Skeleton Coast Camp
With just 12 beds, the Skeleton Coast Camp is one of the flagships of Wilderness Safaris camps in the subcontinent. In contrast to the Schoeman's operation, this one fairly luxurious camp is the base for your safari here which usually lasts three, four or seven days.
The camp itself stands in a sheltered corner of the Hoarusib River. All of the six tented rooms are raised on wooden decks, and have en-suite bathrooms with flush toilets, a hand basin and a hot shower. These substantial rooms are very comfortable, complete with fans and 12v lighting systems – although given the cold nights here, it's the thick duvets and warm comfy beds that often prove more essential. Artistic arrangements of local materials, and welcome hot-water bottles that magically appear in your bed, help make the rooms a real pleasure.
The main dining area is also raised up, and includes a dining room and comfy lounge/bar area, surrounded by plenty of glass which, when there's no fog around, allows good views of the desert. After-dinner drinks, and sometimes dinner, are often taken around a campfire outside, under an old leadwood tree. The food, as you'd expect, is of a high standard.
So here you'll have dinner, sleep and have breakfast at camp – but you'll usually spend each of your days out on a whole-day 4WD safari exploring some of the area's many attractions. These can be long days, but are always varied – and punctuated by stops for regular drinks and picnics. Although this area has some specific 'sights' to see, these are almost incidental in comparison with simply experiencing the solitude and singular beauty of the area. Visiting this whole region is about experiencing a variety of beautiful landscapes, each with its own fragile ecosystem, existing side by side. Whilst on safari, you'll frequently stop to study the plants and smaller animals, or perhaps to capture landscapes on film. A few of the better-known places in the area include:Rocky Point
is a rocky pinnacle that juts out from a long, open stretch of sand, and in times past was an important landmark on the coast for passing ships. Now it's a good spot for a little gentle surf fishing, birdwatching, or simply watching the odd Cape fur seal bob crawl out onto the rocks for some sun.Cape Frio
is another, smaller rocky outcrop on the coast, but this one is home to a colony of up to 20,000 Cape fur seals. With patience and care, you can approach close enough to get a good portrait photograph whilst still not disturbing them. Keep an eye out for jackals, and if you watch for prints in the sand you'll usually find brown hyena have also been here.Strandloper rock circles
are found in several places on the coast. Probably made by Khoisan people, some of these are simply circles, the remains of shelters used by hunter/gatherers who lived near the shore (Strandlopers). Others are more elaborate, covering larger areas and laid out in lines, and it's speculated that perhaps they were hunting blinds – which suggests that the area had a denser population of game in relatively recent (in geological terms) times.Lichen fields and welwitschia plants
are widespread on gravel plains throughout the Namib. However, here they are at their most extensive and usually in pristine condition. In several places there are clearly visible vehicle tracks which have left a lasting impression on the lichens. These can be precisely dated by historical records. They're the subject of much scientific interest, including a project by an Oxford University researcher who is based at the camp.The Clay Temples
of the Hoarusib Canyon are tall structures made of soft sand which line the sides of the Hoarusib's steep canyon, resembling some of the ancient Egyptian temples. When I first visited the area many years ago, our driving on the dry river's sand here was instantly halted by a patch of quicksand.The beaches
Throughout the coast's misty, desolate beaches there is always something of interest to take a closer look at, or to photograph. Ghost crabs scuttle amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the centuries, while rare Damara terns fly overhead.The Roaring Dunes
are one of the most amazing experiences on the coast. If you slide down one of the steep lee sides, these large sand-dunes make an amazing and unexpected loud noise which reverberates through the whole dune. It really has to be felt to be believed, and gets even louder when you slide a whole vehicle down the dune! One theory links the 'roar' with electrostatic discharges between the individual grains of sand when they are caused to rub against each other. Why some dunes 'roar' and others don't remains a mystery – but there are other roaring dunes: there are also some in the Namib south of the Hoanib River, and in Witsand Nature Reserve in South Africa's northern Cape.Himba village
One of the camp's first guides, the excellent Chris Baccus, worked with the Himba communities for years before helping to set up and start off the Skeleton Coast Camp. He's a very good relationship with the communities in the area, and now the camp's guides will take visitors (who approach with some cultural sensitivity) to one of the area's Himba villages, and introduce them to the people there. As with all such meetings, it can be a fascinating and humbling experience. Also, importantly, the villages are deriving a good income from these visits, both directly and by making and selling traditional crafts.
The Skeleton Coast Camp is booked via Wilderness Safaris who can be contacted at PO Box 6850, Windhoek, Namibia; tel: 061 274500; fax: 061 239455. However, their website (www.wilderness-safaris.com) advises that they prefer travellers to make arrangements through a good overseas tour operator in their own country, rather than directly with them in Namibia.
Trips lasting four nights and five days usually start on a Saturday morning from Eros Airport, and return on Wednesday afternoon. Flights up to the camp, and back, are usually in a comfortable twin-engined 13-seater 'caravan' (a type that's increasingly common in southern Africa).
Opt for the longer trip if funds allow – you'll still leave feeling that you've only scratched the surface – or consider combining a trip here with the new Serra Cafema Camp on the northern edge of Hartmann's Valley, northeast of the Skeleton Coast Camp.