Hemmed in between the wild Atlantic and the rugged Hartmann Mountains, the remote northern section of the Skeleton Coast National Park – the Wilderness Area – is the stuff of National Geographic documentaries. Its few visitors are privileged to experience an immense, desolate beauty of unworldly landscapes: a scalloped sea of huge “roaring” dunes (sound waves thought to be produced by the friction of sand particles); the moonscape and “clay castles” – striking sand formations – of the Hoarusib River Valley; and the endless bleak coastline pounded by surf and sprinkled with bleached whalebones, rusting shipwrecks and scuttling ghost crabs.

In refreshing contrast stands the avian-rich riverine strip along the western Kunene River as it carves its way towards the coast, separating Namibia from Angola. Fly-in safaris to the region – the only way to access this isolated wilderness – are not focused on big game; they’re about marvelling at the vast and varied desert scenery, seeking out smaller creatures and the extraordinary plants that have adapted to the unforgiving arid environment; and learning about indigenous people – from the Himba, who still inhabit some areas, to the early Khoisan beachcombers, whose ancient ruined shelters and rock art give clues to their way of life. That said, you’re still likely to spot the odd loping hyena or black-backed jackal on the scrounge – especially near the Cape Frio seal colony – as well as the perennially hardy oryx, and, with luck, a herd of desert-adapted elephants. Visiting this region is not cheap, but the experience is unforgettable.

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In pictures: the otherworldly landscapes of Namibia

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