Another Day in Swakopmund


Another day in Swakopmund, another group of travellers, another early minibus out to the dunes.

This pretty German Colonial town is marketed as Namibia’s adventure capital. There is sandboarding, quad-biking, ballooning, camel-riding, sky-diving, parascending and deep-sea fishing. Yesterday was sandboarding, today is ATV’s.


Travellers stepped out of the minibuses which had collected them from tour agents, guest houses and campsites around town. We were funnelled inside, given waivers to sign and helmets to wear, and led off in small groups.

I pulled on the helmet, started the quad bike and we rolled out of the centre in line astern behind the guide, past grassy hillocks into the open desert. The sun cast long shadows behind us, the sky was a deep and improbable blue, the sand glowed orange and pink.

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Skudding across the floor of the desert, throttle wide open, engine howling, feeling the heat rise from the crankcase, looping up, along and down a high dune, treating it like a berm on a mountain bike trail, kicking up the odd puff of sand; back onto the flat, then bumping over the crest of a smaller dune. The driver in front takes the next one too slow and bogs down; the back wheels dig in, churning up sand in clouds. I swerve round her and keep the throttle open and make it up and over the top, getting momentarily airborne.

It is a landscape of majestic nothingness: a sea of sand blown into waves by the wind, the colours changing as the sun rises as the morning unfolds. They filmed Mad Max: Fury Road here, using these dunes to represent the apocalyptic landscape of a world after a nuclear war. In reality, the toxic smoke would block the sun for years and start another ice age, but only the cockroaches and hardier sorts of wasp would mind: humans and everything else would be extinct.


The guide raised his hand to get us to stop, left his quad bike running and walked off into the desert. He came back with a namaqua chameleon in his hand. When he released it, the dark chameleon began to lighten until it was a similar colour to the sand, although it is said to be a myth that they change colour for camouflage. It shuffled off, then, with its comedy power walk, all elbows and knees.

We pressed on into the desert and the surefooted ATV’s clung to the side of the dunes, and powered up steep slopes and rolled down the other side, and I felt in control throughout and never in much danger and came round to thinking that the popular idea that these things are deathtraps was just scaremongering by the tabloid press.

Then I heard later that one of the guys I had got the minibus with that morning had gone over the handlebars and wound up in hospital with a broken scapula.

© Richard Senior 2016              

9 thoughts on “Another Day in Swakopmund

  1. This brought back so many memories of my quad biking adventure in Swakopmund – beautifully written!
    Flight of the Phoenix (with Dennis Quaid) was also filmed in Swakopmund… they were filming when I was there and I actually had a few beers with the extras for the movie (unfortunately no star spotting for me though!)

    • It’s an interesting country with its vast desert, one of the great national parks (Etosha) and German Colonial heritage. Southern Africa is a fascinating region, though. I like Zim and Botswana too.

  2. Beautiful!

    My family grew up four-wheeling at the sand dunes (in Utah). None of us have died or been overly injured but we’ve all got our near-miss stories!

    • Glad you liked it. Most things that are fun also seem to be dangerous, to a greater or lesser extent. I’ve not been to Utah – I haven’t travelled anywhere near enough in the States, just a bit of the west coast + NY and Vegas.

      • That’s a great part of the country to see! Utah has a lot as well, if you ever want travel suggestions there just let me know.

    • Thank you. They were just iPhone snaps, although the light was good. There’s lots to do there and Swakop is a lovely town (like a piece of Germany picked up and transplanted to Africa – surreal). Recommend 🙂

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