The Skeleton Coast

The Skeleton Coast is a sliver of desert that spans the 1,500km from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River and Angolan Border. Despite its macabre name - given by sailors wary of the strong winds, shifting sandbanks and rusting wrecks - the northern section of the great Namib Desert is full of life and a fascinating place for the informed visitor.

A coastal road straddles the ocean and the desert like a tightrope from Swakopmund through the Recreation Area - dotted with fishing camps - and into the Skeleton Coast Park as far as Terrace Bay.

A few roads lead inland through the multi-coloured gravel plains, shifting barchans and occasional inselbergs. Beyond Terrace Bay, the Skeleton Coast Park lies vast, brooding and impenetrable.

The colony of Cape fur seals is one of the major coastal attractions in the Skeleton Coast. Up to 300,000 seals live and breed at Cape Cross, which is where the first European feet touched Namibian soil - those of Portuguese explorer Diego Cáo.

Fishing along the coast is excellent and there are many rudimentary fishing camps in the recreation area up to the Ugab River, which marks the southern boundary of the Skeleton Coast Park. Copper and cow sharks provide the sport - on tag and release - while delicious line fish include kob, steenbras, blackfish and blacktail.

Desert-adapted flora and fauna is rife: lichens, which are actually a symbiotic relationship of fungi and algae; the fascinating welwitschia; dune-creating dollar bushes; and whole ecosystems in the linear oases along the dry rivercourses. Jackals and the rare brown hyena prey on the seals at Cape Cross and elephant and rhino traverse the eastern parts in search of food and water; kudu, gemsbok, springbok, steenbok, genet and wild cat frequent the vegetated valleys and lure the occasional predator.

The turbulent Benguela Current causes strong winds, shifting sandbanks and powerful undertows that have led to many a sailor's demise. The shipwrecks along the coast are an eerie testament to the humbling power of nature's forces - they're also quite picturesque against the stark desert-and-sea backdrop.

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