Kolmanskop: Namibia's Desert Ghost Town

PUBLISHED 3 JAN 2019   

Once a wealthy mining town in its heyday, the abandoned town of Kolmanskop has now been reduced to a skeleton of its former glory, battered over time by the harsh desert winds and sands. But even so, the empty, eerily desolate deserted buildings have a charm of their own, attracting tourists due to the unique characteristics, history and photo opportunities that the ghost town offers.


Kolmanskop lies 850km south-west of Namibia's capital, Windhoek, and 10km to the east of the coastal town of Luderitz. The town got its name from a transport driver, Johnny Coleman, who abandoned his ox-drawn wagon near the settlement during a sandstorm.

 


In 1908, Zacharias Lewala, a local worker employed by the railways to shovel drift sand off the railway tracks. came across a diamond which he showed to his supervisor, August Stauch, a German railway inspector. Stauch, who had previously worked for De Beers in South Africa, took the precious stone to Luderitz, where it was confirmed to be a diamond.


Very soon German diamond prospectors began flocking to the area in search of dazzling desert diamonds in the adjacent diamond field. The German government declared an extensive area that encompassed the diamond mining area a Sperrgebiet, or Prohibited Area.


As the initial inhabitants were wealthy diamond miners, they weren't satisfied with roughing it in the desert, but rather wanted only the best amenities, which were not only limited to necessities such as a power-station, hospital, and school, but also included a ballroom, theatre, casino, bowling alley, sports hall, ice factory and x-ray station, which they built with their collective wealth. A tramway and railway link connecting the town with Luderitz followed, putting the now thriving town on the map.

 


After World War II diamonds were no longer so prolific in the area and by the early 1950s people started to leave the area in search of diamonds elsewhere. The diamond-rich coastal dunes flanking the Orange River 270 kilometers to the south of Kolmanskop lured a lot of the town's inhabitants away following the new diamond rush. Many residents simply abandoned their possessions and homes in their new quest for wealth, which entailed the simple act of beach-coming rather than the more difficult task of mining in search of diamonds. By 1956, the town of Kolmanskop was completely deserted.


Over the last 60 years or so the fine desert sand has blasted the walls, windows, doors and walls of buildings, slowly working its way inside of them. As a result, upon entering a deserted home, tourists may be surprised to find they are knee-deep in sand, which is slowly but surely engulfing the town and reclaiming the desert.

 


The ghost town of Kolmanskop offers wonderful photographic opportunities, and is a must see before it is swallowed by the desert entirely. However, the area is still a restricted diamond mining area, and as such, visitors do need to get a permit if they wish to visit the town.