The sky's the limit in Namibia

by Clare.Jones

Take the flight of your life and experience a unique safari in the Namibian skies. This exclusive trip gives access to one of the wildest and most remote landscapes on the planet

Below, a vast wilderness seems to stretch to infinity, dune after dune, pouring and soaring like a sea of remote ruggedness, as far as the eye can see. This is the stuff of car adverts and movie trailers. And there you are in the midst of it, a small speck in the sky, getting ready to touch down on a makeshift rough landing strip. It’s stomach-lurching and sublime in the same instance.
 
Wild coast
Remote and untamed, Namibia’s treacherous Skeleton Coast, lashed by fierce surf and littered with shipwrecks, and its rolling ochre-red Namib desert are definitely a world apart. Measures to preserve the natural habitat of this precious area are strictly enforced, and day-trip entry permits for casual visitors are only available for the southern region of the Skeleton Coast Park between Ugabmund and Terrace Bay. The northern section, between Hoanib and the Kunene River, which makes up nearly 70 per cent of the park, is strictly off limits to independent travellers.
 
However, Skeleton Coast Safaris, a family-run business established in 1977 by Louw Schoeman, the founding father of the national park, are able to offer a very special level of access. Their unique flying safari allows you to penetrate further and deeper into the isolated hinterland as well as the lonely coastline, one of the world’s most notorious to navigate.
 
This narrow tract of coastal desert was recognised formally as a national park in 1971. Only 30 km to 40 km wide and 500km long, it stretches north towards Angola and the Kunene River, and southwards to the Ugab River. In between, the infamous ‘roaring’ sand dunes of the Namib Desert, the distinctive ochre-swathed Himba tribespeople, desert-adapted elephants, flamingos, ostriches and massive colonies of sea lions share a vast uncluttered wilderness.
 
Wrecks and rocks
Departing from Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, a flight across the Khomas highlands takes you towards the coast. Impenetrable fog, shallow sandbanks and deadly currents have been the undoing of many a hapless victim who has come to grief on these shores. The shipwreck site of the Eduard Bohlen, a steamer that ran aground at Conception Bay, gives a telling reminder of the dangers of this coast. Its rusting remains can be spotted partially buried in the sand, several metres inland from the present shoreline.
 
Alongside the rusting hulls of tugs and liners, strewn for endless kilometres, there are the eerie remains of bleached bones, both whale and human, washed up on these unforgiving shores.
 
What follows is a thrilling low-level journey over Cape Cross, a huge sea lion colony where over one million animals, eating an estimated 500 tonnes of fish a day, can be spotted en masse.
 
If you fancy lunch at the beach, it's simply a case of picking your spot. Your first experience of a makeshift landing strip comes with the first pangs of hunger. Along with shipwrecks, you may also land amongst the remains of old diamond mining operations, turning lunch into a serious beachcombing session.
 
Making camp
An almost lunar-like landscape of dark black ridges appears next on your flight horizon. Flying inland, the Ugab formations, where the Congo and Kalahari plates collided, form a stark contrast to the white desert floor. Penetrating even further inland, you discover your first night’s camp, nestling in the Huab Valley. Circling above before you land, it simply looks like a prehistoric landscape, untouched for centuries. A hot shower, a comfortable bed, a three-course meal and a glorious view over the plains await. After dinner and a G&T, there is little left to do other than soak up the sublime silence.
 
Back in the air, the flight continues further north to touch down at the unique site of the Roaring Dunes. Just the mere contact of a person sliding down these slopes creates a noise loud and thunderous enough to imitate the sound of a World War ll bomber.
 
The next campsite, at Purros, nestles underneath palms in a lush oasis in the Hoarusib Valley, where you may stand your best chance of spotting desert-adapted elephants. You will also get the rare opportunity to visit a Himba settlement, the only tribespeople in Namibia, who have adapted to a life with very little water and live traditionally in adobe huts.
 
From here you fly over the Valley of a Thousand Dunes towards the Angolan border and the Kunene river, where your final camp nestles on its banks, overlooking broad flowing waters. After days spent amongst so much sand, you may just find you have never been quite so pleased to see water again, croc-infested or not.
 

Clare.Jones

Clare Jones is a travel writer and photographer who loves a good adventure and has been lucky enough to make this her work travelling across the globe for a variety of magazines and newspapers. She is co-author and photographer of the international best-selling BBC books Unforgettable Things to do before you die, Unforgettable Journeys to take before you die and the recently published Unforgettable Walks to take before you die. She has also co-authored the AA titles, Extreme Places and the flagship Key Guide to Spain. She has been on assignment in over 50 countries and five continents exploring them on foot, by kayak, under sail, by mountain bike as well as skiing and climbing. One of her most testing adventures was a three-month sea-kayaking expedition from Vancouver to Alaska, as part of the first British all-female team to undertake this 1000-mile epic journey. She is a Winston Churchill Fellow and was honoured with the Mike Jones Award for accomplishing this journey. She is also sponsored by Salomon. Her work has been featured by a variety of publications, including the Sunday Telegraph, The Times, Mail on Sunday, The Scotsman, and The Herald, USA Today, Geographical, Health & Fitness and Traveller. Clare is also an assistant television producer and has worked on several BBC documentaries.