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NWR’s Tour Planning division MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) recently guided a client on a 21-day Skeleton Coast/Kunene Tour. Tour leader and guide Francois Snyders kept a diary of the unforgettable trip.
The journey starts by meeting the guests in Swakopmund. The first day is only a short drive 20km north of Swakopmund to Windpomp 14. Here we stay on one of the excellent campsites that are situated almost right on the beach. After a good night’s sleep that was helped by the soothing sound of the Atlantic Ocean we have shaken the shackles of the city and set forth on the journey.
We enter the Skeleton Coast at the Ugab River gate and the excitement of the guests are visibly mounting for the unique landscapes, riverbeds, and seeing desert adapted animals like elephant, lion, giraffe, oryx and brown hyena.
After four days stay at Terrace Bay where most of our time is spent fishing, we head further north to Mowe Bay. Here we meet with Emsie, the resident Brown Hyena researcher for a very interesting chat about her work. We still have a bit of driving ahead of us and after saying goodbye head towards the Hoarusib River for our first night’s wild-camping. The river and its surrounds are truly breathtaking and as a bonus we are treated to a young Elephant bull that walks right past us. By staying quiet we are able to get stunning photos of this beautiful desert adapted creature. What a blessing it is to be able to guide tourists through this wild part of Namibia!
The next day we passed the Schoeman’s Leylandsdrift Camp before cutting across the plains on a well-used existing track. The weather is freezing, but the beautiful vistas around us make us forget about the cold. We stop for lunch after spotting 13 Giraffes in the Khumib River and after lunch we reward ourselves with a well-deserved siesta.
Setting up camp that night we experienced what must have been the first windless night on our journey in the Skeleton Coast so far, but this is thanks to the well selected campsite that gives protection from the howling wind. During the night the temperature drops to 2°C but luckily our rooftop tents protected us from the cold and our bedding kept us warm and cozy.
It’s a new dawn and a new day and the plan is to drive down the river to the coast. I have a secret up my sleeve that my clients are yet to know of. Further down the river is a natural spring and I am sure that they would want to spend the night here as it will make exceptional photos at first light.
From the Khumib we turn north and experience the gale force winds and accompanying sand-storms that the Skeleton Coast is infamous for. At Angra Fria I show the guests the electronic “light Tower” and Ernst Kalowa’s hide, after which drive south to set up camp and hopefully find some shelter at False Cape Fria. However, shelter from the wind is impossible to find and for dinner chicken pieces and kabeljou is double wrapped in aluminium foil to keep the sand out during preparation. The weather forces us to have our meals in our cars but we are all thankful for the delicious warm food to to lift the spirits. After dinner we retire to our rooftop tents, thankful for the shelter it provides. During the night the wind worsens and at midnight it must have reached a speed of at least 70km/h.
The next morning we turn the camper 90-degrees out of the prevailing wind to be able to brew some coffee. Nothing to get you going like some fresh percolated coffee and homemade rusks. We also count 15 jackals that arrived during the night looking for scraps to eat.
The next destination is Rocky Point, 82km to the south. Within the first 10 km along the seal colony surrounding False Cape Fria, we find four different brown hyenas, definitely a highlight of the trip for the guests. Even though we are not travelling far today, we maintain a slow speed taking in all the extraordinary sights along the way. We have also been lucky, thanks to the wind and moisture the sand seems firmer and haven’t yet had to force our way through the soft sand as is usual.
The wind calmed down enough to have lunch at Rocky Point from where we continue south to the Hoarusib River. A 20 km drive down the Hoarusib takes us to a nicely sheltered site to set up camp for the night. The night turns out to be quite pleasant with almost no wind and we have an excellent meal of pork roasted on the fire.
Celebrating the nicer weather we start off the new day with flapjacks and coffee. The leftover pork is packed for yummy road snacks. At Leylandsdrift we turn south and climb a leisurely 1000ft to the top of a beautiful granite ridge where we stop to stretch legs with a little walk. From the viewpoint we drive down into the Hoanib River. Driving 16 km down-river, we find a spot to set up camp and await lion expert, Dr Flip Stander as he plans on doing some lion research in the area.
Having set up camp early, I start cooking up a storm for tonight’s feast. We’ll have freshly baked mielie-bread, kabeljou and a baked potato dish with roasted onion and bacon mix covered with a white sauce and grated cheese. We are fortunate to have a bird-filled Ana tree in front of our camp for some easy birding as we enjoy a beer and watch a beautiful sunset.
Last night we had the coldest night yet. The temperature dropped all the way to 0°C, but fortunately our kitted Savanna Car Hire Land Cruiser campers not only gives us plentiful shelter against the cold but is equipped with lovely warm bedding. We also had a visitor in the middle of the night, a curious elephant bull came into camp and tested my car’s open door with its trunk. What a priceless moment!
After breaking down camp and head down the Hoanib towards the coast. At a pre-arranged location we meet Dr Stander. We have a brief but interesting discussion with him as well as a quick meal before saying our farewells.
Reaching the Hoanib mouth, tyres are deflated to tackle the dunes that we need to cross enroute south to Terrace Bay. When we arrive we have our first real shower after a couple nights of wild-camping as well as a proper bed and dinner that is cooked for us.
We rise early and visit the close-by seal-colony before driving into the Uniab River. Following the river we drive west to where it meets the sea. The weather has improved so much that I decide to treat the guests to braaied beef fillet on the beach for dinner.
The next morning we’re on the road again. Our route takes us from Torra Bay to the Huab River from where we drive about 30km inland. At the end of another excellent day, we round it off with a cold beer and some delicious lamb chops made on the coals.
The new day brings a certain sadness as we know we have to go home. After a quick breakfast and some coffees we drive further inland and enter the Huab River at the historic Scotts Bridge. Here we see two majestic lionesses on a ridge overlooking us almost as if they came to say goodbye. A more fitting way to end the tour could not be asked for and as we hit the gravel roads that will take us back to civilization.