So, it was a pretty amazing day. We landed at around 8am and by 10am we were in a Cessna 210 heading west out over the desert on the way to the coast – the Namibian coast that is. I had been invited by Skeleton Coast Safaris to see their camps and enjoy their hospitality for a few days, and what a start we had!
In the course of the day we made four short flights, each no more than an hour or so. Bertus was our pilot and guide, Bertus is the son of Loue Schoemann the pioneer who developed the amazing air safaris in this most remarkable of areas. We flew over some fantastic scenery, over a desert that was dusted with a smattering of green after the rains. In some places the green made a stark contrast to the deep reds of the higher dunes.
We stopped for a walk and an early lunch to learn about the geology of the Kuiseb Canyon and had Bradfield’s Swifts screaming overhead… at one point they were hassled by a Rock Kestrel.
We then flew at low level (around 150 feet or so) along the coast, over the shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen until we reached Swakopmund. Birds seen from above included Greater Flamingos, White Pelicans and Cape Cormorants. Of course Cape Cross was one of the highlights as we overflew 250-300,000 Cape Fur Seals, many hauled out on the beach, many more diving in and out of the waves. But no sign today of the Southern Right Whales that are beginning (at this time of year) to work their way north up the coast.
Geology is a big thing on these air safaris, and specifically in this part of the world as it is so accessible and so visible. In fact somehow there seems to be ‘bucket loads of geology’. Seeing the ‘roots’ of mountain ranges which were once as high as the Himalayas is a strange experience, as is landing on a desolate beach in the freezing cold and driving wind after having been in 40 degrees centigrade temperatures less than an hour previously.
Nothing can remove the highlight however of flying amongst the reddening mountains as the sun is beginning to set and landing on a Mars-like landscape before being driven to a simple, but totally effective and comfortable, remote bush camp (Kuidas Camp) in the heart of the Skeleton Coast. After dark, Bertus switched on the giant astronomical telescope and we looked at the moon – I had my first ever view of the rings of Saturn. What an end to the day!
Our second day was no less exciting. First we took a walk to see where some ancient populations had made their shelters many hundreds of years ago. We learnt about how they might have hunted and gathered and looked after their families. We even saw some of their amazing art, delicately painted in earthy ochre colours onto the flat rocks. The rocks had fallen some years back so the paintings somehow seemed even more special, secreted away in a private cavern high on a hill. Sitting there you could imagine perhaps in times past than on the seemingly endless plains that stretched away in front of us perhaps dinosaurs roamed.
We returned to camp for a drink before boarding the vehicles and heading off to explore the colourful red lava and yellow sandstone of the Huab River area. One of its most extraordinary inhabitants is the Welwitchia mirabilis, a tree dwarfed by the encroaching desert climate that now lives as a straggly, woody, bedraggled, ground-dweller, sometimes for 1000’s of years. The male Welwitchia that we saw was estimated to be around 3000 years old.
After lunch in camp we took to the air again and flew along the coast to Terrace Bay. As bleak places go, this is about the bleakest. Grey, blustery and unforgiving, this is the Skeleton Coast at its least attractive… but this was all changed by a journey inland in Land Rovers to the dunes. Shoes off, jackets off, everything valuable left in the vehicles, we stood in a line at the top of the highest dune and on the count of three jumped into the sand, pushing as much sand as we could with our feet to create a thunderous roar – the sound was amazing!
By air we flew over Gemsbok, Springbok and Ostrich as we continued north to Purros Camp in the Hoarusib Valley (in the Kunene region) where we spent the night. Another simple but effective camp, this time close to the Hoarusib River. A barbeque dinner and a few beers by the fire was all I needed to round off the day perfectly.
I got up early and took a morning walk along the drying riverbed. Montiero’s Hornbill, Trac Trac Chat, Bare-cheeked Babblers, and a juvenile Lanner Falcon got the day off to a good start. After breakfast we took a scenic drive along the river and visited a small settlement of the nomadic Himba. We spent quite a while with these truly beautiful people, talking with sign-language and gaining a fragment of an idea of what it must be like to live this ancient lifestyle.
With the Himba people behind us we drove on up the river valley trying to take in the enormity of the landscape. The mountains are gigantic, the valleys seem to be even bigger, and what from a distance looks like a hillock, is a steep and imposing viewpoint which offers a lookout for miles around.
Desert-adapted Elephant is surely one of the prize sightings on any trip to this part of the world, and despite an extensive search we only managed to find one. But the one we saw was a beautiful old bull and he allowed us to get very close to him as he foraged in the river bed. He only looked irritated once, and that was perhaps more an irritation with the fact that he had recently lost one of his resplendent tusks than because of us. He played, he drank, and he rolled about in the waterhole right in front of us. And, as if that wasn’t enough, on the way back to the aircraft we found six Giraffes… for some reason I wasn’t expecting to see Giraffe, and, if it is possible, it made the sighting even more special than that of the Elephant.
After lunch in camp we continued by air through the mountains and dunes of the Hartmann Valley (which extends all the way up to the Kunene River and the border with Angola) to our most northerly landing point an hour or so’s drive from Kunene Camp. As airstrips go in Namibia, this is without doubt the most spectacular, particularly when we landed… late in the day as the sun was setting. The high valley in which the airstrip is located can only be described as gigantic. And, for us it was coated in this beautiful delicate green and feathery grass. As we left the aircraft behind us and drove towards camp we had no idea what lay in front of us. The world appeared to end at one point, with no clue as to what lay ahead. Then, we turned a corner and the land dropped away sharply, down to the Kunene River and the mountainous hills of Angola beyond.
Our final day began with another early start and a walk along the raging waters of the Kunene River. Deiderik’s Cuckoo, Madagascar Bee-eater, Abdim’s Stork, Green-backed Heron, Mountain Chat and African Mourning Dove all added to the beauty of this stunning location. The camp (Kunene Camp) is perched atop a rocky outcrop and affords beautiful views upstream and down. After breakfast we took to the river and explored a little, taking a relaxing (though technically illegal!) stroll on the Angola side of the river.
Back to the aircraft we boarded and headed back to Windhoek, our short and exciting adventure over… but not before lunch at the stunning new Skeleton Coast Safaris camp.
If you would like to enjoy one of these magnificent air safaris in Namibia as part of your tailor-made itinerary, please do call us on 0845 130 6982 and we should be delighted to talk you through how we might incorporate it into your holiday.
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