Although the entire coastline of Namibia was formerly called The Skeleton Coast, more commonly today it refers only to the Skeleton Coast National Park. The park stretches from the Kunene River, on the Angola border, in the north for approximately 500 km to the Ugab River in the south, and protects about one-third of Namibia’s coastline. The landscape is shaped by rolling sand dunes, canyons and mountain ranges. The climate defies what would be expected of a Namibian desert and instead offer dense fog and cold sea breezes.
The Skeleton Coast is is normally associated with famous shipwrecks, and stories abound of sailors walking for hundreds of miles through this barren Namibian landscape in search of food and water. The name came from the bones that lined the beaches from whaling operations and seal hunts, but more than a few of the skeletons were, in fact, human. The Bushmen called it “The Land God Made in Anger” and the Portuguese knew it as “The Gates of Hell”. Ever since European navigators first set eyes on this infamous coast,, ships have wrecked on it’s off-shore rocks and run aground in the blinding fog. While small boats could land, the strong surf made it impossible to launch, hence the stories of sailors walking through the murderous terrain after finding themselves stranded.
The coast has scores of shipwrecks littering its shores. Some are barely recognizable as man-made vessels while, others are still in remarkably good condition. Today the wrecks provide excellent environments for Cape fur seals, living side by side with seabird colonies, offering unequaled maritime photographic opportunities.
Despite its arid and deadly appearance, the Skeleton Coast has a remarkably great variety of species. Large mammals include Namibia’s famous desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, lion, cheetah, giraffe, gemsbok, zebra, springbok and spotted and brown hyena are found in the dry river beds which flow from the interior of Namibia, through the Namib Desert and on to the Skeleton Coast.
As would be expected in a desert environment, there is a diverse variety of reptiles at home here. The near endemic Gerrhosaurus skoogi is an armour-plated lizard that prowls the sand-dune sea in search of vegetation detritus and !Nara melon bushes. This large, striking reptile can measure up to 30 centimetres long and can weigh up to 120 gms. The mouth of the Kunene River marks the southernmost breeding territory of the 1m long green turtle. and the same river is also home to the only Southern African population of Nile soft-shelled turtles, which have large, long necks. Caution is advised in their company, as they can be aggressive.
As many as 247 species of birds have been recorded in the Skeleton Coast Park, including the near endemic Damara Tern, which nests and breeds on the gravel plains adjacent to the coast. The marine waters are home to Benguela dolphins, killer whales and humpback whales. Occasionally beachcombing lions scour the area in search of marine carrion. Fishing along the Skeleton Coast is also known to be excellent.
Ship bones dating back 500 years, massive rolling sand dunes with wind swept trails cutting and curving off their peaks, a surprisingly impressive variety of wildlife and a raw wilderness like no other, shapes the Skeleton Coast as a once in a lifetime African safari experience.
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