Skeleton Coast Fly-in
Visitors imagine that the original fly-in safaris to the Skeleton Coast went only into the narrow concession area, by the ocean's edge. But they are wrong. Even in 1990, when I first visited with Louw Schoeman, we spent much time outside the concession – in the adjacent Kaokoveld, for example, and visiting Purros and the Kunene – as well as time in it. Thus although being excluded from the concession in 1992 was a blow, they were able to adapt their trips to use similar, adjacent areas and offer trips which were just as good, if not better, than the original ones. The flying and guiding ability of the Schoemans is such that they could organise a fly-in safari to an industrial wasteland … and end up making it one of the most fascinating places you've ever been.
Skeleton Coast Safaris use light aircraft (typically 6-seater Cessnas) like most safaris use Land Rovers; exploring areas from the sky, flying low-level over dunefields, and periodically turning back for better views. So there's a lot of flying in small aircraft – generally short 30–40 minute hops which most people find fascinating. Currently they concentrate on four main trips, Safaris A, B, C and D respectively, though these are really just variations around the main theme of their most popular trip:
This starts at 10.00 at Eros Airport in Windhoek, before flying west over the escarpment to Conception Bay, south of Sandwich Harbour, and north to refuel at Swakopmund. It stops again at Cape Cross, for lunch and a visit to the seal colony, before flying north and inland to the first of their three main camps, Kuidas Camp
. This is in the Huab River Valley, west of Damaraland Camp
and east of the park's boundary. It's positioned in a dry, rocky landscape that's typical of western Damaraland, and there are some rock engravings within walking distance of the camp. Like all of these camps, Kuidas has small but comfortable igloo tents containing twin beds separated by a bedside table, an en-suite bucket shower, and a chemical loo (so you don't need to go outside of your tent to use the toilet at night). There's also one main flush toilet in the camp. Kuidas Camp is the base for the next morning's exploration of the Huab River Valley and huge gravel plains dotted with Welwitschia mirabilis
After lunch you'll hop to Terrace Bay for a short Land Rover trip to explore the beach and nearby roaring dunes (one of the highlights of the trip for me; totally surreal), before flying out to Purros Camp
, in the heart of the Kaokoveld near the Himba community at Purros. Camp is under a broken canopy of camelthorns (Acacia erioloba
) and makalani palms (Hyphaene petersiana
), near the (invariably dry) Hoarusib River. From here the early morning is spent exploring the river valley, which has a thriving population of desert-adapted elephants, amongst other game, and visiting some of the local Himba people.
Continuing up the coast there are the remains of the Kaiu Maru shipwreck to be seen before the northwestern corner of Namibia is reached: the mouth of the Kunene River. Further inland, east of the dunes (which cover most of the park in this northern area), you'll land at the north end of Hartmann's Valley. The afternoon is spend exploring this beautiful and very remote area, before finally reaching the last camp, Kunene Camp
, which overlooks the river at the north end of Hartmann's Valley. The last morning of the trip is usually spent on a boat trip on the Kunene, before lunch and a long scenic flight to arrive back at Eros Airport, in Windhoek, in the late afternoon.Safari A lasts four days and three nights.
This starts earlier, and includes a stop at Sesriem, a drive into Sossusvlei, and a scenic flight over the vlei before flying on to Conception Bay, and continuing with the normal plan for Safari A.Safari B lasts four days and three nights.
Starts off like Safari B, but then after Kunene Camp includes a final night beside Etosha National Park, at one of the lodges on the Eastern side (normally Etosha Aoba or Mushara), and time spent exploring the park by private 4WD. Safari C lasts five days and four nights.
Starts off at 07.00, with a flight to Sesriem and a trip into Sossusvlei, before flying on to Wolwedans Dune Lodge your base for two nights. An afternoon exploring the NamibRand Reserve is followed the next day by a flying day-trip south, to Lüderitz, for a 4WD excursion into the Sperrgebiet, ending up at Elizabeth Bay. This has big advantages over doing the same excursion on your own from Lüderitz, as you'll have one of Skeleton Coast's excellent guides with you, who will bring this amazing area to life. After your second night at Wolwedans, this trip continues as Safari A.Safari D lasts six days and five nights.
Skeleton Coast Fly-in Safaris can be contacted at PO Box 2195, Windhoek; tel: 061 224248; fax: 061 225713; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.orusovo.com/
They operate all year, and normally require a minimum of two people to confirm a safari on any given date. As with most upmarket options in Africa, you should find it slightly cheaper to book this through an overseas tour operator who specialises in the region.