North of Swakopmund, the increasingly wild and seemingly barren coastline stretches towards the Kunene River, which marks the border with Angola about 680km away. Travelling along the compacted salt and gravel coastal road affords you views of endless gravel plains, flat sandy beaches pummelled by the Atlantic waves, and, eventually, pale, distant dunes that creep closer as you drive further north. All of this is punctuated by the occasional fleck lichen fields, which transform into a colourful carpet in the early morning mist.
Now, in theory, this whole strip of land (reaching only around 40km inland) is protected, initially by Namibia’s most recently formed reserve, the Dorob National Park (formerly the West Coast Recreational Area), which extends southwards to the Kuiseb River Delta, south of Walvis Bay, and northwards to the Ugab River, where the Skeleton Coast National Park begins. The ultimate aim is the creation of a coastal megapark that extends the length of the whole of Namibia’s coastline. For the moment the incipient Dorob National Park is more a paper park, with various excluded areas (where development has already taken place) and no real facilities; as a result, no park fees are charged as yet, except to enter the seal reserve at Cape Cross.
A pinprick on the map around 120km up the coast from Swakopmund, Cape Cross is home to the largest colony of Cape fur seals in the world. Though the landscape is bare and unremarkable, the seals draw a surprising number of visitors, and the walkway allows you to get close to the action: belligerent bulls tussling for supremacy and mating rights, trying to take chunks out of each other, and female seals and pups, squabbling, playing, dozing off in the sun, or struggling to get out of the surf as it lashes against the rocks.
Nearby is the Cape Cross itself – or rather a replica – which marks the spot where in 1484 Diago (or Diego) Cāo, a Portuguese explorer, erected a padrāo, or stone cross, in an attempt to claim the land for the king of Portugal.