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Thursday July 18th 2024

Mad Max: Fury Road | 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road filming location: Namib Naukluft National Park, Namibia
Mad Max: Fury Road filming location: the Australian desert: Namib Naukluft National Park, Namibia | Photograph: wikimedia / Mpaskevi

George Miller himself, the director of the original Mad Max trilogy, returns to the world of post-apocalyptic anarchy with a new Max in the form of Tom Hardy, and an unexpected feminist slant that sees Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) taking off with a truck full of enslaved women to find freedom in the dimly remembered ‘green place’ where she was born.

Fans of Australian cinema will recognise the sly nod to the spiky VW from Peter Weir’s 1974 The Cars That Ate Paris in the design of the fleet of attacking cars.

It was intended to follow the previous films to the region of Broken Hill in New South Wales but – wouldn’t you know – a couple of years of unusually heavy rainfall had turned the blasted wilderness green.

A new desert location was found in Namibia, on the west African coast north of South Africa.

The production was centred around the country’s second city, Swakopmund, at the mouth of the Swakop River. Swakopmund stands at the southern end of the dramatically named Skeleton Coast, the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean coast of northern Namibia and southern Angola. Namibian bushmen once called the region ‘The Land God Made in Anger’, while Portuguese sailors referred to it as ‘The Gates of Hell’. The Skeleton name is supposed to have been inspired by the bleached bones of whales and seals, later becoming attached to the rusting hulks of grounded ships.

Miller was determined to keep the rough, grimy physicality of the original trilogy by keeping photographic trickery to the minimum, though one wholly invented element is the towering ‘Citadel’, ruled over by the monstrous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Toecutter from the first Mad Max).

The termite mound-style towers were a mix of sets at film studios in South Africa and Sydney, enhanced with digital features based on the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

Much of the film was made east of Swakopmund, in a rocky and undulating area known as the Moon Landscape. It’s accessible – and signposted – from the main B2 road from Swakopmund to Windhoek.

It’s important to remember that Namibia is dedicated to the conservation of its natural resources. Around two fifths of its land is under some form of conservation management and entry permits are required for all national parks, state-operated nature reserves, protected areas and national heritage sites.

Permits can be often be obtained at the entrance to these areas. For all other areas permits can be bought at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism offices in Swakopmund. For some areas, such as the Namib Naukluft Park and the Dorob National Park, permits can be obtained at the closest town. Strict operating hours are also enforced between sunrise and sunset, and traversing any of the named areas at any time without a valid permit is an offence and can lead to a hefty fine.

The extremely dry environment (less than 10mm of rain falls on the Namib Desert every year) makes the ecosystem extremely delicate. As often follows in the wake of movie productions, there are conflicting accounts of how much potential damage was done to the area.

A few miles to the north, the opening scene, of Max getting captured after snacking on a yummy-looking two-headed lizard, was filmed at the Rossing Mountains.

Max comes across the broken-down rig of the initially distrustful Furiosa, and a full-blown fight breaks out, in the desolate Blanky Flats north of Hentiesbaai on the C34, Skeleton Coast Road. This is also the area used for the spectacular armada of customised war vehicles speeding through the desert trailing clouds of dust.

Hentiesbaai (Henty's Bay) is a holiday settlement in the Erongo Region, about 45 miles north of Swakopmund. The Dorob National Park – a mix of tourist areas and protected environments – lies just inland.

A further 35 miles to north, more sequences were filmed among the dunes around the old Strathmore Mine, inland from Cape Cross, home of the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, one of the largest colonies of Cape Fur Seals in the world.

The rocky canyon through which Furiosa’s 18-wheeler war-rig has to pass is part of the Swakop River Valley, and the mud in which it gets bogged down is the the salt pans at Paaltjies, on a spit of land at Walvis Bay, a harbour town about 20 miles south of Swakopmund. If you're visiting, take a break from dry rocks and dunes to take in its lagoon, which is home to huge flocks of flamingos.

Between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are the arid dunes in which Max and Furiosa encounter the Vuvalini, warrior women, who have disappointing new about the intended destination.