Sounding like something out of a pirate movie, the Skeleton Coast is indeed littered with the carapaces of ships that didn’t make a clean passage along this treacherous length of Africa’s Altantic coastline. Half-buried under sand, gnawed by rust and wind, the sculptured hulls have somehow become an apt memorial to man’s inability to tame the elements. Indeed, it’s not only the ships that give the place its name; human skeletons of those that failed to launch their boats back into the pounding surf have also been found here to add to the bones of whales and seals from commercial whaling and the fur-trade.
Of course, we now navigate the coastal route by Land Rover or light aircraft which, fortunately, is not quite as dangerous but pretty intrepid nonetheless. Trips through the wild northern coastline of Namibia take in the unique geology of the area, the ancient lichen fields marked with wagon-wheels of former pioneers, and colonies of endearing but rather stinky Cape-fur seals that crowd the coast at intervals, preyed on by jackals and hyena.
The cold sea mists can render the area eerily quiet and lifeless and even when they lift, it can be hours and hours before you are likely to encounter another vehicle. One of the best ways to see this area, unless you are on a self-drive mission, is a Skeleton Coast Flying Safari. The birds-eye views give you a completely different and awe-inspiring perspective of the tempestuous coastline and encroaching landscape.
The Skeleton Coast is unexpectedly varied in terms of terrain and wildlife. Pale sand-dunes, salt pans, canyons and mountains are found variously along the route. Desert-adapted elephant, rhino and lion can be spotted amongst the riverbeds and there are also cheetah, giraffe, gemsbok, springbok and zebra. An odd armoured lizard that grows upto a foot long is also one of the more unusual inhabitants. Off the coast, you may be fortunate enough to spot a humpback or killer whale or perhaps a pod of dolphins.