Skeleton Coast

Skeleton Coast Namibia by Tricia HayneTreacherous fogs and strong currents forced many ships onto the uncharted sandbanks along this stretch of coast © Tricia Hayne

With treacherous fogs and endless barren landscapes, it’s easy to see why this stretch earned the title of the ‘Coast of Skulls’.

By the end of the 17th century, the long stretch of coast north of Swakopmund had attracted the attention of the Dutch East India Company. They sent several exploratory missions, but after finding only barren shores and impenetrable fogs, their journeys ceased. Later, in the 19th century, British and American whalers operated out of Lüderitz, but they gave this northern coast a wide berth – it was gaining a formidable reputation.

Today, driving north from Swakopmund, it’s easy to see how this coast earned its names of the Coast of Skulls or the Skeleton Coast. Treacherous fogs and strong currents forced many ships onto the uncharted sandbanks that shift underwater like the desert’s sands. Even if the sailors survived the shipwreck, their problems had only just begun. The coast here is but a barren line between an icy, pounding ocean and the stark interior of the Namib Desert. The present road, the C34, runs more or less parallel to the ocean, and often feels like a drive along an enormous beach – with the sea on one side, and the sand – or gravel – continuing forever on the other. It’s a tribute to the power of the ocean that, despite the havoc wreaked on passing ships, very few wrecks remain visible.

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