Weekend getaway to Goanikontes-Oasis on the Swakop River

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 middle of the river bed, looking down river (West).
From the middle of the river bed, looking down river (West).
A couple of kilometers down river, I came across the ruin of what was an ostrich farm in the 1890s.
A couple of kilometers down river, I came across the ruin of what was an ostrich farm in the 1890s.
The "pad" heading up river made for easier hiking than the loose sand.
This “pad” heading up river made for easier hiking than the loose sand.

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.

img_0544img_0549img_0568img_0571The 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…

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Christoph, my 15 yo guide and son of the managers, led me to some of his favorite vantage points on the south rim. He doesn't even bother with the game trails and believes in going straight up!
Christoph, my 15 year old guide and son of the managers, led me to some of his favorite vantage points on the south rim. He doesn’t even bother with the game trails and likes to go straight up!
He's grown up in the bush and never wears shoes. Thorns and razor-sharp rocks don't bother him.
He’s grown up in the bush and never wears shoes. Thorns and razor-sharp rocks don’t bother him a bit.
Record shot: yes, I made it up the non-trial that Christoph led.
I made it up the non-trail that Christoph led, but kept my boots on!
From the south rim, looking up river (East).
From the south rim, looking up river (East).
A side canyon with the high plains in the distance.
A side canyon with the high plains in the distance.
From the south rim, looking down river (West) over the Goanikontes-Oasis compound.
From the south rim, looking down river (West) over the Goanikontes-Oasis compound.

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 main lodge, built in 1907 and renovated in 2012.
The main lodge, built in 1907 and renovated in 2012.
Outdoor seating for breakfast and lunch, with dogs and farm animals to entertain.
Outdoor seating for breakfast and lunch, with dogs and farm animals to entertain.
The menu includes a lot of local game: oryx, kudu, springbok as well as goat, sheep, pork and beef.
The menu includes a lot of local game: oryx, kudu, springbok and zebra.
These goats only read German!
These goats only read German!
The alpacas add to the exotic nature of the place.
The alpacas add to the non-Namibian feel of the place.
The goats and alpacas are penned at day's end, with only the peacock able to strut freely through the night.
To protect against predators, the farm animals are penned at day’s end, with only the peacock able to roam freely through the night.
Of the many features at the "resort," the 100-year old dam allows for swimming.
The 100-year old swimming hole.
One of the original structures.
An original structure, also recently renovated.

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!

Author: Chris

Until recently, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia focused on Community Economic Development. Before that, I was a high-tech executive, small business owner, consultant and business broker.

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