The name ‘’Kolmanskop’’ means ‘’Coleman’s Head’’ and although it has become synonymous with diamonds, the town is named after a far less glittering event. The area became known as Coleman’s head after a transport driver by the name of Johnny Coleman abandoned his wagon here during a sandstorm in the late-nineteenth-century.
You’ll find Kolmanskop almost buried in the heart of the Sperregebiet, about 850km from Windhoek, and 10km from Lüderitz.
Originally, a train line passed this way, joining Lüderitz with Keetmanshoop and then Windhoek, which is where the story of Kolmanskop begins.
In 1908, a railway worker by the name of Zacherias Lewala was shoveling sand from the tracks when some interesting stones caught his eye. He handed them to his supervisor August Stauch, an avid naturalist and then permanent-way inspector of the railway line.
Stauch took the stones to a mining engineer friend for an appraisal. They were confirmed to be diamonds, and despite Stauch’s attempts to keep his windfall a secret, the race was on. As fast as the rumors of this motherlode spread, prospectors packed up their wagons and headed to the site.
Before long, every available piece of land in the area had been pegged out.
Laborers where muffled up against the sand and sent out to crawl on all fours to scan the sands for more stones every day. They arrived back at their employers with jam jars packed to the brim with gems.
By 1912, Kolmanskop was responsible for over 11 percent of the world’s diamond production.
The prospectors had quickly made themselves at home in this inhospitable place. Grand houses with manicured lawns sprung up out of the desert. The town included a hospital, bowling alley, butcher, baker, post office, ice plant, pub and magnificent opera hall. There was no expense spared and it was rumored that champagne, which arrived by train from Cape Town once a week, was cheaper than water.
It couldn’t last forever. Soon the diamond supply started to dwindle and one by one the prospectors left for greener pastures. The last 3 families left Kolmanskop in 1956. As the people moved out, so the desert moved in. Today this once thriving town lies at the mercy of the sands which are slowly overwhelming it.
The closest accommodation to Kolmanskop is found at Lüderitz. The town offers a variety of lodgings, from simple backpackers to plush hotels as well as camping facilities.
Lüderitz is a small coastal town that is well equipped to cater for visitors to the Sperregebiet and those who want to take advantage of ocean attractions. You will find ample opportunities for dining as well as picking up supplies, fuel and banking in the area.
Guided tours of Kolmanskop take place at 9am and 11am on week days and 10am on Sundays and can only be booked on arrival in Lüderitz or at the Kolmanskop entrance. You can join a tour group in town or drive out on your own to join a tour on site.
The guides are well-informed about the history of the town and the lifestyle of the folk who once lived there. It is fascinating to see how this once grand and prosperous town has succumbed to the shifting sands of the Namib.
What to Bring
Good walking shoes, sun protection and drinking water should always be on your packing list for Namibian adventures. Don’t forget your camera.
Driving – You can proceed to Lüderitz from Windhoek along the B1. A normal sedan car is perfect for your trip, although you’ll need a 4×4 to venture on the gravel road to Kolmanskop.
By Air – Domestic commercial flights are available from Hosea Kutako Airport in Windhoek to Lüderitz and charter flights depart from Eros airport to land at Lüderitz.
Drop us a mail via our contact us page for more information or to book your trip to the heart of Sperregebiet in Namibia where you will discover the buried town of Kolmanskop.
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