Namibia - Skeleton Coast

Stay in the only lodge in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast national park and walk alongside desert adapted giraffe in the Hoanib.

The best pitches are always the simplest and so it wasn’t long before the Financial Times were on the telephone wanting to know more about our idea for a press story in Namibia. We told them about Shipwreck Lodge, the perfect new base from which to explore the wild and inhospitable Skeleton Coast national park. And we told them about the newly opened Hoanib Valley Camp from where safaris are escorted by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, giving unparalleled insight into these “long-necked cows” of the desert.

The FT appointed Horatia Harrod to write the story and she has done a great job of capturing the unique characteristics of desert adapted wildlife. She writes, “In the desert, animals look and behave differently. They follow crazy paths – start by tracking a rhino east…and you will inevitably find it far to the west.”

In a country renowned for its sense of space, the Hoanib and Skelton Coast regions vie for the title of Namibia’s most sprawling and hostile landscape. Horatia’s article never loses sight of this, and while the wildlife and the people are justifiably centre stage, she beautifully expresses both the pristine and harsh conditions of Namibia’s wild north-west coast:

“…this is where the road runs out. Turn to the Atlantic, and you are met by a thundering swell; turn inland and you reach a dreamlike sea of sand-dunes. For centuries, ships have been wrecked on this shore, overcome by strong, swirling currents…Further down the coast, the ghostly trail of a 19th-century German oxen wagon can still be seen, heading into the great nowhere.”

While Horatia was clearly impressed by the wildlife and their dramatic environment, the affection and admiration she develops for her guides is most profound. There is a particularly moving moment when Nico Uararavi, a guide from Hoanib Valley Camp confides in Horatia that his father was once a poacher. He says to her “The rhino is so beautiful, so vulnerable, I sometimes fail to understand how my father could poach it, if he knew this.” The other guide that Steppes arranged for Horatia was Festus Mbinga, whom began guiding when “the guests were as rare as diamonds”. Festus gives Horatia an insight into the close relationship he enjoyed with his mother, whom imparted her intimate knowledge of the natural world onto her son and instilled in him a respect for the wildlife and the land. Horatia writes:

“The Skeleton Coast is both hostile and fragile, and Mbinga is its respectful custodian.”

The FT’s feature is a powerful endorsement of the need for exceptional guides to unravel the complexities and beauty of the desert eco-system. As Horatia says:“In these superficially bleak conditions, a guide of subtlety is required.”