Founded in 1892 as the main German port, Walvis Bay is 350km from Windhoek, 375km from Sossusvlei and only 43km from Swakopmund or a 30 minute drive.
Walvis Bay means Bay of Whales in Afrikaans and these guys are known to waltz together as they get it on. And boy is this ocean teeming with fish. Big fish, little fish, cardboard box. Ok, those are dodgy dance moves but if you want to see some mammals throwing shapes take a boat out and watch.
And it’s not just dancing but singing too. The frequency is so low you probably won’t hear all of it. Unless you’re a humpback senorita. It’s only lads singing by the way. Just boybands in whale world. And, amazingly, they have a cultural revolution every few years and update their back catalogue. This is true. Scientists have only recently realised that they change their songs. Each new release can last 30 minutes, some warble on for hours. As the females sway away and say, “Jeez, not sure about this one, bring back Papa Humpback and his greatest hits”. Joking apart, the ocean is a noisy place.
So, ok. Humpback whales think Walvis Bay is ace. Ace, ace, ace. They like to hurl themselves through the air, slapping the sea with their fins, their tails, their heads. You’ll want to see that. And the shier southern right whales come close to the shore too. The best time of year for sightings is August to October.
Safe to say, it’s the place to be if you enjoy the sea. There’s also a lagoon. Right there. Sea birds, pelicans, flamingos. Thousands. This is one of the most important wetlands in southern Africa.
So, let’s talk about the sea. Forget the Big Five this is the Marine Big Five baby. Whale, shark, seal, dolphin. Ok that’s four but you can see penguin too although they tend to be further along in Lüderitz. Don’t forget the other beauties though: turtle, sunfish, flamingo.
Try and spot the endemic Benguela dolphin. Also known as Heaviside’s dolphin. And swimming merrily by... dusky and bottlenose. They should seriously consider life as a duo. Dusky & Bottlenose.
The sunfish or moonfish is another popular creature to spot. It appears to sunbathe on the ocean surface and is the heaviest and boniest fish in the world. It holds the record for producing the most eggs, with a female capable of laying 300 million eggs in her lifetime. That’s way too many kids.
Leatherback turtles are important dudes as well. They’re easy to spot. And not just cos they’re big but because of their leathery skin which bears seven longitudinal ridges. Great, heavy, heaving swimmers, they can dive down 1500 metres and stay under for up to nine minutes. Yup. No special equipment for them. Us useless humans can only manage about 90 metres, and that’s only with a great pile of expensive gubbins.
The last of the Marine Big Five is the Cape fur seal. There are several large breeding colonies near Walvis Bay.
Want more water? Ok. South west of the town, how about 45,000 shallow and sheltered hectares of lagoon. At certain times of the year this is the home for tens of thousands of flamingoes and a stop-over for many more wetland species. This place is highly regarded both nationally and internationally. In fact, many ornithologists consider it the most important coastal wetland in southern Africa and one of three most important in Africa. Cormorant, pelican, chestnut banded plover, curlew sandpipers, white chinned petrel, Wilson's storm petrel, Cape gannet, black oystercatcher, even jackass penguin. Occasionally the rare Damaris tern.
Namibia is a country where fishing, mining and farming account for nearly two-thirds of the economy. And salt is a big deal. Especially in Walvis Bay.
A 3500 hectare salt pan sits southwest of the lagoon. It supplies over 90% of South Africa's salt. It’s basically produced after the sun evaporates sea water. It’s then harvested, cleaned, processed and packed for market. Some of the ponds are pink. This is the plankton, which procreates in salt water and is responsible for the colouring. When the harvesting company started in 1964, it produced 50 000 tonnes of salt per year. Today, it produces about a million. It’s an old business too with evidence suggesting humans have been harvesting and processing salt for more than 8 000 years. Not necessarily at Walvis Bay though.
The large bay and sand dunes help make Walvis Bay a tourist mecca. A hotbed of adrenaline fuelled activities. Also worth a visit, is the local museum in the Civic Centre, the Birdlife Information Centre and the wooden Rhenish Mission Church, built in 1880.
For nature lovers it’s right there. Explore the flamingo colony. Thousands flock in shallow water near the beach. Ballet dancing just 50-100m away from you.
You can kayak on the lagoon too. For those after a rush you can sky dive or try dune boarding and quad biking. Dune 7 is said to be the tallest dune in the area, who’s measuring? Anyway, it’s the one to climb. And climbing up soft sand is hard. Oh the irony. Soft and brutal.
If you’re an angler or an ornithologist or just fancy another stunning lagoon take the 48 km drive to Sandwich Harbour, a freshwater beauty surrounded by dunes and 10km of bird colonies. 120,000 birds including pelicans and flamingos. If you’re not booking an official tour you’ll need a 4x4.
Some stretches go through soft sand, and you have to walk the last bit. You also need to find out about the tides. Hmm. Might be easier to book a tour for this trip. Or go by boat.