Driving up Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

I decided to do this trip for two reasons. The main is that I’ve never been up that far North along the coast of Namibia and the second was that I realized very little information is available online once I started conducting research for my own trip. So this post will serve two broad purposes. It will tell you about my experience and also provide you with all the information you’ll need should you wish to undertake a similar adventure.

The Skeleton coast refers to the area of coastline north of the coastal town of Swakopmund. More accurately it refers to the area of coastline north of the Ugab river gate which serves as one of the entry points (the other is the Springbokwasser gate) for the Skeleton coast national park. Its called the Skeleton coast, as one can imply, due to the number of lives and ships it has taken over the last few centuries. Some call it the most dangerous piece of coastline in the world, the graveyard of ships, but as a sailor I highly doubt this is true, but does give the place an air of mystery.

Swakopmund to Mowe Bay with all my stops

As you drive along the coast you’ll see several signs indicating wrecks, some but a few pieces of rusted metal left, a stark reminder of their earlier existence. The most recent was in 2018 when a Japanese registered fishing vessel the MVF Fukuseki Maru ran aground a few kilometers south of the Ugab gate. Other parts are littered with whale bones and other animal remains indicating the harshness of this part of Namibia.

Fortunately for us traveler explorers a road has long since been graded which runs all the way from Swakopmund to Mowe bay. This is the northern most part of the park one can reach by private vehicle. Anyone wishing to pass this point can only do so if accompanied by a guide holding the necessary permits. The road is gravel from Henties bay onwards so be cautious in certain sections and avoid driving it at night.

Zeila Shipwreck (56km from Swakopmund)

The Zeila Shipwreck

So I start my trip bright and early from Swakopmund heading north towards Henties bay. My first stop  is the Zeila wreck which is 56km from Swakopmund. There is a small sign and the beach is only a few hundred meters from the main road. A large but crude parking area has been created and from there you walk down the beach. There is no entry fee. I guess during busier times there will be vendors bugging you to buy their goods. But this is corona time and I am the only one there.

Henties Bay (73km from Swakopmund)

The next stop is Henties bay, 73km from Swakopmund, where I stop to fill up my truck with fuel and buy a coffee and some water. This will be last proper town you see from hereon. It has fuel, shops and banks so if you need any of those make use of the facilities here.

Cape Cross Seal Reserve (131km from Swakopmund)

Cape Cross seal reserve office

My next stop is the Cape Cross seal reserve 131km north of Swakopmund. It is the home of one the largest Cape Fur seal colonies in the world and trust me there are many of them. Also trust me that it’s noisy and smelly, but still worth the visit. The turn off is clearly marked and a few kilometers of driving gets you to the small office building. The park fee is the standard as per all Namibian national parks (see my post How much does it cost to visit a National Park in Namibia? )

Upon parking my truck I spotted several brown backed jackal in the area and to my surprise I was witness to one of them stealing a seal cub and making off with it. The mother desperately chasing after them, but to no avail. A sad affair, but still a once in a lifetime sighting.

Ugab Gate (199km from Swakopmund)

The Ugab gate

Another 60kms from the reserve heading north and you’ll reach the Ugab gate. One of two entry points into the Skeleton National Park. Here you’ll have to park, fill in the register and pay the necessary park fees for yourself and your vehicle (see my post How much does it cost to visit a National Park in Namibia? ). It is a quick stop and a great photo opportunity before carrying on with your journey north. The gate is currently open from 08:00 in the morning until 15:00 in the afternoon.

Torra Bay (312km from Swakopmund)

Torra bay campsite

Not quite sure what to tell you about Torra Bay except that it is a seasonal campsite, only open in Dec & Jan, which is frequented by local families that love fishing. The rest of the time you’ll probably drive right past and miss it if not for the very large sign. The camp is administered by NWR (see their website for more details). A fishing permit is required to fish in Namibian waters and can be obtained in Swakopmund for N$14 per month. Their office is situated next to the aquarium and they are open seven days a week.

Terrace Bay (359km from Swakopmund)

The NWR accommodation at Terrace Bay

Terrace bay is a larger and more developed version of Torra Bay. Everything here is designed around the anglers that frequents this place for its abundance of fish. The town has a small shop, a petrol station, accepts credit cards and has accommodation in the NWR resort (booking & prices available on their website).

Petrol on the left, shop and reception on the right

The accommodation is basic but clean with hot showers and free Wi-Fi. The room includes basic dinner and breakfast. For those that fish, freezing facilities are available. A fishing permit is required to fish in Namibian waters and can be obtained in Swakopmund for N$14 per month. Their office is situated next to the aquarium and they are open seven days a week.

Mowe bay (439km from Swakopmund

The furthest north you can go unaccompanied by a guide is Mowe bay. Another small settlement along this route which serves as a drop off and collect point for the Shipwreck lodge and hosts a small research center/caravan. Camping can be arranged here, but Im not quite sure why you would do that. Its probably better to do a day trip from Terrace Bay if you want to come this far.

I parked my car here and was collected by the Shipwreck Lodge land cruiser for a bumpy 45km to their lodge, but that is a story for another post.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to share and you can off course follow me on my other platforms @5410Africa.

Enjoy your travels and be safe

Nick from Namibia

4 comments

  1. […] As mentioned the pick-up point is Mowe bay. This little “coastal village” is situated within the Skeleton Coast National Park about 440km North of Swakopmund. The drive from there is straightforward, simply take the C34 and head North until you reach Mowe Bay. Before then you’ll have to stop at the Ugab gate to register for park entry, park fees are included in the lodge fees so no payments required. See my post on driving from Swakopmund to Mowe Bay. […]

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