The Hoanib Skeleton Coast is a hostile but fascinating area in the far north-western corner of Namibia and is part of the Namib Desert. The area is just 40 km wide but stretches more than 500 km along the coast. Here the cold and unpredictable Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean meets with a unique landscape of desert and dunes.
There is a popular belief that the name Skeleton Coast derived from the large number of shipwrecks (more than a thousand in total) caused by the thick fog, the rough sea, unpredictable currents and stormy winds. However, it is more likely that the name derives from the large number whale skeletons scattered across the beaches, a by-product of whaling in times gone by. The Bushmen called the area “The Land God Made in Anger” and the Portuguese knew it as “The Gates of Hell”.
Despite the hostile character and lack of rainfall of the Skeleton Coast, wildlife thrives here with the help of the damp coastal fog. The perennial Kunene River to the north, the seasonal, transcient Hoanib River in the south and numerous freshwater springs support healthy populations of Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe, gemsbok (oryx), springbok, kudu, cheetah, hyena, rhino, comical meerkats (suricates), inquisitive ground squirrels, black-backed jackal and small spotted genet. Most famous of all are the desert-adapted elephants and lions. Cape fur seals in their thousands live in colonies along the Coast. Some plants have adapted to the rainless conditions of the Skeleton Coast and depend solely on the daily fog from the Atlantic Ocean: There are ancient welwitschias, seen as living fossils, as well as !Nara melons, several lithops succulent plants (often called “living stones”), lichen and pencil bush (ink bush). Reptiles provide many curiosities in the park. The near endemic Gerrhosaurus skoogi, an armour-plated lizard that can measure up to 30 centimetres long and can weigh up to 120 grams. As many as 247 species of birds have been recorded in the Skeleton Coast, including the near endemic Damara Tern, which nests and breeds on the gravel plains adjacent to the coast.
To conserve this rare location the Skeleton Coast National Park was formed by the Namibian government. It is remote and access is via light aircraft, or by long, dusty dirt roads. The Skeleton Coast has a greater variety of endemic species than any other area in Namibia, making it a great destination for visitors who have already been on a conventional safari.