Land of sea mist and sand, shipwrecks, seals and the white bones of whales – and a few unfortunate sailors – the Skeleton Coast is as evocative and wild as its name suggests. Still only partially explored, this is one of the world’s last great wildernesses: few places on the planet feel so untouched.
Most mornings a fog as thick as cotton wool rolls in from the cold Atlantic. More than 1 000 vessels have foundered here over the last few centuries; the winds and deadly currents must take most of the blame but the infamous fog, caused by icy sea and hot desert air colliding, surely played its part. And yet this cool white sea-blanket is the lifeblood of the Skeleton Coast. Over 100 species of lichen, like splashes of coloured paint, grow here and are watered by the daily fog as it creeps over the burning dunes and granite outcrops. Black-backed jackals lick the moisture left on stones. Every living thing here harvests water from the fog in some way.
Sea and sand clash, a battle of two giants, as monumental dunes plunge dramatically down to the turbulent water’s edge – one of the most bleakly beautiful sights in the world. The Skeleton Coast National Park, proclaimed in 1971, stretches from the Kunene River in the north to the Ugab River in the south and protects a third of Namibia’s coastline. Day permits are available from Swakopmund just outside its southern border but gaining access to its wilder northern parts requires more planning and necessitates flying in. Only around 800 permits are given for excursions into this isolated and fragile ecosystem, but visitors who are privileged enough to spend time here will be deeply rewarded and the experience will be the highlight of your Namibian adventure.
Although the Skeleton Coast is not a traditional game-viewing destination, there are a host of interesting wildlife spectacles to observe, such as the heaving Cape fur seal colony at Cape Frio, and shimmering salt flats that support thousands of flamingos and great herds of springbok. Inland on the gravel plains and rocky outcrops you are likely to spot gemsbok, jackal, ostrich and brown hyena, while along the ephemeral rivers you will look for desert-adapted elephant and even black rhino, lion and giraffe.
This is a place where nature’s treasure hunts abound. A 4×4 drive along the beaches and through the dunes will become a search for the bleached ribs of shipwrecks and the stories they tell. At Mӧwe Bay a walk across a beach will become a search for jewels, as this is where the wave action of the ages has polished semiprecious stones to perfect gemstones. Hiking down a great dune, you will set off a small avalanche of sand and the dune will sing to you. Ashworth Africa will carefully handle the logistics to ensure you will be one of the privileged few who experience these wonders of nature.