SKELETON COAST

The Skeleton Coast National Park expands from the Kunene River to the Ugab River, although the name “Skeleton Coast” would more correctly apply to the entire Namibian coastline. The Skeleton Coast, situated in the northern Namib Desert, was referred to by the Bushmen as “The land God made in anger”, and any person stranded there or even visiting can bear living witness to this fact. The Hottentots referred to the omnipresent pityless south westerly wind as the “Soo-oo-oop-wa”, and as it blows, it may temporarily uncover the bleached bones of forgotten skeletons while lashing this arid coastal belt, cutting fretful patterns into the vast, restless dunes. The coast – cruel, arid, waterless – is shunned by the seafarers who know that death awaits those unfortunate enough to be wrecked on its treacherous shores. The Portuguese referred to the area as “the gates of Hell”. Only the flamingos stalk its lonely shores and an occasional jackal pads over the cold beach, craftily waiting for a sick or weary bird to alight and rest or a young seal who has not yet learned the danger of being part of the food chain of the skeleton coast. Few names in the World conjure up more imagery of a lost, forlorn coastline. Few places in the world can offer a more lonely and desolate scene than the barren, white, sandy wastes of the coast along Namibia. Imagery would have the place named after the skeletons of shipwrecks and sailors bones caused by the mist or fog within shallow water and rocks offshore, however it is more correctly named after the beached whale and seal bones which covered the shore when the whaling industry was still active. But the area is as beautiful as it is harsh. As barren as the coast is, so in contrast is the ocean that pounds its shores rich in marine life, making the Skeleton Coast one of the best shore-fishing spots on earth. This is due to the cold Benguela current, flowing northwards from the south pole, carrying with it life sustaining nutrients and stirring up nutrient salts from the depths of the Atlantic – thus beginning the great food chain in an area seemingly lifeless.
The Skeleton Coast National Park stretches from the Kunene River south to the Ugab River, an area exceeding16,000 km². The park is divided into 3 parts, of which only the southern part is accessible to the tourist. The southern section has 2 entrance gates and stretches from the dry Ugab River to north of Möwe Bay. Access to the southern section is provided by the Ugab Gate (world renowned for its painting of a massive human skull) and is accessible to tourists traveling along the C34 to or from Swakopmund. The Springbok gate enables access into the Skeleton Coast National Park from the south-westerly side, combining Damaraland, and enabling day-visitors a circular route from or to Swakopmund. (Visits to Torra Bay and Terrace Bay are only permitted to travellers who overnight in these camps.) The Concession Area that stretches from Möwe Bay to Angra Fria (strictly forbidden area as it is still believed that Diamonds are found here). Also the area stretching between Angra Fria to the Kunene River (the natural border to Angola) is strictly conservation area and may only be traversed with a government official or specially licensed tour operator.

Information for Day Visitors

Visitors should please take note beforehand that the image of a coastline littered with different ship wrecks is a thing of the past. Regrettably almost all of the shipwrecks that used to be found exposed are now either completely submerged under the sand or have deteriorated to such an extent that only a few pieces of metal or wood remind of the once proud ship that lay here. The visitors who appreciate deserted areas hardly touched by human civilisation, and who appreciate nature and a solitary but beautiful yet harsh environment, will be richly rewarded! Day visitors are allowed entrance via the Ugab River Gate and the Springbokwasser Gate. Permits to the park can be purchased at either gate, but can also be bought in Windhoek or Swakopmund with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Please make sure to travel into the park as early as possible. Day visitors are not allowed to visit Torra Bay and Terrace Bay, this is only reserved for visitors who are in possession of an accommodation voucher at these establishments. A minimum of half a day should be planned for. Ugab River Gate opening / closing times: 07:30 to 15:00 (NO entry after 15:00) Visitors need to have exited the park by 18h00 Springbokwasser Gate opening / closing times: 07:30 to 15:00 (NO entry after 15:00) Visitors need to have exited the park by 18h00

Oil Rig

About 44 km north of the Ugab River, on the right side of the road, the rusty remains of an old oil rig can be seen. Ben du Preez and Jack Scott (see Toscanini, below) not only tried diamond mining, but were sure that there was also oil in the Skeleton Coast. They erected an oil rig near the Huab River mouth. After reaching a depth of 1,700 meters they declared that they had found no oil, but had struck a rich anthracite deposit, which was too deep to be viable for mining. In 1972 the oil rig was abandoned. Today the rusty oil rig has become an ideal nesting place for a breeding colony of Cape Cormorants. As the tracks around the wreck indicate the colony also attracts brown hyena and black-backed jackals.

Toscanini

The sign post for Toscanini is about 10 km north of the oil rig. Toscanini is often shown as a large dot on maps of the Skeleton Coast, but all that is to be found are fast disappearing concrete foundation slabs and several jetty poles. Like many others, Ben du Preez and Jack Scott had heard of the alleged discovery of a 2.5 carat diamond by a land surveyor of the German Schutztruppe near Cape Cross in 1910. In the early 1960's they are said to have invested over N$2 million to build a large scale diamond processing plant at Toscanini. Sometime later Ben du Preez and Jack Scott also took over the prospecting license from Consolidated Diamond Mining Company (CDM) for Terrace Bay. Without further investigation, they build an even bigger diamond processing plant at Terrace Bay. For several years prospecting and mining continued at Toscanini and Terrace Bay. In 1972 both mines were closed, with Terrace Bay being taken over by the Department of Nature Conservation and Tourism and turned into accommodation units, and Toscanini being abandoned.