The one and only Skeleton Coast

09 September 2019 | Tourism

Frank Steffen

Originally the Atlantic coast spanning the Namib Desert was loosely referred to as the Skeleton Coast. The name is probably derived from the many shipwrecks along the Namibian coast - ships that lost their way on account of thick fog banks combined with a rough sea, stormy coast and the strong, unpredictable Benguela Current of the South Atlantic Ocean, which invariably drove these ships onto the beach. This inhospitable and harsh environment left any survivor without chance. The numerous whale skeletons along this coast will have added some glamour to the name.

The Skeleton Coast National Park itself was established in 1971 and spans the north-western coast of Namibia, specifically starting at the mouth of the Ugab River (just north of Mile 108) and reaching up to the mouth of the mighty Kunene River, which forms the north-western border of Namibia. It covers a surface of almost 17 000 km².

The park’s southern section can be accessed with an average off-road vehicle subject to you having obtained the relevant permit either at the gate found at Ugab River or Springbokwater as you enter from the direction of the Kaokoland. Visitors are then allowed to drive up to the favoured fishing grounds at Torra Bay and Terrace Bay - it needs to be remembered thought that the Torra Bay camp site is only open to the public in December and January.

On your way through the park you will encounter old shipwrecks such as those of the well-known and easily distinguishable “South West Seal“, but also those of the Trawler „Fukuseki Maru No. 7“ or the „Zeila“ and many others. You are likely to also come across the abandoned oil rig of a certain Du Preez, who was searching for oil in the seventies.

The park’s northern area can be accessed these days, but visitors need to make use of one of the concession holders allowed to take tourists on guided self-drive tours. Typically you would book these through organisations such as Omalweendo Safaris (more intimate guides) or Desert Magic Tours or any of the other alternatives available on the internet.

These experiences are magic by any standard and take you to areas, where you can observe desert-adapted elephants and -lions, brown hyena and jackals, seals and many other types of game further inland. The flora such as the hardy Welwitschia (Namibia’s national plant), the !Nara-melon, a huge choice of succulent Lithops, lichen and many more, is just as impressing.

Typically the trips start at Terrace Bay, where you are allowed a last chance to refill as regards fuel tanks and fridges. The tour leads past Möwe Bay and further up to the old Sarusas Mine. The sights are incredible and you will be taken through mighty valleys and onwards to Cape Fria, where some of the biggest seal colonies are found. From there you will drive onwards until you reach the mouth of the Kunene River. The tour operators invariably turn inland from there and you will be lead back south further inland via the Kaokoveld and Damaraland.

The Skeleton Coast is the type of place where you can allow your soul to take a breather away from the daily rush!