Exploring Kolmanskop: The Town That Nature is Claiming Back

I don’t know how I learnt about the existence of Kolmanskop.

I don’t recall if it was the internet, TV or even just a good old fashioned book that alerted me to the presence of a tiny abandoned town in Namibia.

What I do know is that as soon as I decided to travel through Namibia, there were no doubts in my mind that I would finally get to see this otherworldly village with my own eyes.

Kolmanskop is located just a short drive from the coastal town of Luderitz, however, this town is relatively far south when compared to many other tourist hotspots in Namibia and as a result, seems to miss out on a large number of travellers, something which always makes me happy!

You can call me greedy if you want to, but I just always seem to enjoy visiting places more if I have them to myself or only need to share them with a small handful of others.

For me, that solitude can make a place transcend beauty and reach a level of pure magic.

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In 1908, a worker found a diamond in this area and upon showing it to his supervisor, the area quickly went developed from nothing into a rich mining town run by the German empire. The area was found to be incredibly rich in diamonds, and it didn’t take long for the area to built up in the German architectural style, with amenities such as a hospital, school, casino, ballroom and the first tramline in Africa.

After WWII the amount of diamonds being found began to slowly deplete, but large diamond deposits had started being mined in Orange River, some 270km south of Kolmanskop. Many of the towns inhabitants abandoned their homes and raced south to seek more diamond-filled pastures and the town was completely abandoned by 1956.

In the modern day, Kolmanskop has been transformed into a small tourist attraction which brings people and revenue to the nearby seaside town of Luderitz. However, due to the location of Kolmanskop, it can be easily missed by many Namibian travellers. Those who pick up cars from Windhoek often don’t want to drive so far South and make such a big detour, and people travelling from South Africa will often choose to visit Fish River Canyon instead of Kolmanskop.

Basically, getting to this town requires quite a large detour off of any of the main tourist trails in Namibia and it gets just a fraction of the visitors that Sossusvlei and Etosha boast – which is what makes it so utterly appealing to me.

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We paid for the more expensive ‘photographers permit’, which would allow us to visit the town outside of the regular visiting hours, but honestly, we didn’t really need to do so. It was empty enough even during the peak hours!

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There is one large manor house which is still in absolutely fantastic condition. It is located higher up than any of the other buildings and has thus escaped the bulk of natures power.

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Though this house lacked any red Namib sand, it made up for this with some striking shadows that could be found throughout the house.

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I had started at this manor house with the idea that if I started at the top of the hill earlier in the day, it wouldn’t be so exhausting to trudge through the sand in a downhill fashion as the sun and mercury continued to rise.

As I started to descend, the buildings became more and more dilapidated; and the sand became more and more encompassing.

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It should go without saying, but I absolutely have to stress that if you plan to visit Kolmanskop, you absolutely must do so whilst wearing closed toed shoes, and boots with thicker soles are definitely preferable.

When you enter these buildings you do so at your own risk, and there are certainly more than a few potential safety hazards. I spotted many an exposed nail, lots of shattered glass and even a snake!

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The buildings should have started to feel repetitive, but there was always something new to explore in each building and each room.

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Sometimes it was easy to get into the buildings, other times getting in would require some serious manoeuvres! I ended up basically crawling through the window in this next picture.

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Most of the furniture has long since disappeared, but there are still quite a few bathtubs floating around in the sand and debris.

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The Kolmanskop entrance fee is N$75, which is approximately $7-8 AUD. We decided to skip the offered tour (it is worth noting that tours are only offered in English and German) in order to explore on our own.

A photographers permit is more like $25 AUD, and this allows you to enter the town outside regular visiting hours. This would be useful for those interested in night and astro photography.

Kolmanskop is open every day, but has limited operating hours and tours on Sundays.

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Eventually, the day started getting far too hot to keep exploring and it was time for us to head back to Luderitz. I had always imagined that Kolmanskop would be magical, but it ended up being even more special than I ever could have hoped for.

If you are planning a trip to Namibia, make sure you take the time to detour to Luderitz and Kolmanskop.

I can guarantee that you won’t regret it.

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THE  LOWDOWN

Getting to Kolmanskop: We drove from Fish River Canyon to the coastal town of Luderitz, which we used as a base
4×4 Vehicle Hire: Fully equipped 4×4 vehicles are available to rent from many companies in RSA and Namibia – we rented a Toyota Hilux from South Africa 4×4 for around $155 AUD per day, which is quite common pricing during peak season
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses
Remember: In theory, Namibia could be explored by a 2×2, but it will be uncomfortable. Splash out that extra cash for a good four wheel drive!

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

20 thoughts on “Exploring Kolmanskop: The Town That Nature is Claiming Back

  1. Fantastic!

    It seems that towns built on mining often meet this fate. Your article reminded me of Humberstone in Chile, which was based on saltpeter, but is now a ghost town too

    1. I know right?! Of all the things to get left behind, the tubs really stood out to me – and there were so many!

      1. We have a few in Arizona, and there are several in the Mojave Desert of California and Nevada. Generally, there are a few hardy souls living in each, and quite often a quirky bar-which is the only business in the “town”.

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