First visited in 1487 by Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias, who named the bay Angra Pequena (Little Bay), raising a padrao (cross) to mark his landfall, Lüderitz would take its current name from a Bremen merchant, Adolph Lüderitz who, in 1883 controversially, bought the area from a local Nama chief for just 10 000 German marks and 260 rifles, just prior to the declaration of the protectorate of German South West Africa in 1884.
The colourful town, rich in heritage, indigenous, geological and historical remains a curious oasis on a rugged and uninhabited ancient coastline – often windswept, shrouded in sea fog, beset by desert sandstorms, with no local water source, and isolated by harsh desert and the no-mans land of the restricted Sperrgebiet.
Its reasons for being and prospering were unquestionably its abundant marine riches – the bounty of the intense plankton-rich Benguela upwelling just offshore, and its precious mineral riches, which were to see the area first rise to prominence during a diamond boom at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The varying fortunes of both of these sources of economic activity have seen the area both prosper and decline at various time during its history. Depleted fish stocks would, at times, cripple this fishing port, while diamonds that once created lavish prosperity and human habitation around Lüderitz would dwindle, to be later recovered further south at Oranjemund, leaving ghost towns such as Kolmanskop and Pomona.
But Lüderitz survives still and today its fortunes continue to see it grow, with marine resources returned and sensitively exploited; its natural harbour extended and revitalised into a modern port supporting a major export and processing industry. Its tourism prospects flourish too, encouraged by developments such as the multimillion dollar Lüderitz Waterfront project, supported by a modern airport and a vibrant hospitality, retail and eco-tourism sector.
Lüderitz boasts tourism facilities that are both well established and highly varied – from B&B and pension type accommodations in historic buildings to large, luxury establishments with every facility.
Among these is the Lüderitz Nest Hotel, offering 70 spectacular seafront-aspected rooms, with comforts and facilities aplenty for the discerning traveller, including a sauna and pool, private beach, wellness centre, a sea-view restaurant (specialising in local Atlantic delicacies) an Oyster Bar and conference facilities for 180 people.
The smaller exclusive Seaview Hotel Zum Sperrgebiet offers similarly lavish accommodations, amenities and fare, offset by panoramic oceans views: features which helped claimed this fine establishment the Tourist, Hotel and Catering Industry’s 1996 International Award.
A variety of smaller B&B and pension-type accommodations capture some of the quaint character of this town and its people, among them homey establishments like Haus Sandros, which has private self-catering accommodations set in peaceful gardens, ideal for small parties.
Other resort establishments in Lüderitz include the upmarket Shark Island Resort, Kratz Platz Self-catering and the Zur Waterkant B&B.
Lüderitz is a colourful town that luxuriates in a well-preserved heritage. Among at least 84 buildings of architectural interest, some can be seen in historic Berg Street in the Alstat area, with examples of the Wilhelmian Art Deco style at the spired Lutheran Felsenkirche built in 1911, overlooking the town, as well as the turreted red-roofed Goerke House. Fascinating cultural history is preserved at the Berlanz Museum.
Sadly much of Lüderitz’ darker past has, until fairly recently, remained hidden – particularly its part in the infamous concentration camps of Shark Island, where thousands of men women and children were interred following major rebellion against colonial rule in the early 1900’s. Some 1359 of 2014 prisoners, forced into brutal labour building the Lüderitz to Aus railway line in 1907 perished, along with many others from disease and starvation. A visit to this windy peninsula is a pilgrimage for liberation historians.
No trip to Lüderitz is complete without an excursion to the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Sperrgebiet. Built within just 2 years of the diamond rush of 1908, it would include a bustling town with school, hospital, ice factory, butchery, bakery and an opulent casino, which even staged operettas. In the period before World War I, 1000 kg of diamonds were recovered in the area. It was not to last and by 1956 the very last diehard resident had left. Today, it is slowly being reclaimed by the Namib’s shifting sands. Fascinating guided tours are available to the town as well as to settlements like Pomona and Elizabeth Bay, which suffered similar fates.
Lying at the entrance to the Southern Dune Namib, Lüderitz is a kick off point for guided desert 4×4 safaris to areas such as Saddle Hill, 3 days to the north as well as to the southern Sperrgebiet, which boasts natural spectacles such as the Bogenfels Arch.
Close to Lüderitz are other natural-wonders, including Agate Beach, famed for its sand roses of crystallised gypsum. Peninsula drives from the town’s southern end take in untouched beaches and birdlife, like flamingos. Access can also be gained to some conservation projects in the area including those focusing on the Strandwolf (Brown Hyena)’and the Cape Fur Seal and Jackass Penguin colonies.
From the port, a trip aboard the famous schooner, Sedina takes visitors past coastal sites like the old Whaling Station, the Halifax Island Penguin Colony and Dias Point. Encounters with the coast’s Heavy-sided Dolphin are sought after experiences.
For adventure seekers, sports enthusiasts and revellers there is much to enjoy: prime windsurfing at Grosse Bucht and Grosse Lagoon, Desert Golf, the annual Snoek Derby at Easter and the popular Lüderitz Karneval in August, with a classic ball and other revels at the towns taverns and lodges.