The Skeleton Coast is the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean coast of Namibia and south of Angola from the Kunene River south to the Swakop River, although the name is sometimes used to describe the entire Namib Desert coast. The Bushmen of the Namibian interior called the region “The Land God Made in Anger”, while Portugese sailors once referred to it as “The Gates of Hell”.
Although the entire coastline of Namibia was formerly called The Skeleton Coast, more commonly today it refers only to the Skeleton Coast National Park.
The park stretches from the Kunene River in the north for approximately 500km to the Ugab River in the south, and protects about one-third of Namibia’s coastline. The crocodile population is still as large and aggressive as ever, even though the wildlife population has declined over the centuries. The strong flow of the Kunene resists tidal excursion and the fresh water pushes several kilometres out to sea, and beware, the crocodiles follow!
The Skeleton Coast is is normally associated with famous shipwrecks, and stories abound of sailors walking for hundreds of kilometres through this barren Namibian landscape in search of food and water. The name came from the bones that lined the beaches from whaling operations and seal hunts, but more than a few of the skeletons were human. Ever since European navigators first discovered it, ships have wrecked on it’s off-shore rocks, or run aground in the blinding fog. While small boats could land, the strong surf made it impossible to launch, hence the stories of sailors walking through the murderous terrain.
The coast has scores of shipwrecks, some are barely recognizable, other are still in remarkably good condition. Perhaps these tragedies were meant to happen, as the wrecks provide excellent environments for Cape fur seals, living side by side with seabird colonies, offering unequaled maritime photographic opportunities.
Some wrecks of note are the Dunedin Star (a crouching skeleton was found buried nearby) Islander, Suiderkus, Sir Charles Elliot and Kaio Maru. The Seal and Luanda can be seen near Toscanini and the Atlantic Pride lies nearTorra Bay. For the best views of these shipwrecks, you would need to visit the Skeleton Coast Park either on a fly-in safari or alternatively on a scenic flight.
Despite its arid and deadly appearance, the Skeleton Coast has a greater variety of species than many other parks in Southern Africa. Large mammals include Namibia’s famous desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, lion, cheetah, giraffe, gemsbok, zebra, springbok and spotted and brown hyena, are found in the dry river beds which flow from the interior of Namibia, through the Namib Desert to the Skeleton Coast.
The salt/brine pans are in the south of the park at Cape Cross where subterranean rock salt can reach depths of 25m. The salt pans form large, attractive and complex crystal blocks. Other pans occur further north, notably at Cape Frio, where they extend to roughly 90km in length. At Angra Fria some brine pans are over 100m deep