The Skeleton Coast in Namibia is one of the most formidable yet overwhelmingly beautiful places I have ever had the privilege of visiting. As Namibia is anyway fabulously beautiful, the Skeleton Coast is a special, emotional, special destination.
Whilst the landscape is starkly and almost indescribably stunning there is a forbidding emptiness about the Skeleton Coast that is awe-inspiring and compelling.
This is not just about the multitude of shipwrecks that dot the coastline or the ranges of dunes, the variation in rock formations or the bare, primaeval, geology. For it is all of these things and much, much more. Flying over – or walking across – the landscape of the Skeleton Coast allows you, mere onlooker, mere speck of humanity, to take a glimpse into the planet’s past as your senses delve into a time aeons before humans appeared and our life support systems were not even formed. Only active volcanoes can come this close to the sensuous glimpse of our past that is the Skeleton Coast. Even then volcanoes tend to be stand alone wonders whilst the Skeleton Coast just goes on and on, forming an arid and apparently unreal barrier between the deep ocean-blue chill of the Benguela Current, sweeping up from the frigid southern oceans and bringing the plankton and krill that sustains the mass of sea-life off this coast, and the desert heat of inland Africa.
The south Atlantic may may be teeming with life as it crashes onto the barren shores of western Namibia but it is on this barrier, this deserted desert coastline, that life often ended for the early visitors to this part of Africa. Storms, poor charting and strong currents have been driving ships ashore on the aptly named Skeleton Coast for centuries. Being shipwrecked here in times gone by left a poor prospect for survival.
Even in these days of instant communication and travel-at-a-whim the Skeleton Coast remains relatively inaccessible. One is best advised to fly in to the small camps that are lost in the magnificence of this stunning geography and, apart from the sheer photogenic attraction of the country, it is the contrast of flying over at relatively low level and then being able to experience the ground over which one has flown at very close quarters that makes such a safari so special. On the ground the reality hits home; a reality borne aloft and given wing by the one thing that our inner psyche probably most fears: silence. Of course, if one is close enough, the sound of the ocean might fade in and out, an aural temptation to draw one closer but the silence inland remains constantly part of one’s awareness and it is an inescapable realisation that the ocean offers no solace from the stark, fabulous, awesome, life-minimising emptiness of the Skeleton Coast.
This is a place to be savoured. There are very few places like it on our planet. Go.