A little backtracking was involved after leaving Little Kulala, back up the C19 to the settlement of Solitaire an hour and a half away. It’s one of those blink-and-miss-it-places that’s little more than somewhere to stop for fuel. There’s a bakery, post office, lodge and campsite – but for us it was a quick cup of drip coffee and another four hours of driving through the desert.
Driving in a general northwesterly direction took us through the Khomas and Erongo regions, through the northern part of Namib-Naukluft National Park and onto the coastline. It felt a little strange seeing the Atlantic loom nearer as we were surrounded by desert, driving into the coastal city of Walvis Bay. We did consider stopping somewhere for lunch, but a quick loop through town didn’t reveal a great deal of places.
We weren’t all that far from our next destination of Swakopmund, 25 minutes up the road. First introduction was a blanket of fog hovering offshore, caused by the cold Atlantic meeting the Namib desert. The town itself was somewhat desolate – something to do with visiting in winter, methinks – giving an eerie feeling to the wide streets with surprisingly few humans.
Walking the streets is like stepping into a time capsule full of beautiful, well-preserved colonial German buildings interspersed with more modern ones that take on a budget version of the old style.
In a town full of German-Namibians, German food was suddenly on the agenda after we spotted an enormous schweinshaxe at the bustling Swakopmund Bauhaus. I tried to make a reservation, but they were solidly booked with huge tables of busloads from the mother country. No German food for us.
Good thing that I’d done a little research prior to hitting up Swakop as I already had a few possibilities bookmarked. In the middle of town is the Village Cafe, a locals hang-out that reveals a character-filled space once you enter its narrow shopfront.
Deciding where to sit is a task in itself. There are the front and side rooms, and a courtyard that sprawls out the back. Perhaps a seat in the old kombi van? Whoever decorated this place has a good sense of humour; evident in the quirky signs and oddments dotted about. You can even rest your glutes in a repurposed bathtub.
Burgers, sandwiches on house-made bread, savoury pancakes and a bunch of cakes and desserts feature on the two-page menu. Got a pooch? Well there’s a menu for your four-legged friend, as well, where a complimentary puppyccino (bowl of water) comes with the meal.
A creamy cheese sauce juices-up the savoury mince pancake (51), a home-style ensemble served with side salad. I was in the mood for eating a native animal – an oryx wrap (54) also filled with peppers and tomato, sesame and a sweet chilli yoghurt. Really good cafe fare.
When wandering about the cafe taking photo’s, I noticed the small koeka (cake) cabinet in the courtyard, taking mental note of the milk tart (40). Of course we tried a slice – all wobbly and delicious baked egg custard in a thin pastry crust.
We can’t rave too much about the coffee – being the fussy caffeine addicts we are – but if you enter without high expectations, it’ll do the trick.
I’d already cottoned onto the fact that our itinerary with Ultimate Safari’s covered the higher end of accommodation wherever it led us, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we checked into the Hansa Hotel in Swakopmund.
The century-old hotel is just like the city around it. A bit of a time capsule all decked in a toned-down Germanic Baroque style. Parts of it even smell like your nan’s cupboards.
We were given the keys to one of the suites, where upon unlocking the door we’re greeted with a sweeping, red carpeted curved staircase. Oh my! I couldn’t help but chuckle as we turned each corner – into the sprawling lounge room complete with full collection of old encyclopædias, down a long hallway with a small bathroom with stencilled basin, and through archways into a massive bedroom accessorised with kitsch 1980’s touch lamps.
An over-sized bathroom connects to the bedroom, and there’s even a fully functioning kitchen and dining room off the lounge. A little too much vintage space for two guys that were there for one night, but hey, it’s all about comfort, right?
Special mention needs to be made of the breakfast spread. It’s rather enormous and has as many cold cut meats as a decent delicatessen. I guess we are in little Germany, after all. It pays to get in early, or late, as the breakfast room resembles a hauptbahnhof in no time.
I’d already sussed the coffee situation many months prior, coming up with one establishment that sounded like it would serve us well. Now, if I lived in Swakopmund, this would be the place I’d be purchasing roasted coffee beans for my espresso machine. They roast their own right here, paying close attention to get the most out of the green beans they source from different coffee growing regions around the world.
The coffee was so good that we made sure to hang around on our last morning in town to grab a dose of caffeine before hitting the road again. Pity they didn’t open the cafe according to their own times, as we waited 15 minutes hoping someone would turn up to work on time. Looks like that someone wanted a sleep-in, so no coffee for us.
One of the big landmarks in town has to be Swakopmund jetty, quite possibly the best place in town to capture the sunset. Overlooking the jetty is The Tug Restaurant – appropriately named because it is, in fact, an old 1950’s tug that has a restaurant and bar built in and around it. Yes it’s a contrived tourist hot-spot, but sitting up on the deck in the freezing cold was an exhilarating way to round off the afternoon with a few alcoholic beverages and a stunning Atlantic sunset.
We tried our luck with nabbing a table at the restaurant for dinner, scoring one early as they were fully booked from 7pm onwards. Busy town, even in the low season!
The downstairs rooms overlooking the waterfront have a bit of a fine dining vibe about them, whereas upstairs in the old captains deck it’s got more of a pub atmosphere.
The 13-page a la carte menu has an international flavour about it, offering a heap of familiar dishes, plus a few local specialties. Some rather tasty crumbed Patagonian squid (55) start things rolling, along with the Swakop River soup (45) made from broccoli and blue cheese. There was no noticeable blue cheese to begin with, but once I brought this to their attention, a small cup of cheese arrived in a flash. Thanks guys!
We loved the coconut kabeljou (160) dish, a type of white-fleshed fish that’s found in the local waters around South Africa. The fillet is wrapped in filo pastry and baked before getting a good drenching in coconut cream sauce and scattered with toasted cashews.
The 355g oryx surf & turf (165) was typical pub fare – grilled prawn, tiny squid stuffed with ricotta & tomato pesto, skewer of vegetables and pile of fries. The steak was cooked to perfection.
The dessert choice isn’t overly thrilling, but we chose something, anyway. A malva pudding (45) and a chocolate fondant (45) to wrap up the night at this character-filled restaurant.
It was time to say auf wiedersehen to Swakopmund and the Atlantic coastline as we veered back inland at Henties Bay 70km north of Swakop. There’s nothing but straight-road driving through the flat landscape of the Tsiseb Conservancy, with distant views to the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain.
Our best option for a lunch stop was the tiny village of Uis, a former mining town that sits in the shadow of a white mountain that’s actually a slag heap of processed tin ore. There are limited amenities in the village – including a supermarket, information centre, petrol station, a couple of places to stay and grab a bite.
The moment you pull over somewhere you’re accosted by one of the guys trying to flog off a few rocks and crystals taken from the desert. Not interested, sorry.
One of the first things you see when turning down Sport Street is the The Montis-Usti Restaurant & Guesthouse. Time for lunch! Aside from three men in the street and two women in the restaurant, we were the only humans in town, by the look of it.
By the way the restaurant was set up, it looked like they were seasoned hosts to busloads of tourists. Nothing of the sort when we were there as it was all ours.
The menu is a well-worn A4 plastic sleeve containing a limited choice of breakfast and light meal options – sandwiches, burgers and meats like schnitzel or pork chop with chips and salad. We ended up choosing the same thing, a rather delicious boerewors hotdog (30) with sautéed onion and lettuce.
From here we continued north towards our next destination, not before being distracted by some Himba people on the roadside peddling handicrafts. I’m not all that interested in beaded jewellery and carved makalani nuts, but I was interested in getting as many photo’s of them as I could get.
These guys were in it for the money and asked how much I’d like to pay to take their photo. Friendly, in an aggressive kind of way. Well, the young lady with the shaved head, anyway; bordering on obnoxious. Not to worry, I got my shots, paid them a good amount for them and we kept on driving – deeper into the desert to Damaraland, the old apartheid name for the north-central part of the country.