From the dense suburbia of Swakopmund, the road to the Skeleton Coast heads straight northward, closely tracking the Namibian coastline. It’s a bleak drive, the scenery stark, but as South Africans we can appreciate bleak and stark. We can see the beauty in it since so much of our country has been appropriated by the vast amplitude of the Karoo and the red-soil desert sands of the Northern Cape.
When you’ve been pinned down and closed in for so long by an ornery pandemic you yearn for spaces that are one-tenth land and nine-tenths sky. The road up to Henties Bay, Cape Cross and eventually the Skeleton Coast is such a journey. There is a new tar road up to the settlement of Henties Bay, so loved by hardy fishermen, but then you get back again onto the old salt road, exuding far more character … it is wilder, more authentic, its surface nonetheless smooth as marble. It also hugs the coastline more closely, with detours to shipwrecks and stark lonely crosses. We saw the spoor of brown hyena and black-backed jackal on the beach, signs that, impossibly, there is still much life along this coastline.
Coastal sand stretches at times are flat, flat, flat, sometimes they’re buff, white or pink. Then the sand morphs into little humps with dark stone crusts, sometimes there are small round-headed bushes. Always, always, the road is long, straight and smooth.
There are signboards marking fishing spots with names like Predikant’s Gat, Baklei Gat, and my favourite, St. Nowhere. Now you really know you’re in the desert! When an ever-present mist burns off, your world in colours is a blend of saffron, mustard, cinnamon and nutmeg.
The Namib Desert – the oldest and driest desert on the planet, so they say – runs up the Atlantic coast for 2 000 kilometres, crossing three countries (South Africa, Namibia and Angola). “An area where there is nothing” … so goes the term “namib”, derived from the Nama language. The Khoisan have a name that translates as “The land God made in anger”.
North of Cape Cross, the Skeleton Coast takes up 500 km of this Namib Desert. Starting at the Ugab River, the stretch to Torra Bay is open to travellers, although a permit must be obtained at the entrance gate. Then it’s a drive of bleached whale bones from stranded whales and the skeletal structures of foundered ships. Portuguese and Dutch sailors who passed by while attempting to sail around the Cape of Good Hope on their passage to India gave the Skeleton Coast its name. The capricious weather, the treacherous currents, the deceptive fogs – sometimes it was all a little too much for them to handle.
Read more at https://gravelroadadventures.co.za/blog