The Skeleton Coast is one of the most inhospitable places in Namibia and the entire African continent, it is desolating and fascinating at the same time; visiting this stretch of coastline is a unique experience.
You can access by your car the Southern section of the Skeleton Coast Park, the one between the Ugab and the Springbokwasser gates and Terrace Bay; it is necessary to buy the entrance ticket at one of the two gates and to respect the timetables to move around the park.
Before planning a visit to the Skeleton Coast, it is good to know how to access, to cross it and to stay overnight.
The points of interest of the South Skeleton Coast Park, starting from South to North, from the Ugab Gate to Terrace Bay.
The Ugab River
The Ugab river is one of the most important and longest rivers in the Namib, usually flowing at least once a year; you cross its bed, almost always dry, just before entering the Ugab Gate.
The vegetation that predominates here is the wild tobacco plant (Nicotiana glauca) that is not native to this place; but you can also see some stunted acacia trees and other indigenous plants, such as the Acanthosicyos horridus (nara bush), with its spiny, leafless stems and its huge melons, that are edible to humans.
Just beyond the Ugab river on the right opens a spectacular view while, near the mouth of the Ugab river, lies the wreck of the Girdleness, although it is not very easy to see it from the C 34.
The wreck of the South West Sea
At about 15 km North of the Ugab River is one of the wrecks that you can more easily see, there is a sign indicating its location, although it does not mention the name of the wreck.
This is the wreck of a ship that ran aground here in 1976, salinity, waves, sand, and other factors have broken and corroded it, and little remains of the ship that was originally; this is the destiny of all boats that, in one way or another, have ended up in this desolate land.
Through the use of technology now less incidents of this kind happen, but in the past there have been many ships wrecked along the Skeleton Coast, of many there is almost nothing remaining, to stretch we will see fewer and fewer shipwrecks.
The Huab river
The Huab River is the first water course, almost always dry, that you meet North of the Ugab river; it gushes near Kamanjab and is one of the most important corridors for elephants and rhinos, that have adapted to live in this desert place, although it is very difficult to spot them.
Immediately to the North of the Huab river, looking to the right, you can see the barchan dunes that rise on a stony plain, their sand comes right from the bed of the Huab river.
Here is the rusty silhouette of an auger that, in the ‘60s, was part of a larger project of an oil prospector to extract oil from this part of the coast; he contracted many debts in order to finance his idea and his adventure ended when the banks confiscated his business.
Now these rusty remains provide the perfect place to nest for cormorants, so it is good not to get too close in the months of September and March not to disturb them.
This is not a place connected to the Italian orchestra conductor, but it is the name of an old gold mine now long abandoned; other places like this are usually demolished, with the aim of improving the landscape and preserving the environment, but here it was decided to leave it in its place to tell its story, it is also much appreciated by seabirds that nest here.
To the North of Toscanini there are three wrecks: the Atlantic Pride, the Luanda and the Montrose, but it is not easy to spot them from the road that, at this point, is quite far from the Atlantic Ocean.
The Koigab river
The Koigab river is located between the Huab and the Uniab rivers and is smaller in size compared to these two; it has a small basin that rarely floods, in fact the Koigab River looks more like a depression of the ground rather than a river bed.
Just before Torra Bay is the intersection with the C39 that heads inland and leads to the Springbokwasser gate, then venturing into the Damaraland; the road passes next to the Sugar Loaf Hill, that is on the right and, as soon as you leave the coast, the vegetation changes radically, you find yourself in an ever less arid ecosystem, up to the typical mountains with the flat top of the Damaraland, dotted with giant Euphorbia damarana.
Just North of the intersection between the C 34 and the C 39 are several barchan dunes that, grain after grain, are moving, driven by the winds that come from the South-West.
In this area, although it is not easy to spot, as it is very rare, lives the Onymacris bicolor, also known as white beetle, it is endemic to this area and the subject of many studies since it has evolved by changing its coloration, from black to white, to reduce exposure to sun rays, this to keep the body temperature low and to be able to move in search of food, even during the daylight hours.
Here are also some plants that are able to survive in such a hostile environment, such as the Zygophyllum stapffii or dollar bush, with its succulent and round leaves, reminiscent of the shape of a coin.
These shrubs, even if small, are large enough to act as windbreaks and usually collect the sand carried by the wind itself, that forms small mounds.
On these small heaps, since they are higher than the level of the desert soil, the fog that produces humidity is thickened, this is sufficient for the survival of the plants; moreover, the higher humidity attracts the bettles that have a fertilizer function; here, more than elsewhere, vegetation will grow over the years and decades.
Inland, not far from Torra Bay, there are some gray and white rocks, dug by the wind and sand; they are interesting to see.
The Uniab river
This river is located between Torra Bay and Terrace Bay, it is certainly the most accessible river in this area, also its mouth offers a beautiful landscape.
The water of this river, when it flows, comes from the Palmwag concession, the large mammals present in this region are concentrated here; so this river offers the best chance of spotting some animals, but you still needs a good dose of luck.
In ancient times this river had a large delta, but over the centuries the bed rose and the mouth was divided into five streams; today, when there is water in the river, it reaches the ocean through the second channel from the North, where there is much more vegetation than on the others, that usually remain dry all year round.
Everywhere, in the delta area, there are thickets of reed and small waterholes; two other waterholes are located about 10 km North of Torra Bay; here it is easy to spot several birds, such as plovers, turnstones and sandpipers, that are very common; you can also find some ducks like the Hottentot teal and the Cape shoveller and some Palaearctic migratory birds.
Near one of these waterholes are the remains of a settlement of nomadic shepherds of the sixteenth century, you can see the ruins of stone structures that have the style of the settlements of the Himbaof the time.
In the area between the two waterholes is a small waterfall, that occasionally, when it rains, has water; but it is easily identifiable, even when the river is dry, for the erosion, made by water on the rocks.
If you head towards the beach from this point you can see the wreck of the Atlantic, that ran aground here in 1977.
Here it is possible to spot jackals, oryxes and springboks, while elephants, lions and cheetahs, although they are present, are almost impossible to see; the elusive brown hyenas are also present, but it is more likely to see signs of their presence, like their droppings and some imprints, rather than sight them.
Terrace Bay is located 287 km North of Henties Bay and is the Northernmost point of the Skeleton Coast Park that can be reached by car, even on a self drive.
It is an almost surreal desolate place; originally it was built for the personnel who worked in a mine, but now it has been converted into a camp for those visitors who venture up to here.
It is a great stop for those traveling from Swakopmund to Damaraland, or vice versa, and thus allows to extend your presence within the Skeleton Coast Parkand explore this desert area better.
It is frequented mainly by fishermen, who come here all year round; along the coast there are in fact several points where you can practice fishing and the permit can be purchased directly at the camp reception desk.
In the evening, if you look at the small hangar, you can see hundreds of cormorants that take refuge here for the night, activated by the heat developed by the current generator; sometimes it is also possible to spot some jackals or brown hyenas stalking in the camp looking for something to eat.
This is the only place in the Skeleton Coast Park where you can find a gas station.
Mowe Bay is located about 80 km North of Terrace Bay, here is the administrative center of the Skeleton Coast Park and a research base, but access is not allowed to visitors.
On the beach of Mowe Bay there are many hard stones, rounded and smoothed by the motion of the waves; there are agates, quartzes, amethysts, magnetites and other hard stones, the beach looks like a multicolored carpet of semiprecious stones.