Final October I joined the Schoeman household on one of many fly-in safaris they’ve been working in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast area because the 1970s. Phrases will not do justice to what was an actual journey, however hopefully this offers only a taster of the expertise.
These unimaginable safaris started when Windhoek based mostly lawyer, Louw Schoeman, realised the potential on this wilderness space for flying in small numbers of visitors and giving them a ‘desert expertise’. Through the years, his identify turned synonymous with the Skeleton Coast and his safaris turned recognized within the worldwide journey circles as a singular wilderness expertise. Within the late 1980s his sons Andre and Bertus turned a part of the staff as pilot guides. They’ve now been joined by youngest brother, Henk, and latterly by Bertus’ spouse Helga.
Immediately the relations take teams of as much as eight friends into this lovely and distant area. My three night time, 4 day journey was hosted by husband and spouse group Bertus and Helga, and regardless that John had raved a few comparable journey a few years in the past, I had no inkling of the expertise to return.
Having already seen the majestic Sossusvlei Dunes and had a fast look across the Wolwedans Nature reserve which can also be fairly particular, I wasn’t positive the surroundings might get any higher. I used to be mistaken – very flawed!
Our two planes set off from Wolwedans heading in the direction of the coast with Helga and Bertus giving a operating commentary on what was unfolding under us. We flew over the Sossusvlei dunes – virtually extra spectacular from the air than the bottom – earlier than turning north to fly alongside the Atlantic shoreline. Dropping down onto a abandoned seashore for lunch we had an opportunity to expertise at first hand the howling wind and wild sea that prompted distress to many ships up to now. Flying additional up the coast through the afternoon was fantastic – simply sitting again and watching the ocean whiz previous about 100 ft beneath us. Now and again we might swoop inland to take a look at a shipwreck, deserted mining publish or a seal colony earlier than heading again out to skim the clear blue sea.
Round mid-afternoon we turned inland, flying over the spectacular gray/brown Ugab formations. After a few exhilarating circuits flying simply above the peaks, we landed on a makeshift runway on a valley flooring. After a quick stroll to look at the extraordinary geology of the area we set off once more for the brief hop to the primary night time’s camp, leaving the planes parked for the night time like two very misplaced giant birds. After 20 minutes drive by way of a distant desert panorama we rounded a nook to be greeted by a small thatched mess tent with sundowners all prepared. The camp was easy, however given the logistics of getting issues to those distant wilderness areas this was not shocking, and the twin-bedded tents have been completely snug with every part you want for the night time.
Early morning coastal fog means flying tends to start out round lunchtime, so our second morning was car based mostly, exploring the unusual moonscape options of the world. Spherical every nook there was one thing totally different to take a look at, from historic cave work and weirdly fantastic rock formations to welwitschia crops, a distant relative of the fir tree that lives for as much as 2,000 years. Fascinating, and in contrast to something I’ve seen earlier than.
The spotlight of the second afternoon’s flight was flamingo recognizing. With no warning – the Schoemans like to shock their visitors – we flew over some artificial salt pans and startled big flocks of flamingos into the air with us. With cameras clicking like loopy, it was spectacular watching these sleek birds flying slightly below.
After one other seashore touchdown we set off into the coastal dunes of the Skeleton Coast Nationwide Park which have been each bit as spectacular as Sossusvlei and much better for the truth that there was nobody else round. We spent an exquisite couple of hours revelling within the sand however I can not say extra as it will spoil the surprises for anybody meaning to do the journey themselves!
We arrived at Purros, the second night time’s camp, because the solar was setting. Located within the coronary heart of the Kaokoland area – one of many final strongholds of the Himba tribes and residential to the elusive desert elephant – the camp is idyllically situated in a reasonably, tree-lined sandy river mattress with beautiful views to the distant mountains.
There’s extra recreation on this space, however we acquired off to a shaky begin the subsequent morning when Bertus and his workforce had so as to add a big stone and a keep on with the elements beneath the bonnet of our recreation car. The logistics of maintaining mechanical issues working on this setting have to be monumental however they’re all first-class mechanics, so we have been quickly shifting once more.
Among the many issues that basically stick in my thoughts from this morning – aside from extra superb surroundings – have been the big flocks of ostrich we noticed: 40, 50 and extra, simply wandering throughout the huge empty planes. Bertus is aware of the entire space just like the again of his hand and was decided to seek out desert elephant: after some looking, he succeeded. A lone bull to start with after which a couple of females. Taller and thinner than their non-desert counterparts, they’ve advanced through the years in order that they will scratch out a dwelling on this arid space. They do not get many guests however appeared fairly content material for us to take a seat and look ahead to some time.
Again within the planes, we landed briefly on the seashore to seek for multicoloured agate stones. This significantly challenged my 10kg baggage allowance however the stones nonetheless look each bit as pretty of their new residence again within the UK. Then it was on as much as Namibia’s northern border with Angola, the place we turned inland to comply with the Kunene River. Because the coastal dunes progressively disappeared behind us we began to see the occasional crocodile within the water under.
Automobiles have been ready on the touchdown strip and we set off for the ultimate camp of our journey. Simply because it appeared we could not be stunned by anything, we dropped into the large Hartmann Valley. What the early explorers should have felt once they reached this little bit of land is anybody’s guess. Huge, empty, hostile and but spectacularly lovely. After winding alongside the valley flooring, we climbed a hill to cease and look again. I used to be entranced by the seemingly countless orange/purple panorama dotted with a couple of lone oryx, and completely framed by the distant Angolan mountains. Phrases might by no means do it justice, and sadly, nor do my pictures.
The next morning a mild boat experience down the Kunene River, recognizing birds and consuming within the river surroundings, was the right option to wind down, earlier than a ultimate bit of pleasure: prospecting for diamonds on the Angolan river shore. I felt as if I might been away for weeks, not a few days, and had seen virtually greater than I might absorb.
This does not even start to explain the journey that may be a Schoeman journey. It’s certainly not a luxurious vacation. Lodging and meals are easy, and the packed itinerary is, at occasions, fairly demanding. However I really feel privileged to have skilled the guiding and information imparted by Bertus and Helga. Bertus grew up right here and his ardour for all that we noticed was infectious. I might be amazed if I expertise one other assault on my senses fairly like these 4 days – however then I doubt there’s anyplace else on earth fairly just like the Skeleton Coast.