The south-eastern district of Kolmanskop was a booming town of riches and culture. Now, it’s swallowed up and drowning in the Namibian sands. Kolmanskop was once a no-man’s land, until a railway worker constructing tracks across the sand saw a glistening rock in the sun, which turned out to be a diamond. The German’s quickly got word of a small town in Namibia raking in the riches, and before the locals had time to prepare, hundreds of German settlers took to to the district to build homes. It paints quite the odd image, with European homes basking in the Namibian sun. Diamonds were so commonplace in Kolmanskop that they often just laid out in the sand ready for the taking. It’s said that the miners often searched for diamonds in the middle of the night; the clear skies and milky moonlight would find its way to a shining rock hidden in the dunes, searchers would fill their pockets and then head to the makeshift German bar for a midnight beer. The diamond industry peaked in the 1920s, however come the World War and halts in diamond production, the town came to a sudden end and ran dry of supplies in 19050. Kolmanskop was left so suddenly that many villagers abandoned their personal belongings to catch the quickest ferry out of Namibia. All that’s now left of Kolmanskop is it’s sunburnt German town, engulfed in the once-rich sands that brought the town its fame.
In the Italian region of Basilicata, the stone city of Craco is perched curiously on the plateau of a mountain. In it’s glory, Craco was well established by 540BC, sitting high above its softened landscape and providing a surrounding view of the valley and any dangers that came its way. It was once a town quite ahead of its times; in 1216 the town boasted a university, church, prison and plaza. The town was fascinated by science and welcomed those entrenched in studies into their village, living harmoniously amongst the religious members in residence. It also became a military site due to its advantageous location. In 1656, a plague took the lives of hundreds of townsfolk. Over the years, residents continued to leave in between bouts of civil war and fighting. However Craco’s biggest challenge was geological. Due to its location, the village suffered from numerous earthquakes, landslides, infertile soil which lead to famine, and flooding due to manmade structures impacting the natural flow of water. Craco’s long history came to an end when the site become officially abandoned in 1980 after a final devastating blow from a 6.9 magnitude earthquake. The remaining residents of Craco have relocated to other country towns, and a handful of descendants joined together to create The Craco Society, an online forum full of history and stories about the mysterious town which once was.
Houtouwan, Shengshan Island
In the Chinese fishing boom of the 1970s, Houtouwan town became an important working district on Shengshan Island. Thousands of fishermen and their families joined the small island community to work hard and earn good money. Due to the island’s unique ecosystem, combining fresh and saltwater systems together, the abundance of unique and highly-priced fish kept the villagers happy. But as the community began to settle in, the fishing industry in China changed dramatically- the industry now buying most of its major imports from the Shanghai mainland, 64 kilometres away from small Houtouwan. The island was simultaneously suffering from very limited accessibility to education resources and food supplies. As a result, most of the town packed up immediately and left to settle back in Shanghai for another shot at a better life. Houtouwan was left abandoned on its salty coastline in the early 1990s. Today, a small handful of original fishermen still live in the town, smothered in thick greenery and lush vine. It’s a pretty sight for the eyes, but the remainder of settlers live without power and running water. They don’t seem to want to leave, appearing quite content with their hearts remaining in the overgrown town. Today, they make a small living from walking tourist groups through the village and offering bottled water for a price.
Helensburgh Glow Worm Tunnel, Australia
Just an hour’s drive from Sydney’s CBD, the sleepy town of Helensburgh hides a beautifully kept secret. The Old Helensburgh Tunnel, now known by the locals as the ‘glow worm tunnel’ is an abandoned metropolitan train line which sees its rusty tracks laid bare to nature with the train tunnel carved meticulously into the side of a rocky outcrop. The train line was originally built in the 1880’s, but was left for nature to reclaim just a short 30 years later to make new tracks for steam locomotives. The tunnel is said to be home to a few wandering spirits who never made it to the ‘other side’… one of just many ghost stories involves an old coal miner who walked through the tunnel for a short cut home but never reached the end of the tunnel, it’s said his body was found in two a few hundred metres apart thanks to a train. If you’re not too afraid of lurking about when it’s dark, you’ll be lucky to see the famed glow worms. You’ll need to be super quiet and refrain from using lights to see them in their best form. If you’re visiting after a Sydney downpour, you’ll be able to see a waterfall heavy in flow off the right hand side of the train tunnel. As one of my favourite spots, I’m a bit sad to report that due to unruly tourists and vandalism the tunnel has been closed off for now. But as any Aussie knows, if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Stairway to Heaven, Hawaii
The Stairway to Heaven in Oahu, Hawaii, is one of the island’s most infamous secrets. The stairs were built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy Seals, who used the peak of the lush mountains as their top secret facility for transmitting radio waves to passing ships in the surrounding ocean. Upon the rickety staircase up, there’s a few disheveled hideouts and bases. It was built to be tough; stairs almost at 80 degree angles at some points, only those fit enough could make it to the top. Once the Seals were finished with their duties the trail was open for public navigation until 1987, when they were deemed too unsafe for hiking. However this hasn’t stopped people from visiting the infamous mountain. It’s now considered illegal to trek up the stairs for multiple reasons, mainly that being the entrance way to the hike backs onto private property. Locals have had to suffer most nights to tourists and adventurists alike jumping their fences, waking their dogs and being extremely noisy. The track is also considerably dangerous having been battered by extreme weather elements. A few awry reports of deaths along the trail rarely put people off making their way up, however with police and security now locking down the site, it’s a big risk to commit to the climb as you can face a hefty fine and potential jail time if you get caught. It’s a stunning sight for the eyes, but rest assured I believe the Stairway to Heaven will soon be dismantled and completely off bounds in the coming years.
Formed on the most western-part of the Republic of Ireland, Skellig Michael is a sight that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s almost inhospitable landscape is battered by sea, rain and wind on most days. The iconic monastery which sits precariously close to the cliff face was said to be built in the 6th century. It features dome shaped huts made from stone, and it’s estimated no more than 12 monks inhabited the island at any one time. The island was also home to viking raids, extreme storms and shipwrecks, and if the mountain could speak it would tell quite the tale. Since it’s abandonment at an unknown year, no more than 30 people have ever lived on Skellig Michael. The site gained much popularity after featuring in an epic final scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). It’s a journey to visit the monastery, with only four tour companies being granted access to its land each year, and of course, weather permitting. Skellig Michael still remains much a mystery as to when it was built, why the monks chose such a dangerous location, and the many stories and myths surrounding it’s legend.