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Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

The Skeleton Coast is considered by many to be the most pristine stretch of coast in the world! Whether you are traveling on a self-drive holiday to Namibia or part of an organised safari tour through Namibia it is recommended that you include a visit to the Skeleton Coast in your itinerary.

The Skeleton Coast is the northern part of the Atlantic Coast of Namibia and south of Angola. It stretches from the Swakop River on the edge of Swakopmund all the way up to the Kunene River which is the boundary between Namibia and Angola. It is about 500 kilometers long. Initially the name of this stretch of land was given due to the sheer number of bones lining the beaches due to whaling operations and seal hunts that took place in the past. The bushmen of Namibia called this region “The Land God Made in Anger” and Portuguese sailors named this stretch of coastline the ‘The Gates of Hell’. These days the name Skeleton Coast refers to the number of shipwrecks that lie scattered along this coast. It is believed that there are over 1000 shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast.

A large part of this coastline (16000 square kilometers) has been declared as the Skeleton Coast National Park – mainly from the Kunene River to the Ugab River. The Northern half of the park is a designated wilderness area and due it being an ecologically sensitive area access is limited. Popular attractions are the Agate Mountain Salt Pans, the large seal colony at Cape Fria and the clay castles of the Hoarisib River.

 

For the best views of this coastline we suggest a fly-in safari or a scenic flight from Swakopmund.

Earliest inhabitants, known as Strandlopers made this region their home and foraged the beaches for means of survival. They ate fish, seals, sea birds and whatever else was available. They would move inland when necessary but while at the seaside, would construct shelters out of stone, reeds, whalebones and skin.

For over 500 years ships have run aground along the coast due to thick fog. Wrecks such as the Dunedin Star, Eduard Bohlen, Otavi, Islander, Suiderkus, Sir Charles Elliot and KaioMaru are well-known points of interest. The wrecks provide a great environment for Cape Fur Seals and seabird colonies. The most recent ship to experience the harshness of the Skeleton Coast was a Japanese registered fishing vessel known as the MVF Fukuseki Maru. This vessel got into trouble and ran aground in March 2018 near Durissa bay which is just South of the Ugab river mouth. All 24 foreign crew members were rescued by Namibian authorities.

 

It is believed that the main reason why so many ships run aground on this stretch of coast is because the Benguela current gives rise to extremely dense and practically blinding ocean fogs for much of the year.

The Skeleton Coast has a surprisingly good variety of wildlife even though this area appears to be desolate and arid. The larger mammals are often found in the dry river beds flowing from the interior of Namibia. This includes Namibia’s famous desert adapted lions, rhinos and elephants. Other animals to be found are giraffe, cheetah, zebra, gemsbok, springbok and even brown and spotted hyena. Many of these animals get their water from the holes that are dug in the dry riverbed by the elephants and baboons. You may also see dolphins and whales on occasion.

This unique ecosystem also provides life to some of the strangest and unusual looking plants such as the ‘Elephant Foot’ plant which is often anchored in rock crevices. This unique plant is only found in this region.

There have been 247 species of birds that have been recorded in the Skeleton Coast Park, including the near endemic Damara Tern.

 

Fishing along the Skeleton Coast is a popular activity and there are plenty of fish to be caught. Terrace Bay and Torra Bay are both excellent fishing spots.

Day visitors to the Skeleton Coast Park are only allowed in the park between sunrise and sunset. Permits are available at the two entry gates (the Ugab River in the south and Springbokwasser in the east). Accommodation is available outside of the park south of the Ugab River at miles 108 & 172, but these camps are very basic and it is suggested that you make use of the many accommodation establishments in Swakopmund, Cape Cross and Henties Bay.

 

What do you need to know about visiting the Skeleton Coast:

  1. Never drive off the road – this is strictly prohibited. It leaves scars that can last for centuries.
  2. Never wander too far from your vehicle.
  3. Make sure you have enough petrol, water and food.
  4. Follow the rules on your permit. You can purchase your entry permit at the Ugab Gate or the Springbokwasser Gate

Photo Credit: Wilfried Trumper, Namibia Tourism Board & CNN

 

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