand burning my feet, I stare in awe below. The tide is full now and the waves break majestically against the dunes. The road we drove just thirty minutes previously is completely under water.
It is here, high above the ocean, in the dunes that we are served lunch. Starving, we finish the salad and lasagne while enjoying ice-cold drinks. Feeling rather happy, we are surprised with cake and coffee. How good is this? With the wind picking up, it is time to head home, but not before the Landy gives us some much needed exercise in digging and pushing.
We return via a slightly different route, but no matter the road – I have fallen in love with Namibia’s Coastline. The Land Rover will have to grow on me though.