Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is a desolate desert. It’s the graveyard of ships, and anything else that dares to come close,. Its isolation and age old gravel plains, does not render it to the 4×4 explorer, but to the pilot and his passengers and this is heaven.
Swooping low over the salt pans north of Swakopmund, returning for a second look, I realised this was going to be four days of absolute beauty and true adventure. A few minutes later it was time to admire our pilot, Andre’s skills when landing softly on the beach for a picnic lunch close to a forgotten shipwreck.
Exploring the shoreline, I came to understand – it was not only shipwrecks that lined our beach, but also the bones of many a whale and seal. After lunch we continued, crossing the desert to the Ugab formations – a nearly lifeless moon landscape of numerous black ridges in stark contrast to the white desert floor. Again, we could only admire the skill of pure perfection as we landed in the very Ugab River that minutes ago looked so unwelcoming. Walking among rock formations too beautiful to capture, plants too old for museums – I became one with the soil and left a piece of my soul behind.
From here we proceeded to the Kuidas camp in the Huab Valley where we stayed for the night. Here we got the opportunity to do a bit of stargazing, listening to a night choir of insects and birds – unknown to the day. We dug through our guide’s seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge. Running out of questions and energy – we departed to a quietness that only sleep can offer.
Woken by sunrise and a call for coffee, we started the day afresh. After breakfast we went out, exploring the colourful red lavas and yellow sandstones of the Huab River formations on foot. Again, I am not just astounded by this godforsaken landscape, but also by the knowledge of Andre. We were introduced to the ecological aspects of this environment with its wide diversity of flora and fauna. We returned to Kuidas camp for lunch, before flying along the coast to Terrace Bay in the Skeleton Coast Park.
Terrace Bay is known as a fishing resort in this part of the world – to me – it’s a desperate effort by humans to make a home in this graveyard. At Terrace Bay we exchanged our plane for a Landrover, driving towards the roaring dunes, sliding down with only the noise of these sand mountains to stimulate our senses. Returning to the beach I noticed a profusion of multi-coloured pebbles consisting of agates, lavas, granites and others – a strange site on a Namibian beach. We then continued by air, north to the private Purros camp in the Hoarusib Valley. Flying low over the Hoarusib – we saw our first (and last) desert Elephants. The sight was so magnetic that we returned again and again for one more look at these magnificent creatures.
Purros is very different to Kuidas in that it is situated in a river valley – a completely different ecosystem. Again, the silence of the landscape, the peacefulness – drove us to the safety of our tents, earlier than our bodies were used to.
After breakfast the next morning we took a scenic drive along the Hoarusib Valley to visit a settlement of the nomadic Himba people. If you are lucky, you might come across the desert-dwelling elephant which frequent this valley – but we were not that fortunate. Visiting the Himba was an eye opener as to how strong and original these nomads are to survive in this barren country. Returning to camp for lunch, we were hesitant to move on and yet we had a long way to go.
From Purros we continued further north along the Skeleton Coast by aircraft to the perennial Kunene River on the Angolan border. From the airfield we took the most scenic drive of our tour through endless valleys of unknown mountains and grasslands. Continuing up the Hartmann Valley, which extends to the Kunene River, we stopped for a brief sundowner on a band of dunes. Then, leaving in low light, we departed to our Kunene camp next to the river in the late afternoon, where we spent the last night.
On our last day, we enjoyed an early morning boat trip on the Kunene River as it flowed through scenic desert landscape, observing bird life and a few crocodiles. Again, the ecosystem here differs substantially to the two previous camps. Birds vary from aquatic species on the perennial waters, to endemic desert varieties and those which inhabit dense riverine vegetation. After lunch at the camp it was time to pack your bag and gather the pieces of yourself lost in this wilderness to continue to your next destination or return to the hub of city life.
If you open yourself to the agelessness of the Skeleton Coast, the unforgettable rocks of Damaraland and the never ending Kunene –Skeleton Coast Safaris not only offers you the chance to have a peek at life, but also to create a memory too ingrained to forget.