Skeleton Coast Namibia by Ian D M RobertsonTreacherous fogs and strong currents forced many ships onto the uncharted sandbanks along this stretch of coast © Ian D M Robertson, Shutterstock

The coast here is a barren line between an icy, pounding ocean and the Namib Desert.

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 on to 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 a barren line between an icy, pounding ocean and the Namib Desert. It’s testament to the power of the ocean that, despite the havoc wreaked on passing ships, very few wrecks remain visible.

At first sight it all seems very barren, but watch the amazing wildlife documentaries made by the famous film-makers of the Skeleton Coast, Des and Jen Bartlett, to realise that some of the most remarkable wildlife on earth has evolved here. Better still, drive yourself up the coast road, through this fascinating stretch of the world’s oldest desert. You won’t see a fraction of the action that they have filmed, but with careful observation you will spot plenty to captivate you.

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