“Do you like rollercoasters?” our driver asked as he crested to the top of an impressive sand dune. “Yes!” we said in unison. “No!” protested S’s mom. “Oh shit!” added our toddler from the backseat as the car completed its slow, vertical descent and the driver gunned the engine to rocket up the next dune.
After spending half a week in the desert – first the Kalahari, and then the Namib – arriving at the coast was a shock to senses. It wasn’t just the sight of water, the sand dunes rolling straight down to the ocean. Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are proper cities, with the former exceeding 100,000 inhabitants – quite the departure from the unpopulated expanses of desiccated Namibian terrain we had explored over the course of the preceding several days.
From Sesriem, we had traveled north, stopping in Solitaire – a desert oasis of a town – before traversing the Namib-Naukluft National Park to reach the harbor city of Walvis Bay. Whereas Swakompund, half an hour further up the road, is swankier, with nicer accommodations and restaurants, Walvis Bay is where the action is. We stayed two nights in Swakopmund, but spent our only full day on the coast seeing the attractions around Walvis Bay.
We booked a combination tour that started with a catamaran outing to Walvis Bay’s cape fur seal colony and ended with a 4×4 rollercoaster ride across the white sand dunes. The catamaran trip was a little cheesy, but also immensely enjoyable. Pelicans swooped down onto the boat, accustomed to being fed by the ship’s crew. A couple of the fur seals did as well, though most of them seemed content to stay on the beach or splash around in the water. We were fortunate to see a large group of bottlenose dolphins. And on the way back to shore, we sampled Walvis Bay’s large, meaty oysters, as well as a smorgasbord of other seafood delicacies.
After arriving back at the dock we transferred to two waiting 4×4 Land Rovers for the trip out to Sandwich Harbor. This beautiful little corner of the Namib Desert is only accessible at low tide; at high tide, the ocean water rises right up to the dunes, submerging the narrow beach over which we drove to reach the hidden harbor. We passed by the salt works, notable not just for their briny production, but also for the large number of shorebirds that are drawn to their alkaline waters.
After another oyster-heavy snack break, we returned to town, this time driving over the dunes instead of around them. It was an indulgent way to spend the day, and – given the relatively little amount of time we spent in the car compared to our safari days – the most relaxed we felt all vacation.