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Damaraland & the Skeleton Coast Off the Beaten Path

We waved our aircraft off from the Palmwag airstrip, brimming with the inevitable excitement that comes at the start of an expedition. Months of preparation, planning and poring over maps had led us to our start point. The mission: to explore Damaraland and the Skeleton Coast off the beaten path, from Palmwag in the east to the Atlantic ocean in the west. We were to do this on foot and by vehicle into areas few other travelers have ventured.

On the way we climbed a rocky outcrop to view a beautiful black rhino bull as he browsed on a nearby euphorbia. The sight of our mobile tented camp, set amongst the vegetation surrounding a natural spring, was most welcoming. We all quickly adapted to the wild camping life – aided of course by our crack team looking after us with hot bucket showers, sundowners and a delicious dinner! What a privilege to be all alone, under a blanket of stars, in the middle of a giant wilderness area.


A black rhino bull in Damaraland

We plotted our way through Damaraland, walking the dry river beds and rusted rocky hillsides, skirting the lumo green Euphorbia damaranas and following the desert adapted wildlife tracks as they converged on the life giving oases.


We had brilliant stars which could be properly appreciated from our campfire

Each evening we were greeted by the flickering lanterns and fire smoke (and cold Windhoek lagers!) of our much-beloved campsites. As we approached the Skeleton Coast our team pitched camp in a dry riverbed gorge, which is possibly the most remote place I have ever had the pleasure of spending a night. 200 meters from the camp, and deep in the gorge, a vertical rock face spilled a trickle of water into a tiny pool. Leading to that water source were tracks of elephant, black rhino, lion, brown hyaena, giraffe, oryx, baboon and springbok.


An elephant bull gives scale to the Hoanib riverbed


A herd of 150+ springbok in the floodplain

Scaling the giant dunes towering over the Hoanib River we spent an afternoon with the area’s famed desert-adapted lions – in this case two lionesses and three cubs – and a number of stately elephant bulls. Using Hoanib Skeleton Coast camp as our new base, and the riverbed as our guide, we pushed on to the Atlantic Ocean, via desert oases and through the immense floodplain, filled with springbok, black-backed jackal and rodent-hunting augur buzzards. A few thousand Cape fur seals greeted us nonchalantly on arrival at the coast. A toast to the desert and ocean sadly signaled the end of an incredible expedition through some very special Namibian wilderness.


Cape fur seals at Mowe Bay


The famed desert lions resting up on a vegetated sand dune


A giraffe at first light


An immature Augur buzzard hunting rodents on the floodplain


Relief in the desert – an oasis we visited on the way to the Atlantic

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Written and photographed by Richard Anderson