Text and Photographs by Chris Marais
As you drift off to sleep in your beachfront guest cottage, you hear the distant tinkle of a bell, somewhere out there in the mists of Port Nolloth. And when those mists congeal into the occasional dense fog rolling in from the sea, you have what is locally dubbed the Malmokkie.
For regular visitors to this part of Namaqualand and into the Richtersveld, the buoy bell of Port Nolloth has become a familiar, welcoming sound. Its practical use is to guide small diamond boats and fishing vessels into the rather tricky harbour that once bustled alongside the copper boom of northern Namaqualand. Many large freighters have come to grief on the coastal reefs of this region.
The site of this port originally bore the name of Aukwatowa, linked to a forgotten legend of “where the water took away the old man”. It was later called Robbe Baai (Seal Bay) and then renamed in honour of the settlement surveyor, Captain MS Nolloth.
Copper ore was mined in the interior around Okiep, and eventually transported 154 km by narrow guage rail to Port Nolloth, followed by a difficult loading procedure. Ore-carrying ships later grew in size, and loading from Port Nolloth Harbour was abandoned. Okiep then sent its copper ore south by truck to link up with the rail system at Bitterfontein.
Port Nolloth slumped for a couple of decades until alluvial diamonds were discovered along this section of the coastline in 1926. Since then, the story of Port Nolloth is heavily laced in diamond legend – which adds to the tourism-lustre of this little seaside village.
Small-scale diamond diving still takes place from the various boats you see bobbing at anchor in the port, and fishermen head out when the weather is good, in search of crayfish – also known as rock lobster.
Along with the nearby McDougal’s Bay, Port Nolloth has become a popular holiday destination for travellers looking for a faraway place with a romantic back-story, or adventurers wanting a first-stop springboard on their journey into the Richtersveld. They also go on day-trips from Port Nolloth to Lekkersing, to meet the Richtersvelders in their own environs.
For insights into this part of the world, there is no better starting place than the Port Nolloth Museum, run by George Moyses, a colourful veteran of the local diamond diving fraternity. The museum really focuses on offshore maritime matters, especially the diamond diving aspect of Port Nolloth.
In the spring, Namaqua blooms surround Port Nolloth and the village is alive with the buzz of ‘flower tourists’ enjoying the Diamond Coast with its best foot forward.
Bedrock Lodge Cottages & Museum
Tel: 027 851 8865 or 082 259 8865
Tel: 072 543 2132
The Beach House Self-cater Cottage
Tel: 074 107 2422
Scotia Inn Hotel & Restaurant
Tel: 027 851 8353 or 027 851 8232
Tel: 079 717 1871
Tel: 084 726 7092
Tel: 027 851 7843
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