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.
Skeleton Coast Safaris
t 061 224248, w skeletoncoastsafaris.com. This operation is run by the members of the pioneering Schoemann family, who have been exploring the Skeleton Coast for over forty years, and whose knowledge and guiding skills are legendary. The classic four-day safari – by plane, Landrover and on foot – flies out of Windhoek and spends a night in each of their three comfortable, but basic camps (expect small domed tents, bucket showers and dining under the stars). Groups are of two–eight people. They also run tours that take in Etosha and the Namib round Sossusvlei. All-inclusive US$7046/person
South Africa t (0) 11 807 1800, w wilderness-safaris.com. If you want more luxurious, Out of Africa-style accommodation, a higher level of pampering and fine dining, then consider one of Wilderness Safaris’ two remote, exclusive tented camps – only accessible by plane. Though both lie just outside the national park boundary, they are effectively “next door”, set in similarly awe-inspiring scenery, and travel into the park itself. Serra Cafema is the more established camp, comprising eight villas that overlook the Kunene, while the newer Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp lies in the broad valley of the same name – a prime spot for spotting desert-adapted elephants and rhinos – and exudes modern safari-chic. All-inclusive four-day tours, including flights from Windhoek (based on two sharing): Cafema US$4710/person, Hoanib US$3580/person