Into the Wilderness : Northwestern Namibia & The Skeleton Coast

November-December 2017

Our wonderful tour of northwestern Namibia is a chance to discover exceptional private reserves and a rarely-visited stretch of the vast Skeleton Coast National Park with its remote Atlantic coastline. We encounter breathtaking scenery and geology ; the work of conservationists with some of the world’s most endangered species, such as the black rhino; wildlife*, including giraffes and elephants, adapted to a desert environment; fascinating flora of desert and savannah; and ancient rock art created by inhabitants of the region thousands of years ago. Travel is in a small group of up to 10 people led by Susan Worner, with a local guide and driver. We stay in carefully chosen, top-quality camps with well-appointed tents and excellent cuisine, and with knowledgeable, experienced guides on hand for our exploration of the surrounding country.


We travel directly from Windhoek and arrive late afternoon in the Okonjima Nature Reserve situated among the Omboroko Mountains north of the capital. On entering the reserve we are delighted to see wildlife in abundance, with giraffes peering at us through the acacia trees, herds of springbok, wart hogs, wildebeest, and even a few mongoose that dash across the track. Later on, a nocturnal drive takes us to a hide where we observe a beautiful porcupine with its quills raised ‘on alert’, and a brown hyena.

In the morning our excellent guides, Michael and Craig, take us into the 25,000 hectare reserve privately owned by the Hanssen family and home to the AfriCat Foundation dedicated to the conservation of large carnivores. We have an early start to find cheetah : Many of them were brought to the reserve as young animals after their mothers were killed on cattle farms, and indeed we spot two, one feeding and one on guard. Other sightings include springbok herds, kudu and impala, as well as a number of enormous spiders’ webs!

The highlight of our late afternoon drive is the sighting of a leopard patiently stalking a wart hog, moving with agility and finesse, and climbing a tree to observe its prey.  Later, we see another leopard with her young cub, which is learning to gnaw on a carcass hidden in the bush.

The Bush Camp, the latest addition to the Okonjima portfolio, is top-class. Small and private, with just eight rooms, it is perfect for our group.


Moving northwest into the mountainous desert region of Damaraland, we arrive at Mowani Camp, with its beautifully designed tents nestling between granite boulders. Our sundowner drinks are served above the Camp on a stony plateau with amazing panoramic views over the plains below.

Next morning we travel with our guide, Zane, through the mountains to the Huab dry riverbed, sighting on our way a large elephant herd with a number of very young trying to get the hang of browsing. Passing through incredible scenery we arrive at the World Heritage Site of Twyfelfontein, where we explore fascinating rock art created some 4,000 years ago by the Khoikhoi tribe.


On the next leg of our tour we travel further to the northwest ; it takes over two hours to reach the Desert Rhino Camp from the main road, travelling in specially-adapted open vehicles.  In this vast and sparsely inhabited landscape we pass clumps of silver-grey Euphorbia, much liked by rhino, and Namibia’s ancient plant, Welwitschia mirabilis, which is in flower.

We are warmly welcomed on our arrival by Esther, the excellent Camp manager, and her team.  After a walk with guide Johannes to discover plants, trees and birds in the setting sun, we enjoy a sundowner around the boma fire at the camp.  And there is a surprise in store as we follow a candlelit track into the bush to share a convivial dinner by the light of a nearby fire and lamps in the trees. Namibians love singing and dancing, and it seems any good excuse sets them off. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable evening !

The Desert Rhino Camp is run in conjunction with the Save the Rhino Trust, and it is dedicated to safeguarding the last free-roaming desert-adapted black rhino. Numbers have been seriously depleted by ruthless poaching, but – happily – the Trust and local community are succeeding in protecting them and the rhinos are breeding well. By our visit we are also helping to support their work with the endangered animals, and with the community.

Out next morning for a full day of rhino-trekking in the hilly terrain, with flat-topped mountains in the distance, we travel by vehicle until the trekkers spot a mother and calf with the nicknames Topknot and Troy.  Accompanied by the guides, we walk silently in single-file towards them and are amply rewarded with quite a close view.

As we eat a delicious lunch around a waterhole, our guides and trekkers recount their experiences of life in this remote region.


We now move on to a remote wilderness area only accessible by very few visitors. The journey by charter plane is breathtaking for the views over rugged mountains, desert plains and dry riverbeds.

Hoanib Camp is located on the edge of the Skeleton Coast National Park. Established with a special concession from the local community, it has been designed in a particularly attractive style.  The Camp is exceptional for its privileged access to the protected National Park (there is just one more camp to the north).

A region of rugged mountains and wide vistas over dry riverbeds with drifting sands, Hoanib is an extraordinary experience. Remarkably, there is sufficient vegetation to support diverse wildlife, from springbok and giraffe to big cats and elephants ; all have adapted to the specific conditions of this arid area.

Our guides, Chris and Joas, take us along the dry Hoanib riverbed, lined with majestic ana trees (Faidherbia albida) and camelthorn (Acacia erioloba). With root systems that reach down to the underground water table, the trees provide food for browsers such as giraffe and elephants.

The highlight of our stay is a visit to a stretch along the Atlantic Ocean known as the Skeleton Coast, with its shipwrecks, seabirds and seal colony.  Remote, vast and uninhabited, it has scalloped dunes bearing down to the shoreline bordering a rough, inhospitable ocean.

On the return journey we observe two black-backed jackals hunting for mice in clumps of vegetation, their quarry deftly escaping each pounce. The rock formations along the route are fascinating and it is our good fortune that one of our party, a geologist, can give the group valuable insights into the extraordinary geology of Namibia.


Travelling east from the Skeleton Coast, we arrrive at Ongava Lodge within Ongava Reserve, adjoining Etosha National Park. Perched on a wooded hilltop, the Lodge has a magnificent viewing terrace and a well-visited waterhole. The Reserve is mostly savannah and forest, and it teems with wildlife.  Among the sightings are white rhino, an extensive herd of kudu and two prides of lions with very young and playful cubs.

The abundant trees around the Lodge include mopane (Colophospermum mopane) with its attractive butterfly leaves, white-stemmed corkwood (Commiphora tenuipetiolata) and purple-podded terminalia (Terminalia prunioides).

Once in Etosha we find a serene wilderness with a vast salt pan and numerous waterholes.  Absorbed in watching the wildlife come and go to drink or wallow takes us nearly to the closing hour ; as we leave, a herd of mountain zebra arrives in a cloud of dust – our first sighting.


Our final night in Namibia is spent above Klein Windhoek relaxing in the warmth on deck, celebrating a birthday among the group and enjoying a delicious meal.  The next day, we have time before our flight to explore Windhoek with our guide and hunt for books and gifts in the local shops.

*On the tour our sightings include :  Cheetah, lions, leopard, black and white rhino, desert-adapted elephants and giraffe, wildebeest, kudu, oryx, impala, mountain zebra, springbok, wart hog, steenbock, banded mongoose, porcupine, leopard tortoise, brown hyena, blackback jackal, Chacma baboons, ground squirrels, scrub hare and mice. Among birds are :  Secretary bird, hornbill, lilac-breasted roller, crimson-breasted shrike, bateleur, helmeted guinea fowl, little egret, bee-eaters, ostrich, eagle owl.