Tag Archives: Walvis Bay

Pelicans and a Seal Named Nicholas

Walvis Bay means “Whale Bay” and is a deep-water haven for sea and whaling vessels along the Southern Atlantic between Cape Town and Windhoek, Namibia. The town became part of the English Cape Colony (a portion of what is now South Africa) after WWI and in 1994 became part of Namibia.

 The waters in this area are rich in plankton and marine life that attract whales and fishing vessels alike, with shipping, fishing and salt processing supporting the economy. The Walvis Bay salt fields produce 400,000 tons of salt a year.

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 Walvis Bay Lagoon, known as a birder’s paradise, is a stopover for thousands of migratory birds and flamingoes year round, but the only birds we saw on a four-hour catamaran adventure were pelicans.

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 This pelican knows where the goodies are stored.

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Later in the trip a seal named Nicholas came aboard the catamaran.

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 From a distance we saw a large colony of seals lounging along the sand bar. Most of the big males/bulls were on shore, with each male having about 40 females in its harem. Some of the females and younger seals were in the water playing. The males spent most of the time taking it easy, as it was the breeding season.

 

 

 

 

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The Namib Desert is Alive

One of the best shore excursions on the entire trip is seeing the “Living Namib Desert” via 4×4 vehicles driving through the sands outside Swakopmund, Namibia.

The coastal dune belt seems barren and lifeless at first glance, but it is in fact very much alive, if you know where to look. There are a fascinating variety of specially adapted plants and creatures that are able to survive in this desert area, utilizing the daily life-giving fog that rolls in from the cold Atlantic Ocean. 

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 We saw the following creatures endemic to the area including sidewinder snakes (Peringuey’s adder), the palmato or Namib dune gecko (Pachydactylus rangei) with its transparent skin, beautiful colors and webbed feet that function as snowshoes. Other creatures we saw were the black scorpion, sand snake, Namaqua chameleons, and beetles. 

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Everyday this beetle stands on his head in order to capture the dew from the fog,

allowing the water to run down to his mouth. 

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Beautiful, non-poisonous sand snake

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Namaqua chameleon, loves to eat beetles, and can see what is behind him.

 

The mysterious and beautiful ever-shifting sand dunes are captivating

but they are seemingly impossible to photograph.

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This snake, a poisonous, sidewinder (Peringuey’s adder)

is a master at camouflage. In less than a minute it can completely disappear from view.

 

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This little animal is a shovel snouted lizard that will hang onto your earlobe if you let him.

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Along the way we learned about the geology structure and formation of the desert. The landscapes were dramatic and colorful as we continued our scenic drive.

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The Other Side of the Namib Desert

We had high hopes for our desert adventure based on the previous day when Mary Jane got to see the many creatures that live in the desert as well as to experience the wonderful landscapes of the wind sculpted sand. The desert we encountered our second day in Walvis Bay was a very different story. Mary Jane rode in the SUV with the ship’s captain and his wife for the day. That was a treat!

We drove along the coastal highway, skirting the city of Swakopmund, and continued northward to the rock and pebble part of the Namib Desert – Dorob National Park, an example of a hyper-arid desert. From our elevated view we were awed by the geological formations we saw. The colors and types of rocks in this area were varied in color, shapes and contour. Many different types of rocks in layers made up this landscape that looked “Moon-like.” One portion of the area is named the Moon Valley with deep chasms. It is said to be 2 million years old. Some of he Dolorite rocks found in the area are 450 million years old. Other rocks are 120 million years old. It is hard to get your mind around this type of time line.

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We then descended into the dry riverbed (which was filled with water three years ago) of the Upper Swakop river and drove to the Lichen Koppie, a small hill that is a patchwork of lichen plants. Clinging to several rocks were shriveled up leaves that turned green and uncurled before your eyes when the guide poured a little water on them. He showed us four different types of these lichens. When green, the plants’ photosynthesis begins, and when it dries out it shrivels up and waits for the next drink to grow and expand.

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Our next stop was to see the world famous Welwitschia mirabilis plants. The unattractive Welwitchia plant was discovered in Angola 1859 and some are believed to be over 1,000 years old. They grown very slowly in this desert climate and are unlike anything you have seen before. Each plant has two long leathery, often misshapen dark green leaves that tear and split apart as the tree trunk, which remains mostly below the surface of the ground, grows in diameter. In dry spells the ends of the leaves dry up and drop off but the leaves just keep growing slowly from the trunk out. The diameter of the trunk of the largest one we saw (estimated to be 1,000 years old) was about 18” and its leaves spread out to cover about an 10-12 foot diameter circle. The roots go down 9 – 12 feet. There are male and female plants and insects play an important role in pollination. The plants are on the endangered list and only grow in the Namibia and Angola deserts.

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We stopped for lunch at the Goanikontes Oasis where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of native food. The entrée was Kudu served with a couple of sauces, side dishes and salads, and for dessert we had custard with fresh grapes. The shade and gentle breeze was a nice change of scenery for us. The couple that owns the tourist lodge is having trouble surviving, as they have had no rain at all this year and, therefore, had to send their cattle to another part of the country so they would not die from the drought.

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We left the Oasis and drove to another overlook to take pictures. The landscape is very bleak and formidable. We both prefer the beautiful sand dunes nearer the ocean.

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We then drove to Dune 7 of the Namib Desert. This dune is one that allows people to climb up and slide down. We learned that the dunes are moving northeastward at the rate of about 7 feet a year, burying plants that are in their path.

Tons of sand is deposited on the shoreline each year and this moves inland over time. Depending on the wind and light, the dunes seem to change shape before your eyes. We were given time to walk in the sand and climb the dune. A few of our tour companions climbed to the top. Mary Jane only got a short way up and you can see her slide marks back down the dune.

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One of our tour companions sliding back down the dune after having reached the summit.

On the way back to the ship we stopped at the Walvis Bay Lagoon to see the huge flocks of flamingoes that come there to feed every day and then fly back to Swakopmund at night. Conversely the pelicans that spend the night at Walvis Bay fly to Swakopmund to feed during the day.

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We arrived back at the ship just as the children from Bernard Nordkamp Center were preparing to board their bus for a return trip north to their homes in Windhoek’s northern Katutura settlement. A Catholic priest started the compound named after him, to provide a safe place for orphans and vulnerable children as well as a soup kitchen. He has since passed away, but the Catholic Church is carrying on his life’s work.

Our ship, the Amsterdam, has recognized and continues to support this charity and raised, onboard, over $8,000 this world voyage to help with the ongoing operation of the center. A number of the center’s children had been bused down to the ship and came aboard before noon and were treated to all the pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream that they could eat. The children then put on a singing and dancing program for the passengers and each of the children received a backpack loaded with goodies. The ship also shared with the kids some of the left over party favors from our formal dinners. The kids were having a great time whooping it up with the party horns, necklaces and hats when our group returned to the ship from our tour.

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