Namibia was just astonishing, the back drop from destination to destination was something alien, craggy, bold, dramatic and immersed in the reddish glow of West Africa. From time to time it was though we were doing a documentary for Top Gear or a National Geographic program as the scenery was just breathtaking. Massive mountain ranges would spring up every 100km or so and blasting down the dirt track roads leaving just a pile of dust in our wake, made it feel that little more Top Gear.
We arrived (5800km clocked so far) at our campsite 100m from the entrance of Sossuvlei late afternoon and camped under a beautiful tree, got the brai ready and settled down to some more fine boxed vino! The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes in the world. Various arguments are laid out to support this claim, but all miss the point, which is that Sossusvlei is surely one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia. Located in the Namib Naukluft park, the largest conservation area in Africa, and fourth largest in the world – the sand dunes at Sossusvlei are just one of an number of excellent reasons to visit Namibia. The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities.
The midday heat is intense and best spent in the shade while sunset also offers excellent photo opportunities at Sossusvlei. We decided of course to visit it at midday in the hope of less tourists and being completely bonkers anyway. Regular visits from Jackals through the night and a particularly fine box of Vino made for a later than planned start. We thought that the dunes would be close to the entrance to the park, but we were sadly mistaken. After a 1 ½ hr drive we finally came across the dunes and wow they were some dunes!
The first dune you are allowed to stop off at and climb is called Dune 45, which is really a collection of red dunes towering around 300 – 400m high and snaking on for many km’s. We decided to have a quick climb up the ridge of the dune to get a better look at the many more dunes around us. Half way up, out of breath, thirsty and legs aching we got an overwhelming and vast view of the surrounding topography. Before us was a whole new land of red symmetric dunes crafted by 1,000’s of years of wind. Amazing! After a couple of shots we had a quick run back down the dune to empty our shoes of sand and take on fluids before heading to the main attraction of the park – the dry pan or depression that lies between some massive dunes.
‘Vlei’ is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water (well, a depression that might sometimes be filled with water!), and the name ‘Sossusvlei’ should strictly only be applied to the pan that lies at the place where the dunes close in, preventing the waters of the Tsauchab River from flowing any further – that is, on the rare occasions that the river does flow as far as this. During exceptional rainy seasons, Sossusvlei may fill with water, causing Namibians to flock there to witness the grand sight, but normally it is bone dry.
This particular ‘vlei’ is actually a more-or-less circular, hard-surfaced depression that is almost entirely surrounded by sharp-edged dunes, beyond which lies a formidable sea of rolling sand, stretching in unbroken immensity all the way to the coast. However, the name ‘Sossusvlei’ nowdays applies to the whole area – an area that encompasses the great plain of the Tsauchab River together with the red dunes that march along like giant sentinels to south and north of the plain. As we were plodding up to the pan, many were flocking away from it to avoid the heat. Our unintentional plan had worked as when we arrived there was no one there but us. The sight is truly spectacular, bone dry dead trees litter the dried mud pan floor. With only a few hardy bushes around the place seems utterly lifeless. Standing in the middle of the pan surrounded by gigantic cliffs of sand and dead trees was incredible. The heat at this point was immense (and this was the cooler season!) and after trying to convince Sarah to climb one of the dunes and failing impressively we took some more shots and headed back to the motor before we evaporated even more. Well worth the sweat and the heat you cannot begin to to imagine a more desolate beautiful spot in Africa. A quick sandwich and a few gallons of water we pushed on further south and to our last memento of Namibia and Fish River Canyon about 100k from the SA border. Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world but sadly our last adventure in Namibia.