Out and About in Sperrgebiet - The Namib Desert

Posted by Out & About Africa on Sat February 19, 2022 in Namibia.

We spent 5 days in Sperrgebiet - Namib Desert, enjoying the dunes, sea and also had some serious fun with the boys!

Sperrgebiet, in German known as "Prohibited Area" (Now called The Tsau ǁKhaeb National Park) is a diamond-rich area in the southern Namib (desert), southwestern Namibia, to which access by unauthorized persons was rigidly prohibited from 1908 until the early 21st century.

It lies along the Atlantic coast from Oranjemund and the Orange River north to about 45 miles (72 km) north of Lüderitz (26° S latitude), encompassing an area approximately 60 miles (97 km) wide and 200 miles (322 km) long. The visual aspect of the Sperrgebiet is drab, characterized mainly by north-south sand dunes.

While there is still some small scale diamond mining going on today the Sperrgebiet has largely been left untouched for decades, making a visit to the Sperrgebiet National Park a truly unique wilderness experience.

While in the Sperrgebiet you can also visit the ghost town of Pomona (which is noteworthy for enduring the highest average wind speeds in Southern Africa) and Marchental – the famous ‘Fairytale Valley’, where diamonds were once so common they could be picked up in handfuls as they gleamed in the light of the moon.

The Sperrgebiet has a fascinating recent history. The first rough diamond in the area was discovered in April 1908 near Kolmanskop, in what was then German South-west Africa. Within weeks a diamond rush was in full swing, the diamonds so prolific that early prospectors were picking them up by the handful, even at night by the light of the moon – but not for long. In September of that year the German colonial government proclaimed the area a forbidden or restricted zone: Sperrgebiet.

With prospecting now curtailed, several mining towns sprung up between 1908 and the start of World War I, and the area became one of the wealthiest in the southern hemisphere. However, by the mid 1920s the northern diamond fields were depleting and when even richer diamond deposits were discovered near the Orange River, many residents rushed south, leaving their homes and possessions behind.

Today the Namdeb Diamond Corporation still mines for diamonds in the Sperrgebiet, also known as Diamond Area 1. The mining activity is generally concentrated on the richer deposits in the southern reaches of the park, around Oranjemund, although an area of 26,000km² remains off limits to the public. However, as the Namibian government has a 50% stake in the company, they have been granting a limited number of permits for guided day tours into the area since 2001.