GHOST STRIDERS OF THE SKELETON COAST

The Namib Desert plains north of the popular fishing hamlet of Henties Bay impart a sense of lunar dimension and timelessness caught up in infinity as one gazes across a landscape said to be the oldest desert in the world.

Fog banks roll in across the quartz studded gravel plains that seemingly stretch forever in what appears to be a lifeless and scenically sterile environment that has withstood the rigors of geological change in its present form since the emergence of time itself.

Unlike the ever active and restless sand dune system to the south of Walvis Bay the gravel plains of the north are shrouded by a grey gypsum veil supporting a wide variety of highly specialized plant and animal forms. These have adapted successfully to a life within this desolate and wind swept coastal habitat.

Aptly named the Skeleton Coast this timeless environment with its collection of many ship wrecks over the centuries and mausoleum of whale and fur seal bones stretching along its inhospitable and rugged coastline holds a fascination for visiting geologists and naturalists caught up in the scenic tapestry of pastel shades that stretch away to purple and pink horizons in the shimmering heat haze.

All around there is little for the ear beyond the crashing surf as it rolls across the offshore shoals or the sound of heavy duty tyres crunching along the salt impregnated road heading north to Cape Cross. This point of historical significance is where Diego Cao, a knight of the Portuguese court, landed in 1485 during his pioneering voyage to find a route around Africa to the Far East. It also happens to be a Cape Fur Seal rookery of expanding proportions which will be covered in a separate account.

Yet it is not all desolation, for inland from the coast within the pale grey and rose quartz gravel plains of the fog belt another of Namibia’s very special endemic bird species is to be found in the form of Gray’s Lark.

Usually encountered in highly communicative flocks, this pale grey lark of nomadic disposition, ghosts along energetically across the gypsum crust of the desert plain in a frenetic search for seeds and insects. Here it presents as an almost invisible presence against the pale backdrop of its preferred habitat and as such makes for a challenging sighting as the lunar-like landscape scrolls endlessly by…. Challenge aside Gray’s Lark constitutes the very essence of survival in this harsh and desolate landscape of scattered rocks and lichen fields making it unquestionably a highly specialized species well worth searching for with a sense of dedication. This challenge as part of any visit to the Namib Desert and the evocative Skeleton Coast, with its legendary tales of ship wrecks and lost treasure dating back through the ages, constitute a further good reason to visit this ancient land fossilized by time.

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