Henties Bay does not have an impressive history of being discovered many centuries ago by some well-known seafarer sent on important explorations by his king to far-off countries, neither does it have the benefit of an age-old cross confirming its historical importance or a rich history of diamonds scattered on its beaches.
Although without pretense and true to the informal character of Henties Bay its discovery was remarkably similar in events than those of some of our historical neighbors - events that include hopeful diamond explorers and big-game hunters who challenged the Namib Desert and the Skeleton Coast in desperate attempts to find fortunes or merely to survive. “Explorers” whose lives were saved by the existence of a small freshwater fountain situated in an old tributary of the Omaruru River, literally on the beach.
The Early History - 1929
Major Hentie van der Merwe, Kalkfeld farmer, motor-dealer and big-game hunter, also known as the “father” of Henties Bay told his story to Die Brandwag, 29 April 1977.
In 1929 he heard of a museum in Pennsylvania offering a small fortune for a rhino skeleton and immediately set out with a half-ton Ford truck and a few helpers towards the Brandberg to hunt for rhino. After he shot an animal he realized that their water reserves were low and there was not time to prepare the carcass in the usual way (that is to place the bones in an ant-heap for the ants to eat it clean). He packed up the half-cleaned carcass and set out on a journey along the beach towards the Omaruru River in a desperate attempt to find fresh water. The journey was difficult - through thick sand with the stinking, rotting carcass intensifying their craving for water. Without finding water in the dry riverbed they struggled on even further south. A few miles south of the Omaruru River mouth they came to a deep sand valley where they found a patch of green reeds fed by a small freshwater spring - an oasis in this barren land!
There he discovered signs of a previous camp and an old metal sign stating in German that diamonds were found there. He was of the opinion that the Schutztruppe could have camped there on an expedition in 1886. (Later rumors had it that one Erasmus also found solace at this fountain after he nearly died on an illegal diamond expedition along the coast in 1920.)
Whatever the case might be, Major Hentie van der Merwe immediately fell in love with the place and returned there on his next December holiday. He built himself a wooden shack from crates used for the importation of motorcars in those early years. For years it was his own private haven whereto he escaped every December. Later, he started inviting his friends along who referred to it as Hentie’s bay, which eventually became Henties Bay as more people claimed their own little places amongst the dunes. They mainly camped in tents and brought everything along, even livestock such as chickens, sheep and goats, which was then slaughtered when needed.
In 1951 the South West Africa Administration proclaimed erven in the riverbed that could be rented with the condition that no permanent structures were erected. Shacks were built from wood and hardboard.
In those years there was only one shopkeeper, a German named Köstens, who sold the bare necessities such as rice, sugar, flower, tinned foods, coffee and paraffin.
In 1966 the Administration decided that the people must move out of the riverbed and 27 people were given opportunity to buy erven on the north and south dunes, either side of the riverbed. In 1967 the DeDuine Hotel was built and since then the town has slowly started to develop.
Currently Henties Bay has become a popular holiday town with the necessary infrastructure such as; Shops, Garages, and filling stations, Post Office, Pharmacy, Hotel, Television and Radio as well as Cell Phone reception. Apart from the Hotel there is a lot of other accommodation such as Bed and Breakfast, Rooms to Rent, Holiday apartments, houses to rent, etc. Activities include fishing, golf, a day visit to messum crater or the seal colony at Cape Cross, a visit to the Omdel dam or go see the legions in the Namib.
Since 2004 Henties Bay experienced a boom in the property market and although many more people settled here permanently, a great deal of houses are still mainly for holiday purposes.
In the absence of major industries Henties Bay will remain predominantly a holiday town.