There is only one way to reach the town of Luderitz by car. It is a 125 km drive west from the nearest town of Aus, and for the entire length of that drive, there is virtually nothing but sand as far as the eye can see.
To our right was the Namib-Naukluft National Park, home of the Namib Sand Sea. This vast dune desert covers over three million hectares, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being the world’s only coastal desert. The ancient, staggering, and ever-changing dunes of the desert go right to the edge of the Atlantic. It is known as the world’s oldest desert, with two systems of dunes: an ancient one below, and a newer one above.
The desert is extremely dry, but is still home to much life. In fact, many of the the species here have adapted so that the primary source of their water come from the fog that rolls in from the sea. At the edge of the park we passed a pack of Namib Desert Horses. These feral horses are unique to this one spot in Namibia, and are of interest to science because of the way they have adapted to the desert climate.
To our left was the Sperrgebiet, the “Forbidden Zone.” An area that covers one third of all of Namibia’s land mass, it was closed off to the public in 1908 after the discovery of diamonds. The area was renamed a national park in 2004, but a diamond company still controls the area and entry remains restricted.
There is one place where access to the Sperrgebiet is granted to the general public: Kolmanskop Ghost Town. Kolmanskop was a German village, built around 1908 as diamond mining began in the area. Hopeful Germans streamed to the desert, building up a town around them. The tidy village featured a hospital, school, opera theater, ice-factory, casino, and even a bowling alley. Grand homes built in the German architectural style by local entrepreneurs sat atop of the hill.
Over the following decade, 2000 pounds of high quality diamonds were sifted out of the sands around Kolmanskop. But with the outbreak of World War I, many of the miners were called back to Europe to fight. Then, larger diamonds were discovered further south along the Orange river, and Kolmanskop was slowly abandoned.
By 1956, the town was completely abandoned, and the desert began to take over. The homes and shops of this once grand village are slowly sinking into the sand, leaving behind an eerie, post-apocalyptic ghost town.