Sperrgebiet National Park

Useful Information

Kolmanskop, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Public Domain.
Kolmanskop, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Public Domain.
Location: West of Rosh Pinah, southern Namibia. Gates at Kolmanskop and Rosh Pinah.
Open: Kolmanskop open with guided tours. The rest of the park: only with permit, which must be applied three weeks in advance!
Classification: MineDiamond Mine
Light: n/a.
Guided tours:  
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1908 first diamond found by railway worker Zacharias Lewala.
SEP-1908 area declared a Sperrgebiet.
1928 richest diamond-bearing deposits discovered on the beach terraces 270 km south of Kolmanskop.
~1940 production declines because diamond-field is almost depleted.
1956 Kolmanskop abandoned.
JUN-2004 Sperrgebiet National Park founded.


The arid area along the Namibian coast is covered by erosional remains, mostly sand dunes and gravel. As a diamond bearing kimberlite pipe was also eroded, the diamonds can simply be found in the sand. The mining was unique, the sand was just sieved for the diamonds. This was done by indigenous people, as the Germans were physically not able to work hard at this enormous temperatures.


Kolmanskop, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Public Domain.
Kolmanskop, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Public Domain.
Kolmanskop, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Public Domain.

The Sperrgebiet National Park (SNP) covers an area of 26,000 km² of Namib Desert and Succulent Karoo, almost 3% of Namibia's land surface. It is the second largest protected area in the country after the Namib-Naukluft Park. This National Park protects the vegetation and wildlife of semi-arid and arid plateaus, and it protects the diamonds of the Diamond Area 1. The area between Aus, Sendelingsdrift, Lüderitz, and Oranjemund is the only arid biodiversity hotspot on earth.

This area is known as Sperrgebiet, a German term meaning Prohibited Area. The diamonds were discovered during the time Namibia was a German colony. The germans declared it a prohibited area in September 1908 and started the diamond mining. The only company which had mining rights was the Deutsche Diamantengesellschaft (German Diamond Company). However, during World War I Germany lost this colony, Namibia was occupied by South Africa and became South West Africa.

Subsequently the mining was controlled by the new owner, and the mining was handed over to De Beers company. The fight for freedom became one of numerous proxy wars during the Cold War, and the situation for the Namibian people was much worse than during the German colony days. The situation became better at the end of the Cold War, a ceasefire in 1988 resulted in an treaty named the Tripartite Accord, under pressure from both the Soviet Union and the United States. South Africa left the country after an 11-month transition period, during which political prisoners were granted amnesty, racially discriminatory legislation repealed, and 42,000 Namibian refugees returned to their homes. In 1990 finally the first free parliamentary elections were held under oversight by foreign election observers. Namibia became independent and a democracy.

De Beers exploited the diamonds protected by the South African government. The new government viewed the mining of its diamonds as theft. But after independence it needed De Beers' technology, investments and access to international markets. It provided the state with export revenues and its people with salaries. As a result DeBeers continued to mine but also the development as a National Park and tourist centre started. But until today tourism is impeded by the security restrictions, which require the obtaining of a permission, and it takes two to three weeks to get police clearance. This makes it almost impossible for foreign tourist to visit the park during a short journey. At the moment there are no tour operators interested to apply for concessions to be allowed horseback and camelback riding safaris, lodges, guided tours, campsites, hiking or mountain bike tours.

The main tourist site at the moment is the ghost town Kolmanskop, the location of the German diamond mining. The Germans called this place Kolmannskuppe after a transport driver named Johnny Coleman. During a sand storm he abandoned his ox wagon on a small incline opposite the later location of the settlement. The town looks exactly like a typical German town of the turn of the 20th century. Many houses are in an impressive good state, although the lower floors are often filled with sand. There is a lot of original equipment still in the houses, and a part of the village has been restored during the last years. The village was used for various movies, series, and documentaries as a filming location.

Beneath the diamonds there are several other extraordinary geologic sights in the park. The Bogenfels Arch is a notable natural bridge or arch, located at the coast. The German name Bogenfels translates bow of rock, so actually the name is simply Bogenfels and the Arch-suffix only explanatory for non German speakers. The layers at the coast line are tilted some 45° and the continual erosion of the sea creates a steep cliff face. Sometimes softer layers are eroded faster below harder layers which form a cap of the bow. Because of the incline of the layers the bridge has a unique triangular shape. The arch is a sort of erosional cave or sea cave, but as it is not very long, too short for a dark part, it is not called a cave.

The next extraordinary spot is the Roter Kamm (red ridge) which is the impact crater of a meteorite. About 2.5 km in diameter and 130 m deep it is covered by a 100 m thick layer of desert sand. The rim of the crater forms a circular ridge of red rock, hence the name. The crater was formed by an impact during the Pliocene, some 3.7 million years ago.