Expert Reviews – Skeleton Coast NP

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Cape fur seal colony’s on the skeleton coast
Overall rating

This very remote wilderness area stretches out over 500km of coastline. Because of the nature of this harsh, barren desert environment, big game is scarce, but desert-adapted wildlife like gemsbok and springbok can be spotted. If you’re lucky, you might come across a jackal or brown hyena scavenging on a dead seal. Cape-fur seals are abundant along this stretch of coast. They live in colonies and the most accessible one is at Cape Cross, south of the park’s border. I can watch these funny creatures for hours. There is never a dull moment with mothers suckling their babies, males fighting for territory and youngsters playing together. Don’t let the stench put you off, you get used to it after a while.

Less is more
Overall rating

For those in search of a taste of the wilderness, those looking to escape the crowds, the Skeleton Coast is perfect. Elephants are an unlikely inhabitant of this barren, desert-like corner of Namibia, and lion, rhino, cheetah and hyena are also present, though on my visit I saw little other than sand, sea and of course seals at the Cape Cross Seal Colony. This didn't make for a disappointing trip though. For me, the Skeleton Coast's appeal lies in its bleak beauty, sounds of the lapping Atlantic ocean and nighttime panoramas, when at full moon so you see almost as far as in the daylight hours. Truly spectacular.

Bleak beauty
Overall rating

The beauty of the Skeleton Coast lies in its bleakness and its solitude. We drove for hours without seeing another vehicle and were then confronted by this vast wall of fog, created when the cold air from the Atlantic’s Benguela Current meets the warm air of the desert. It’s an eerie place where the only living things - aside from fishermen and gulls - seem to be weird and wonderful types of colourful lichen and unbelievably ancient welwitschia plants. All we could see was desert and mirages of indiscernible black shapes wobbling on the horizon that simply melt away. A lot of the shipwrecks have been swallowed by the sands now and unfortunately the best area to see them is the north of the Park, only open to residents of the Skeleton Coast Camp. Alternatively, stay at Terrace Bay listening to the wild waves of the Atlantic crashing to the shore throughout the night.

Further south, the Cape Cross Seal Colony is an extraordinary sight of up to 200,000 Cape seals huddled together jostling for space. It’s an extraordinary smell too, like rotting fish and guano, the kind of smell that sticks to you and needs washing off in the shower immediately after you’ve left the area.

Lonely wasteland
Overall rating

The 500km-long strip of Atlantic coast between the Kunene River, on Namibia’s border with Angola, and the Ugab River, north of Swakopmund, is as forbidding as its name suggests. In centuries past, these treacherous, windblown sands were littered with shipwrecks and the bones of whales and seals. Approach the skull-and-crossbones park gates by 4WD today and it’s natural to wonder whether it’s really worth slogging on when all there seems to be here are miles of near-featureless gravel plains and dunes, flanked by the cold, foggy ocean. To me, it’s a very unwelcoming place.

However, if you’re interested in remote landscapes and desert flora and fauna, you may find the Skeleton Coast rather intriguing. A series of dry river gorges score the park, with antelopes and elephants eking out a living here, along with small populations of desert-adapted lions. The bird population is surprisingly varied and the dunes are a good place to look for insects and small reptiles. I recommend seeing the region from the air, too, if you can, for spectacular views of a highly unusual wilderness.

Between the Desert and the Deep
Overall rating

Driving westward through the burning dunes of Kaokoland, there comes this extraordinary moment when for the first time you see the green-and white rollers of the Atlantic Ocean crashing on the emptiest shores imaginable. After the heat of the desert hinterland the chill and sea fogs created by the Benguela Current come as a shock to the system. Spume whipped up by the pounding surf rolls away down the beach like tumbleweed, and wherever you look, up and down the coast, the sand is littered with bleached whalebones and ships’ timbers.

Welcome to the Skeleton Coast, the last resting place for countless old shipwrecks and one of the loneliest places on earth. The park itself is a strip of desert up to 40 km wide, running for some 500 km from the Kunene River on the Angolan border down to the Ugab River near Cape Cross. When it was established in 1971, the northern sector was declared as a wilderness area where tourism would be strictly limited, and even today it is accessible only on fly-in safaris. Apart from kelp gulls and oystercatchers, wildlife is more or less confined to Cape fur seals, jackals and brown hyenas, although occasionally a desert-dwelling elephant or a wandering Kunene lion may leave their footprints along the tidelines.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.1/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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