It’s on all the tourist maps and seems to be one of the better known attractions on the coast, so my expectations were low. I thought I’d get there, have a look around and be gone in 15 minutes. But I had heard the seal colony had a pungent aroma like no other and I am into the olfactory aspects of travel as well as the visual so I didn’t want to skip the little buggers.
About 3 clicks out I noticed the smell, a scent a kin to a bouquet of “wet dog.” I thought, “This is not too bad” as I had expected much worse, so onward I drove… At about 1 km out the smell intensified no longer baring the innocence of “wet dog.” In fact, the odour continued to magnify every metre I travelled closer to Cape Cross; and, quite frankly, no words can describe the over powering fragrance. To appreciate it one simply has to have first hand experience of the tremendous reek of sun-baked urine and feces put off by tens of thousands of Cape Fur seals.
With my eyes nearly watering, I pulled the Jeep up to Cape Cross and stopped the engine. The mid-morning sun was warm and bright; and there before me, set against the brilliant morning sky and dark blue Atlantic Ocean was 80,000 Cape Fur seals. The stench aside, the noise was absolutely amazing: seals barking, yawning, sighing and burping. Everywhere I looked seals played in the surf, waddled ashore, males were fighting, females were sunning themselves and pups were nursing. I watched as males vied for the dominant status of “Beachmaster” and all the rights that title entails. Black Backed Jackals were darting in and out of the fringes of the colony looking for an opportunistic mid-morning snack.
The shear number of seals was so mind-boggling my “15-minute” stop became several hours and I must say I am truly glad I made the stop...
You can't exactly miss the seal colony at Cape Cross, your nose will tell you that you have found it before you see it.
Its an amazing site of hundreds of Cape fur seals, which are actually sea lions, big brutish males with their harems, little babies with their mothers and the unfortunate ones that didn't make it being devoured by Jackels.
They are great fun to watch, snoozing, sunbathing, feeding their young, playing or squabbling.
Sea lions are different to seals apparantly because they can walk on their flippers. They are the most likely kind of seal that you would see in a circus.
Cape Cross is about a 30 minute drive North from Swapokmund.
Its famous for two things:
Firstly a cross which marked the point where the Portugese first landed and discovered Namibia and secondly for a very large (and smelly seal colony)
There is a cross marking the spot where Diego Cao landed in 1485. Its a replica as the orginal one is in a museum somewhere. He didn't think much of the place as he just claimed the country for Portugal, erected a cross and left to continue his journey around Africa to the indies.
This is probably the most popular stop of the Skeleton Coast - the 100,000 strong colony of Cape Fur Seals. The colony is present at this spot all year round - and so is their stench! The pungent smell is caused by their droppings, but mostly by the dead - which are usually pups either too weak, or crushed by the massive neighbours. It is interesting to spend some time just watching - and hearing - the cacophony of activity. Sleeping seals, angry seals, nursing seals, playing seals, dead seals - there is a wealth of activity going on. This is definitely not a peaceful neighbourhood - or nice - Jackals are scavenging for the dead and dying, and so are the gulls and the occasional hyena. If you look further into the ocean you can also see seals braving the huge waves to come ashore - and somehow all manage to find their own smelly spot.
At an hour and a half's drive from Swakopmund, this makes for an unmissable excursion. One can also continue on to Damaraland from here, either by following a sideroad further along the C34 or else turning back till the junction for C35 leading to Uis. The reserve opens at 10.00am.
The coastal town of Cape Cross should be on your "to visit" list in Namibia for two reasons. The first is the large seal colony resident at its shore. (I discuss this in another "must see" entry)
The second is pure colonial history.....
Cape Cross is the point at which Europeans first set foot on Namibian (and that of southern Africa) soil. In 1484, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão, a contemporary of Vasco de Gama, visited the area. The explorers erected a large cross commemorating the landing. Diogo Cão actually never left the area, apparently dying during his port time in Namibia. His body is thought to be buried in the immediate Cape Cross area.
The original Portuguese cross has been removed and replaced with a replica. An additional cross, erected by the people of Namibia, has been placed on the beach at the point of landfall. There are also two stones with engraved messages concerning Diogo Cão and the Portuguese visit some 500+ years ago.
Even though the Skeleton Coast of Namibia brings to mind endless stretches of sand where nothing lives and death is the only certainty for grounded ships and their crew, its cold waters are bursting with marine life. The Artic Benguela Current is plankton rich attracting mackerel, anchovies, and pilchards which in turn bring cape fur seals, sharks, and a plethora of bird life as well.
Cape Cross is one of the largest and best know of the seal colonies. It contains thousands and thousands of seals that are practically on top of each other there is so many. Even in the water you can see them floating, frolicking, and fighting to use a poor onamonapea. The site is quite spectacular and so is the smell.
Apparently, there is real problem with the seals and their competition with the fishing industry. So not only is the brown hyena a danger to the seals but men culling the seal to maintain their population is a danger too.
Admission is $3 US or about $25 Rand per person and vehicle.
You may not cross the barrier that separates the seals from their visitors.
Stinky toilets are available that are just as bad as the seals themselves.
Snack bar with drinks and other munchies available.
Check out my Cape Cross page for more information.
Cape Cross Seal Colony
After a long way through Skeleton Coast we arrived to Cape Cross. You have to pay a fee entrance at the reception where you will find big wale's bones.
You get where the seals are and you park the car where the Cross of Cape Cross are. It was cold and windy and its true that there is a big smell but you get use to it after a while. Thousands of seals, babies, males, females, jackals around many seals skeletons at the shore, the sky full of birds ... a coast of life and death.
It is true that every day many are sacrificed, I was said it was for control the population number cause they are so many that the end with the fish reserve.
Imagine the stench of seal poo, then multiply it with 100,000 and you get the idea of the aroma that greets you as you get out of your vehicle at Cape Cross. I found Tiger balm on the top lip helped to mask the smell.
Pong aside, a visit to see the enormous seal colony here is well worth it. The car park is surrounded by a low wall and on the other side of this wall are the seals. When we visited, the toilets were out of bounds as a couple of seals had made it their home. They can be quite aggressive so stay within a safe distance.
Just watching them go about their daily business is such a pleasurable way to spend an hour or so. I was captivated by a young pup emerging from the water and trying to find its way back to its mum. He called and the mum called. Somehow they could both recognise the cry of the other over thousands of other yelps. With a few false starts (approaching several females who made it quite clear that she was NOT his mum) he made it back safely - much to everyone's relief and delight.
You probably won't want to stay long, (because of the smell) but it is still worth a visit. As far as the eye can see on land and in the ocean are seals, seals and more seals. An estimated 100,000 seals.
Everyone who has been to cape Cross will tell you about the smell. It is singularly the stinkiest place I have ever encountered, and its distinctive aroma stays with you long after you have left... it seems to cling to your cothes.
Never one to leave a stone unturned, I HAD to ask why it was quite so stinky. After all fish and excrement can only account for so much! What a sad tale. Death accounts for much of the smell apparently, particularly in the breeding season which was the time of our visit.
If you've ever taken small children shopping in London's Piccadilly Circus, you can imagine how scary is the thought of them wandering off. Cape Cross is the seal equivalent. Curious pups go blundering around and can't find their way back home amongst the mountains of blubber on the beach. Some of them get crushed under the weight of uncaring neighbours and others again just wander too far away from base to be able to find their way back. They perish from heatstroke, or are carried away by wild dogs.
The poor fellow in the photo was up away from the beah, and I fear he did not live to see adulthood.
It is a well known fact that you can smell Cape Cross long before you see it. This is thanks entirely to the fact that it finds itself home to a colony of between 80,000 and 100,000 seals. No photograph can do justice to the sight of so many seals. My photo is in black and white - but a colour one would not have added much!
The seals were already here when Portuguese explorers first landed here. Local fishermen from time to time have complained about them eating the fish, and therefore depriving them of a livelihood. However I was told that there was once a programme of culling the seals, which resulted in no more fish for the fishermen, but rather more fish from toher predators (birds and sharks). So following the "better the devil you know" theory to policy making, the cull was halted!
Cape Cross marks the spot where the first European explorers landed in Namibia, in this case in the form of Diego Cao in 1486. The date on the stone that marks the spot where the Portuguese landed is also interesting: 6665 - years carefully counted from clues given in the bible! As was the habit of early Portuguese explorers, he and his shipmates erected a cross (in stone) which was promptly removed by German explorers some 400 years later! The original can be seen in Berlin! Don't worry, a replacement was constructed a few years later and stands today as a monument to discovery!
The Germans tried hard to make Cape Cross economically viable... and for a number of years achieved a certain amount of success through the selling of pelts, oil and meat of the enormous seal colony which they found there (and which survives today - see below), and by setting up a guano-production centre - Guano is valued as a fertiliser that replenishes over-used land with the nutrients necessary to support plants and crops. It comes from the smelly much that is created by generations of birdlife perched in cramped environments, such as those found in the Cape Cross area. So while some explorers were busy with the long and difficult task of finding diamonds, others were making themselves rich on the back of smelly garden fertilisers!
Find out all you ever wanted to know about Guano but were too afraid to ask!
Thousands of sealions.........
Imagine the noice and the smell....
It is worse!
We went to see the sealions just after lunch, it was a very bad idea. Some of our group had to go back into the bus just to prevent them from vomitting.
Cape Cross, Namibia, on the south Atlantic coast, is the point at which Europeans first set foot in Namibia and southern Africa. This occurred back in 1484, as Diego Cao and a band of Portuguese explorers made landfall.
The reason that they picked Cape Cross? It's probably not the harbor, folks....
Sailors on long voyages, especially back in the 16th century, had serious food issues. The main issue was that they kept running out of food. There is a HUGE seal colony at Cape Cross. Hundreds of thousands of seals make the Cape Cross beach and rock jetties their home and breeding grounds. Hundreds of thousands more can be seen playing out in the surf, trying to dodge the (also) hungry sharks.
Now folks, this many seals DO have an odor, so be sure to try and stay downwind. But, this is truly an impressive site to see. And the access is very up-close and personal.
I'll be that Cao and his crew got kind of tired of eating seals after a while, though. :)
See the sealions at Cape Cross. At this cape there is an old cross, but more interesting is the colony sealions living there. Thousands of sealions smell bad! So don´t eat just before you go. It will upset your stomach.