This past weekend afforded me another chance to explore my nearby surroundings, this time along the bed of the Swakop River that separates the high desert in the north from the high plains to the south. I tented at the Goanikontes-Oasis rest camp, explored the river bed and climbed up to the south rim for great views.
Distance-wise, it’s not very far from Arandis: 19 km west on the main highway towards the coast, then another 19 km south along a gravel road down into the carved canyon. Geologically-speaking, however, it has a very different feel than my home town.
From the floor of the canyon, you get the sense of being surrounded by mountains. It’s only when you’re on top that you realize that’s the “normal” elevation and the river is far below.
The Swakop has historically been considered a “4-year river” but recently it has seen water only about every 10 years, the last in 2011. When it does flow, the water level across the wide bed approaches 2-3 meters deep and runs for several days.
The surrounding area, with its great variety of topography (only some of which I was able to photograph on this trip), has also been used in a number of films, including Mad Max: Fury Road and 2000 B.C. Tom Cruise’s latest project, The Mummy, was originally to be filmed here, but got moved 22 km north to Rössing Mountain, because Tom insisted on having cell phone reception…
Culture-wise, Goanikontes-Oasis is also a different world than Arandis: more Europe than Africa, more German-speaking than Afrikaans-speaking, more salads, cheese and cakes than porridge, more white than any other skin color. Established by German settlers in the late 19th Century as a stop for cattle runs between Windhoek and Swakopmund, it later grew most of the fresh produce eaten by the coastal communities. During the relatively short period of German colonization (1880-1915), the first structures of the lodge were built to give Swakopmunders a chance to enjoy the warmth of the sun when their homes were fogged in. To this day, it’s a popular destination for day-trippers and overnighters – and, this weekend at least, for dozens of mountain-bikers training to compete in the upcoming Desert Dash, a 24-hour endurance race that essentially follows the old cattle trail.
The owners, managers and staff at Goanikontes-Oasis are extremely friendly and knowledgeable and I know I’ll be a frequent visitor. It’s also a good base from which to explore the moonscapes and ancient Welwitchia plants a bit further to the south. They helped me plan a 2-day, 45 km overland route from Arandis through two river canyons – for my next visit, I hope to hike there!