Desert Wildlife of Namibia: Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

The Hoanib area of northern Namibia is astonishingly beautiful.

It is a part of Africa that I have never had the opportunity to explore.  It is rugged, iconic and amazingly full of life.

It is a vastly different Africa to the one that I know. It is incredibly unique and I absolutely loved every minute of the short time that I was there.

It is a place that everyone who appreciates spectacular landscapes and the animals that inhabit its harsh environment, should visit at least once in their lives.

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is scenically located in a broad valley at the confluence of two tributaries of the dry Hoanib River in the northern part of the private Palmwag Concession. Its location straddles the Palmwag area and the iconic Skeleton Coast National Park, in one of the most remote areas of the Kaokoveld.

Wild Eye is offering an 11 night safari in 2018, which includes 4 nights at Hoanib, amongst other similarly spectacular destinations. The main focus will be to photograph desert adapted animals – such as Elephants, Giraffe, Oryx, Springbok and Lions – that inhabit this part of Africa.  So our aim was to visit the areas included in the itinerary and establish their credibility as a viable destination.

Hoanib ticked ALL the boxes!

I flew into Hoanib with Wilderness Air, after catching an early morning flight from Johannesburg to Windhoek. The flight time was around 1hr 20 mins to Doro Nawas and then a short 30 mins to Hoanib.

The change in vegetation and topography during the flight from Windhoek to Hoanib was amazing to witness.  Here are a few iPhone  images that best "describe" the contrasts.

Please excuse the wing – didn’t choose my seat on the Cessna Caravan too well.

We arrived at the Hoanib Airstrip at around 14h00 and was greeted by my guide for the few days – Papa G! A great guy, knowledgeable and entertaining. Thoroughly enjoyed my time with him.

I looked around at the environment on our short 5 min drive to camp as was already blown away. I immediately thought about the movie “The Martian“ starring Matt Damon as the landscapes looked like being on Mars. (that’s if the movie depicts a true reflection  of what it looks like!)

After checking in, signing indemnities and getting a quick overview of the camp and how things work, we were taken to our rooms.

The actual camp is situated at the top of a valley which gives magnificent views of the surrounding hills and landscapes.

The tents are very tastefully appointed. The roofs are a canvas bedouin style with the walls made of a wooden type board. I have to admit when I first looked at them I wasn’t convinced about the design, but after the first night it gained far more appeal. It is a very clinical look, very luxurious in a rugged landscape. The contrasts work well. The lodge is fully sufficient on solar for their power and have an impressive “solar farm“ so have more than sufficient energy.

I understand that Wilderness are rolling out a programme where they will be instituting alternative forms of energy creation in all their Namibian lodges.

We soon went on our first game drive and there were a couple of aspects which were immediately apparent.

  • The area is not teaming with game, but when you do get a subject to photograph, the backdrops, special light and clean images are spectacular. Even a gecko would look magnificent ;-)
  • You will need to be on top of your exposure compensation game. The changes in light, casting of shadows makes for pretty challenging photography. But if you decide to come on a trip, Andrew Beck will be on hand to guide you through it!
  • Although you don’t come across an animal around every corner, the anticipation makes for an exciting game drive.

One of the key subjects to photograph in the region are desert adapted lions. There were reports that a lone lioness had killed a young giraffe, so we headed to the vicinity where the kill had been reported. We found her pretty easily and, although the photographic opportunities weren’t great, it was extremely exciting to get a visual.

All of the Lions have been collared and, although it does create a slight distracting element, it is vital in the ongoing efforts to conserve the species in this unique eco system.

The giraffe carcass was set deep into the salvadora bush to her right, so after giving us a few minutes pf photo opportunities, she returned to her kill out of sight.

The light was fading, so instead of waiting for her to re-appear, we headed off to the top of a hill overlooking the Hoanib river, for sundowners. The views were spectacular which accentuated the taste of my Tafel lager.

The next day our scheduled trip was to travel to the Skeleton Coast. The normal travel to the coast would entail a 4 – 5 hour game drive with the opportunity of passing by the Hoanib River flood plains which support a host of animal and bird species. The return leg is via plane and this would be a quick 30 min scenic flight back to the airstrip. Once you get closer the coast, the landscapes change into sand dunes and the picture of photographing an animal on these dunes would be sensational.

Sadly, due to some late unseasonal rainfall during which the Hoanib River had come down in flood, sections of the road were still un-passable so we flew into the coast. But I wasn’t complaining. Just getting to this mystical place, with the closest inhabits being several 100km’s away, was more than enough to get my excitement levels high!

We did manage to fly over the floodplains and could only imagine what it would be like exploring this area on the ground.

We spent some time driving away from the coast to explore the area. We managed to view some Springbok and the image of them standing in this desolate area with the Atlantic ocean in the background was special and utterly unique.

Our drive also took us passed an oasis called Klein Oasis (Klein in Afrikaans means small).

To see this expanse of water nestled in between sand dunes was incredible.

We returned to the coast and visited a seal colony which consisted of an estimated 20 000 seals. Although the smell wasn’t great, we did mange to get pretty close and managed to get some cool images. The colony is predated upon by Brown Hyena and Jackal and, although we didn’t see any, there were many tracks indicating there is a healthy population of both.

Our guide Papa G set up lunch along the coast. It was definitely not the worst spot I had ever enjoyed a delicious bite!

On our last morning, we decided to head towards the flood plains to see if we could find any elephants. During the drive we spotted a Giraffe, Jackal, Springbok, Oryx and Ostrich – all in pretty sweet light AND spectacular surrounds!

We also came across an Augur Buzzard in the Hoanib Riverbed. A fairly common bird in these parts but rarely found in South Africa.

And then we found them – a breeding herd of Elephants in a meadow of yellow flowers with stark hills as a backdrop.

It was quite simply spectacular!

Rather than wax lyrical about the sighting, hopefully these images will do it some justice. It was undoubtedly my best elephant sighting ever. Mainly due to the fact that these are desert adapted animals but also the incredible environment we photographed them in.

All too soon, my short 2 night stay had come to an end. I had got a very pleasing taste of what this spectacular part of Africa has to offer. I will most certainly will be back and would undoubtedly recommend Hoanib as a must visit.

When I moved onto the next camp, Desert Rhino Camp - where I spent another 2 nights with Andrew - I downloaded my images and I was amazed to witness the variety, uniqueness and the story they told.

As mentioned earlier, Wild Eye will be offering an 11 night safari in which includes 4 nights at Hoanib. This will allow sufficient time to truly appreciate the magnificence and spectacular beauty that the region has to offer.

Until next time,

Jono Buffey

One thought on “Desert Wildlife of Namibia: Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

  1. Mandeep Mistry


    Incredible images, Jono! The landscape seems phenomenal and unlike all other typical African reserves we’re accustomed to seeing

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