by John H Marsh

MY expectation when I wrote this book that Skeleton Coast would remain isolated and unknown territory for a long time to come soon proved erroneous.
Within months of the book being published it had become a best-seller, smashing all previous records for general literature in South Africa, and the more people that learned about the dramatic happenings and the area, the more were challenged to go and see for themselves.
Thus, though the book was first published only in September 1944, by January 1945 there were already sightseers on the beaches and they were sending me snapshots of the wrecks as they then were. The "sightseers" were actually prospectors sent to do a preliminary mineralogical survey of the Kaokoveld in terms of a concession granted by the S.W.A. Administration to the Kaokoveld Exploration Co. They, helped by the military, had found an easier way to the Dunedin Star than the rescue convoys used, by following the comparatively hard track to the north as far as Ohopoho and then striking due west towards the coast, avoiding the salt pans.
In the years that followed the sea fishing and diamond industries of S.W.A. boomed, the country became prosperous, and a network of new roads was constructed, especially in the northern part of the country.
Typical was the building of the coastal road from Swakopmund up the coast. For decades the northern terminal of the rough track had been Cape Cross. It had only gone as far as that because Cape Cross was the established home of the largest seal colony on the whole African coast, and it paid the concessionaires who had the right to cull the seals and market their coats, to grade and surface the track that their transport used on its frequent journeys between the seal colony and the harbour at Walvis Bay.

But now, with diamond mines to be opened up on the coast further to the north at Toscanini, Torra Bay and Terrace Bay, and increasing pressure on the S.W.A. Administration to establish a harbour even further north for fishing vessels and possibly also to be linked by rail with the interior and become an outlet for minerals, there came a breakthrough. A graded, hard-surface road was begun northward of Cape Cross and pushed through, until today it has reached Mowe Bay, only about 25 km short of the wreckage of Naude's bomber lying on the beach, about 65 km short of the remains of the Sir Charles Elliott and Mathias Koraseb's grave, and about 130 km short of the Dunedin Star wreck site. And while there is no road beyond Mowe Bay, there is a track made by the lorry that frequently travels between Sarusas, the guest house some 70 km to the north, and Swakopmund, to fetch supplies and building material. But it is a track that only four-wheel-drive vehicles can safely use.

Sarusas is run by Mr Louw Schoeman and his wife, Maureen, under a concession that allows only this single tourist establishment in the whole of the recently-proclaimed Wilderness Area. This extends from the northern boundary of the Skeleton Coast Park at the Hoanib Rivet right up to the Cunene River that separates S.W.A. from Angola. The area includes all the wreck sites of the 1942/43 drama.
Mr Schoeman has lived in S.W.A. for 20 years and practised as an attorney in Windhoek until 1977, when he gave up the practice to go full-time into developing his concession at Sarusas. For most of those 20 years he had been closely associated with the Skeleton Coast, playing a part in prospecting, surveying the shore for a suitable harbour site, and arranging concessions. A keen airman, with his own plane, he has flown over most of the Kaokoveld, mostly at low level, and undoubtedly knows more about the area than any other man.
It was only a few weeks ago that I learned that Louw, using the trading name Skeleton Coast Fly-in Safaris, operates all-inclusive air and Land-Rover tours of the Skeleton Coast Park and Wilderness Area, from Windhoek, on a scheduled basis. He uses his own Piper Cherokee 6-seater (pilot and five passengers) and if more than five want to go he charters a sister plane with experienced pilot. Ten passengers at one time is the maximum he allows for. At the time of writing he charges R47 5 all-inclusive for the five-day safari. He takes off from Windhoek's city airport, Eros, late every Friday morning, and ... but let me tell you the rest with the aid of my own pictures and their captions.

Copyright Michael Marsh(2020)

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