The world famous Skeleton Coast is an area of remarkable contrasts, and is named because of the skeletons of numerous ships that were wrecked here. This beautiful area is one of the main drawing cards for tourists to Namibia.
It is difficult to visualise a greater contrast than a desert alongside an ocean. Such a meeting of opposites occurs at Namibia's northern seaboard where the edge of the Namib Desert pushes a sea of hot sand into the frigid waters of the South Atlantic.
Portuguese seafarers called this wilderness of white sand "the coast of hell". Later it became better known as the Skeleton Coast, because of the dismal fate of castaways from ships that were wrecked here through the centuries, doomed to endure searing heat, clammy mists, total solitude and little drinking water or shelter.
The area properly includes the National West Coast Recreation Area north of Swakopmund and the Skeleton Coast Park from the Ugab River north to the Kunene.
The National West Coast Recreation Area is a frequent haunt of regional fishermen providing excellent angling. Cape Cross Seal Reserve north of Henties Bay is Namibia's best known breeding colony of Cape fur seals. The Ugab River Hiking Trail is a 3-day hike across the coastal plain into the jagged mountains and canyons of the interior.
The Skeleton Coast Park extends nearly 500 km to the Ugab River in the south to the Kunene in the north and covers an area of around 16,000 sq.km. It is a remote area often covered in a blanket of coastal fog or suffering from cold sea breezes and this harsh climate has produced a unique ecosystem.
The landscape of the Skeleton Coast ranges from huge sand dunes to deep canyons and mountain ranges, whose slopes are covered by a variety of plants which have adapted to the environment, such as the peculiar elephant foot plant.
Animals found in the Park include gemsbok, springbok, ostrich, jackal, hyena, giraffe, lion and desert elephants. There are also huge seal colonies along the coast such as the one at Cape Frio. The birdlife is fantastic with flocks of sandpipers and other long beaked fishers, as well as short beaked waders, cormorants and Cape Gannets.
The Skeleton Coast Park comprises of two main areas.
The southern region of the park lies between Ugabmund and Terrace Bay. Very strict measures are taken to preserve the ecology of the Park, and entry permits for casual visitors are only available for day trips. Permits are available at the two entry gates (the Ugab River in the south and Springbokwasser in the north).
The northern Skeleton Coast Wilderness between the Hoanib (Mowe Bay) and Kunene Rivers makes up nearly 70% of the Park. This region is strictly off-limits to independent travelers and land access is only via fly-in safari operated by the official concessionaire. A safari to this region would certainly be the highlight of any Namibian expedition.
For those more interested in the shipwrecks found in the area, a visit to the Skeleton Coast on either one of the fly-in-safaris or alternatively the shorter day flight from Swakopmund is recommended.
Accommodation in the area can be found either at Torra Bay or Terrace Bay. The fishing along the coast is spectacular and during the December vacations the campsite at Torra Bay is packed with fisherman. For those seeking more comfort Terrace Bay offers bungalows, but these are booked up far in advance, particularly during the Namibian summer holidays, as this is the Namibian Presidents favourite holiday spot.
The Skeleton Coast seems to be in a world of its own. Whatever the reason, this piece of land was created to be so entirely different from anywhere else that comparisons are invalid. It is a part of Namibia that really must be seen to be believed.