Surrounded by waves— the pumping Atlantic Ocean to the west and the golden dunes of the Namib Desert to the east— Swakopmund is far more than just the country’s definitive adventure capital or a jumping off point to travels through the entire region, it’s a stunning destination in its own right. This little seaside town is dominated by colonial architecture reminiscent of Namibia’s history as German South Africa, seeming at times a sleepy and somewhat forgotten European beach resort town, yet still entirely African at its core. It’s pretty easy to see what makes this a favourite among travellers and the perfect destination for a scenic free-fall above the clouds.
All the details: Skydiving in Swakopmund
Cost: Skydiving is N$2500 with Ground Rush Adventures, not including optional photo and video packages.
Getting there: The nearest airport is Walvis Bay, about 30 minutes away. Although it’s not necessary to have a car to enjoy Swakopmund, it is probably still much cheaper to drive here on your way through the country (3 hours west of Windhoek).
Top tip: Spring for the video package if this is your first time skydiving, it’s expensive but quite amusing to look back on.
As soon as it starts getting light around 545am, Cal and I wake up on the top of our rock, the group around us stirring soon after. Cal is being picked up at 7am from our camp (and now I understand why the transfer was so expensive, because we are literally in the middle of no where) to be driven to the airport in Walvis Bay where he will wait for his flight to Cape Town and his connections onward to Melbourne, so we linger on the rock to watch the sunrise for only a few minutes before packing up our things and hiking back down to the truck for breakfast. The rest of the group descends after another half hour and then we all have to say goodbye to Cal and wish him safe travels. As sad as I am that he’s missing the rest of the trip (I suppose someone in the relationship needs to earn a living), I’m pretty excited for him to send me photos of Henri, so it’s not all bad.
After Cal is gone, we pack up the truck and hit the road ourselves for the short drive to Swakopmund. As we drive, the weather starts to shift dramatically and it’s not long before we are all bundled up in jumpers and actually cold for the first time in the last two week. Even though I’m pretty exhausted, I spend the entire drive singing along to 90s classics rather than resting, and the happy times only continue when we arrive at our hostel and sign up for all our activities. Grace, Diane, Nicole, Melina, Emelie, Lucas, and I put our names down for skydiving this afternoon, most everyone (except me, Kerri, and the German girls) sign up for sandboarding the following morning, and we all book in quad biking through the sand dunes for tomorrow afternoon. Our time in Swakopmund promises to be anything but dull.
After our activities are all sorted out, we check into our room and basically empty the contents of our lockers all over the beds (but not before inspecting very closely for bed bugs, because I’m finally seeing improvements in my bites and I’m not trying to repeat this experience anytime soon). All 10 of the remaining group are in a single dorm, but the “room” is actually two separate rooms that share a shower. Lucas and the Germans opt for the smaller room, which leaves the other 7 girls to share the bigger room.
After all the unpacking and reorganising, we have less than an hour to run into town and eat lunch at KFC before our bus is here to pick us up for our skydive. The town is amazingly empty, even for a Sunday afternoon, but it is undeniably beautiful and I can see why so many people rave about Swakopmund. Palms line the very European streets, and standing in the middle of the town you can look one way and see sand dunes within throwing distance and then look the other direction at the ocean just as close. In some ways, it’s distinctly African, but in other ways, you’d swear you’re in a Western seaside resort.
While we wait in the activities office for our lift to the dive site, I try to pep talk a nervous Nicole, but wine proves far more effective at lessening her anxiety— we order a glass each and the woman behind the counter has clearly never served wine before, so we end up with full glasses the size of fishbowls. Of course, the bus arrives shortly after we order, but this is Africa, so we get to take our wine on the bus and very comically try to finish it off while driving.
Once at the skydiving place, we have to fill out forms and select our video options before putting our names down on the manifest. Nicole tries to casually back out at each step given that she is terrified of both heights and planes, but, through some careful coercion and a lot of peer pressure, she has a receipt in her hand and is muttering that she hates me before long. Quite surprisingly, I’m not feeling too nervous myself, and it must just be that I haven’t had much time to think about it. I’m sure that when I’m looking out of the plane, I will be suitably terrified..
Almost immediately after sitting down, Grace and I are called up to put on our suits and harnesses and then ushered over to the grassy area to wait for the plane. In no time at all, the little spotted plane rolls in and our instructors are hustling us quickly inside. Looking out the open side of the tiny little plane, I feel my first pang of nerves, but try instead to focus on the beautiful, rolling sand dunes set against a brilliant blue ocean. Soon, we are passing above the clouds (one of the instructors tells us that it is actually fog, but I’m fairly confident in my ability to distinguish clouds from fog, so I don’t buy it— Grace argues this point for nearly the entire flight, which is a nice distraction from our impending free-fall).
After ascending to a startling height, my instructor pulls me closer between his legs and begins to hook us together, tightening my harness and slapping some rather uncomfortable goggles on me that greatly restrict my facial movement. In a matter of moments, the first camera guy tumbles out the door and Grace follows with her instructor, and then it’s our turn to lean precariously over the edge. The instructor grips the door while I dangle completely out of the plane, and I only have the chance to look to the ground below for about half a second before he projects us out. For a split second, I feel the free-fall, but then it is a different feeling altogether. Unlike bungy jumping, where your stomach is in your chest for the entire fall, skydiving is more like sticking your head out of the car window on the highway— I can feel the air rushing past and my face skin flapping in the wind, but I don’t feel like I’m plummeting.
After about 40 seconds of free-fall, my instructor yanks our parachute and I nearly kick myself in the face as we rotate abruptly upright (see video below). For the next few minutes, we float (still at pretty fair speeds) towards the ground. I even get the opportunity to take the controls for a minute, spinning us into a wicked right spiral that makes me feel a little dizzy. Thankfully, the instructor takes control back before long and guides us safely down to the ground for a landing that is impossibly gentle. I can’t stop smiling, and I would go again in an instant (if I didn’t have to pay for it).
Back with the group, Nicole is several drinks in, trying to build up further liquid courage, and Diane is suited up to jump with a random man. Grace and I share stories of our jump while we wait for all of the others, Melina with Lucas and Nicole with Emelie, to be called up and ushered into the plane. Every single person, including Nicole, lands saying that it was one of the greatest feelings of their lives. We all agree that it was worth the money and eagerly await our videos and photos over ciders before filing back into the bus and returning to our accommodation to rendezvous with the others for dinner.
After watching several of the videos on the laptop while getting ready, we all go out for a group meal at Napolitana, a lovely Italian restaurant just a few blocks away. We make a brief appearance out, but most of us just come back early to go to bed, exhausted from our incredible skydive and wishing that we could relive the moment again and again.