Namibia, A Road Trip – 4 – Driving the Skeleton Coast to Swakopmund
Reluctantly leaving the beauty of Damaraland behind us, we drove down the coast on the C34 – through the Skeleton Coast Park and the Dorob National Park – towards our sleep-over town – Swakopmund, en route Sossusvlei. It promised to be a long day of driving. We were about half way through our road-trip photographic safari organized by David Rogers.
There is no tarmac on this road. It is called a “salt road”. The desert gravel is soaked with sea water and compacted and forms a hard road as smooth as asphalt.
Our first stop was the entrance gate to the Skeleton Coast Park, to get our entry permit. The drive was a little unnerving in that, for long stretches, we saw not a single sign of civilisation. And, often, not even the ocean for the width of the desert – beach!On the other side of the tarmac stretched the desert – into the horizon. We went past kilometres of this landscape with nothing to break the visual. Indeed, most of us were in a sort of stupor from the unending sand and road.Suddenly we noticed a bump in the sand. A swift application of brakes and a scramble for the cameras ensued.This was the famed fossil plant, the Welwitschia Mirabilis.The welwitschia is a living fossil and is known to live for a couple of thousand years, at least.
Our next stop was the ruins of what appeared to be … an oil-rig!This heap of metal had a story to tell. It was originally part of a grand scheme to extract oil from the coast, organised by Ben du Preez around 1960. Unfortunately, it ran up huge debts before the banks foreclosed.
Loneliness and neglect …Or was it … rust lace?Was that a window to heaven?A stairwell to eternity?A derelict palace from the orient?But, it was not a flight of fancy to imagine that time would likely deal the same cards to all of us and perhaps this contrast between then and now would not stary so stark …For now this old framework apparently provides a perfect breeding spot for Cape cormorants, between September and March. While we did not see them nesting, we did see signs of another visitor …Pulling ourselves away from the strange magic of this old oil-rig, we drove on – largely silent, until we found another skeleton on this well-named park!All that remains of this vessel is its bare bones. Again, lonely, abandoned, a little sad but beautiful in its setting …And to add to this nautical graveyard …We exited the park after signing out at the Southern gate,which had some interesting displays!
We then drove straight through to the Cape Cross Seal Reserve where we stopped for a few minutes to photograph the thousands of fur seals that came to shore to breed. This is the largest colony of seals in southern Africa. A boardwalk enabled us to walk right among the animals. The sheer number of seals all around us and in the water were unbelievable . This was only matched by the noise they made and the smell! And this was the quiet part of the year as far as these animals were concenrned!While the seals were cute and funny, some fast asleep,some sunbathing, the bulls fighting for their piece rock, mothers feeding their babies;there were many crying piteously looking for their lost family.Sadder still were the little dead seals who perhaps had died of starvation or may just have been trampled on. The other unhappy part of our visit to this colony was the little gift shop that sold products made of seal skin. While they may have harvested skin from naturally dead animals, it was still a little macabre and one could not forget stories of seal hunting that is still so prolific in the world today, where baby seals are clubbed on their head to death so that their skin should stay unblemished for human use!
We had a delicious cup of coffee at the Cape Cross Lodge and continued on our journey.
A quick stop to photograph another shipwreck just around sunset rewarded us with this ghostly view – a fit end to a day spent among skeletons!We arrived at Swakopmund late in the evening. The Swakopmund Guesthouse is a family run, bed and breakfast lodge, run on solar power. It had been a long day of driving. A quick dinner at a local German restaurant and we were all soon tucked into bed!
The next day we were leaving the coast behind and heading into the desert to Wolwedans!