Words and pictures by Julie Lovegrove.
Kolmanskop is an incredibly inspiring place to visit for photographers. In 2013 I came across photos of it on a friend’s blog and I knew right then I just had to see the place for myself. Ever shifting desert sands are reclaiming the town’s buildings, drifting in through open or missing windows and doors and it looked absolutely incredible.
After months of planning and hundreds of emails I realised my dream and took a small group of photographers out with me on my most exciting African adventure to date. I organised a two week photography road trip through Namibia, and Kolmanskop was the one place I didn’t want to miss.
Kolmanskop is a former diamond mining town now reclaimed by the desert
This small former diamond mining town in the middle of the Namib desert was first built in 1928 to house the flood of prospectors. It was once a bustling, thriving community that generated enormous wealth in a short space of time. But Kolmanskop’s fate was closely entwined with the irresistible yet finite deposits. The boom was quickly followed by the bust, the deposits eventually depleted, and in 1954 the town was abandoned and given back to the desert from which it grew.
The Quartermaster’s House: A substantial building next to the small school teacher’s house.
The way the light dances on the rippled drifts of sand is incredible. I just love the spectrum of colours you can capture from the plastered walls.
A beautiful sand-sprinkled staircase with some desert-worn carpentry.
A bucket list location for adventuring photographers
With its eerily haunting beauty, the crumbling decay and its surreal cinematic aesthetic, Kolmanskop is an inspirational and exciting place to photograph.
The town is now run as a tourist destination. I’d had insider information and been told that it’s possible for non professional photographers to obtain permits to photograph there after the place closed to the general public, and this is what I did with my fellow travellers. Shortly after 13.00 the place was deserted and it was an incredible experience to be in this small town with just 4 other people and a couple of staff there. A few of the houses are still beautifully preserved with glass in the windows and some furniture on display, whilst others are slowly falling apart and being swallowed by the ever encroaching sand. Even so, colourful painted walls and wallpapered rooms remain bright because of the dry climate.
The sand has filled some rooms so much that you have to crawl through the door frames. The experience is both amazing and surreal in equal measure.
Kolmanskop ghost town: Things to know before you go
Kolmanskop is a VERY windy place, especially in the afternoon. I’d highly recommend wearing long trousers as otherwise you’ll have sandblasted legs and it will hurt – a lot. It’s also worth thinking about some sort of dust protection for your camera and lenses even if it’s just a plastic bag.
More useful tips for photographers and adventurers:
- There are two 45-60 minute guided tours in the morning only (before 1pm)
- Get a photography permit so that you can stay behind and capture it after the crowds have gone
- If you only have one camera, use the widest lens you have and keep it on. Changing lenses is guaranteed to result in dust on your sensor 🙁
- There is a coffee shop on site where you can have lunch. This will close shortly after 1pm so eat & drink before it shuts
- Photograph the bowling alley and other preserved rooms before 13:00, as they will be locked up shortly afterwards
- Kolmanskop is only 15 minutes from Luderitz, but not very well signposted from the main road
- There are English and German speaking tours
- Sun screen, closed shoes, and plenty of water are a must.
Would you like to join me (Julie) on my next adventure in Namibia?
The abandoned Namibian diamond mining town of Kolmanskop will have photographers almost jumping up and down with excitement.
I’m running my second photography tour of Namibia in September 2018 and Kolmanskop is definitely on the itinerary. Maybe you’d like to join me on the adventure visiting inspirational locations like this? You can come along to learn how to take better photos or just come with me and see all the great locations! I’ll happily teach you how to use your SLR or mirrorless camera in a more creative way, capturing the heart and soul of each place we visit.