Expert Reviews – Skeleton Coast NP

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Skeleton Coast: Sand Dunes Meet the Sea
Overall rating

My pick for Africa’s most spectacular coastline, the Skeleton Coast combines the drama of perfectly sculpted sand dunes, crashing Atlantic breakers and wild seas, and unusual wildlife. The shipwrecks that line this coastline speak to nature’s raw power, which is always my most enduring memory of a visit here. It is impossible to be unmoved by the view that greets you from the summit of a sand dune as an icy fog sweeps in off the Atlantic. And a chance glimpse of one of the last remaining desert lions, made famous in the National Geographic documentary Vanishing Kingdoms, is truly one of the most thrilling sights in nature. The slender-horned gemsbok or oryx, too, is an icon of these parts. But perhaps more than anything else, it’s the sense out here of a wild and beautiful land remote from the world and its clamour that will live longest in the memory.

The Desert of Bones
Overall rating

My experiences of the Skeleton Coast have probably been rather different to that of many of the other reviewers here. The reason being that my visits to this bleak, cold and scary coastline have been less for the wildlife and more to go surfing. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t appreciated the uniqueness of the environment and its small collection of unusual creatures. And truly, everything about the Skeleton Coast is unusual. There are dead plants that live a thousand years and beetles who drink by climbing to the top of a sand dune and sticking their bums (if beetles have such things) in the air to ‘catch’ the moisture that comes in with the thick morning mists. Yeah you guessed it this isn’t classic Big Five safari country, but it will appeal to those who appreciate the smaller things in life – and can get excited about viewing lichen (which is far more interesting than you probably ever realised!).

There are some larger mammals here including rarely seen desert adapted lions and elephants and though you’d be lucky to see those you won’t fail to see jackals pacing the high tide line and quite probably the Hound of the Baskervilles-like brown hyenas.

And then there’s the sea life. The cold waters that crash into the Skeleton Coast are some of the richest in the world. There are some huge colonies of Cape Fur Seals here and watching them play in the surf off Cape Cross is a highlight for everyone. Everyone bar surfers that is. The cold waters and large number of seals attract another large creature of the oceans and this one has big sharp teeth and likes nothing better than a seal for dinner. Unfortunately it’s favourite type of seal is a weak, slow swimming, injured one and to a shark that’s exactly what most surfers look like. So while most visitors love getting up close to the seals for me and my surfing companions the arrival of seals on our chosen beach was generally greeted with nothing but fear of what might be following them!

Coast of ghost-ships
Overall rating

Like most of Namibia’s parks, I wouldn’t regard Skeleton Coast – which protects the empty coastline north of Swakopmund – to be a conventional safari destination, but the area is memorable for its sense of wild windswept desolation. Unlike much of the more southerly Namib, this is a rocky desert rather than a sandy one, and it seems rather bizarre to see the surf of the Atlantic battering down on this otherwise dry and barren landscape. Fishermen rate the area very highly, but its main draw for wildlife enthusiasts is Cape Cross, home to a breeding colony of around 100,000 Cape fur seals that assaults your sense on every level – initially, it is the stench of guano and noise that overwhelms, but once you are used to that, it is fascinating to sit here and watch the interaction and politics of these engaging marine carnivores, keeping an eye open for the jackals that frequently raid the colony to feed on the seal cubs. The birdlife can also be interesting, with resident seabirds such as black oystercatcher joined seasonally by all manner of migrant waders from the northern hemisphere.

Average Expert Rating

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

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