The Skeleton Coast, Namibia’s Wild Northwest

24 May 2022

We set off from The Delight Swakopmund on a hazy day at the end of March, northwards towards Damaraland. Our destination is Palmwag Lodge & Camp, and we want to take our time along the notorious Skeleton Coast.

The Ugabmund Gate is the southern entrance to the Skeleton Coast Park, which stretches 500 km northwards to the Kunene River. We drive through the barren, deserted landscape until a sign points us to the only ship wreck on this desolate coastline that is accessible to visitors. There is not much left of the 'South West Seal', which stranded here in 1976. We take a short break from driving and stretch our legs.


As we continue northwards, old dilapidated structures from the late 1960s remind us that the Skeleton Coast Park was only declared a national park in 1973. The Old Oil Rig and the abandoned Toscanini Mine, where diamonds were once mined with moderate success, now serve as breeding grounds for seabirds.

Soon we arrive at the Huab River and take a detour to the sign posted Huab estuary with its large lagoon. Here, between desert and ocean we find a warning sign: Beware of the Lions.


They migrate from the inland down the dry river beds, where there is food and water, towards the sea to hunt seals and seabirds. After the introduction of a community-based wildlife conservation model and an increase in tourism on the Skeleton Coast, lions have returned to this inhospitable coast.

And then, all of a sudden, great astonishment! A lake on the road, in the middle of the desert! A torrential rain must have fallen here and washed it away. For a few kilometers, the previously good gravel road is only passable with difficulty.


Fascinating flora of the Skeleton Coast Park

We turn our backs on the Atlantic Ocean heading east, towards Springbokwater and thick inland cloud towers. Gradually, red table-topped mountains replace the sand dunes, and dots of green appear; as we get closer, we see tsamma plants with green and yellow melons. This hardy desert plant provides vital fluids for many creatures.


After a long right-hand bend we come across another iconic Namibian attraction, the Welwitschia mirabilis. This extraordinary, two-leaved plant originates back more than 100 million years. It was only able to survive because it adapted to its arid environment in the course of evolution.


On the left, in the middle of nowhere, a fence suddenly begins. The veterinary fence, the so-called Red Line is supposed to prevent animal movements from north to south and thus the spread of animal diseases such as foot and mouth disease. To our amazement, the landscape becomes greener and greener, the otherwise rough Damaraland with its reddish-brown stone surfaces is covered with grass and looks soft and fresh. Springboks eye us curiously, simply wonderful! 

We reach Springbokwater, the park station on the eastern border of the Skeleton Coast Park, which is currently a construction site. As part of the government’s NamParks V development project , new administrative buildings with tourist information and staff accommodation are being built.


The NamParks programme was introduced in 2006 and is generously supported by Germany through the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau. By building adequate infrastructure and introducing efficient park management, NamParks V aims to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources, thus contributing to the conservation of biodiversity and improving the living conditions of the neighbouring communities.

Palmwag Lodge & Camp in the rarely green Damaraland

We drive on in the most beautiful sunshine and suddenly have to stop abruptly.  The perennial Koigab River has become a raging torrent due to heavy inland rains. We wade barefoot along the edge of the river and chat with other travellers who also placidly enjoy this spectacle of nature. After an hour and a half, the water level has dropped enough for us to cross the river safely.


After arriving at Palmwag Lodge & Camp we spend a wonderful evening in the lodge's open restaurant. The accommodation, which is well known and appreciated in Southern Africa, is considered the gateway to the adventurous Kaokoland. Depending on taste and budget, there are comfort and standard rooms at the lodge, Camping2Go self-catering accommodation and a campsite. There is a hustle and bustle.

On our exploratory walk the next morning, we hear the perennial Uniab River rippling, carrying water for the first time in many years. We walk around and discover a waste water treatment plant and solar panels. At Palmwag Lodge & Camp, which belongs to the tourism company Gondwana Collection Namibia, environmental protection and sustainability rank high.

In the afternoon we join a nature drive into the Palmwag Concession area. We have hardly set off when we discover giraffes and mountain zebras; oryx antelopes and springbok look at us from a safe distance. The usually dry Aub Canyon is fed by a picturesque waterfall. We continue over hill and dale to a small hilltop where we enjoy a spectacular sunset with delicious snacks and gin & tonic, and reflect on the past two days.


Barren, imposing landscapes, desert plants with an unyielding will to live, lions along the Atlantic coast... Namibia's fascinating, wild world is definitely worth exploring!

Inke Stoldt

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