Desert and dunes, Namibia
Sossusvlei is part of the vast Namib-Naukluft National Park and is a huge pan set set amidst towering red sand dunes.
The gateway to this area is at Sesreim which has various accommodation options as does the surrounding area. There are many fine desert lodges with a large choice of activities, fine dining and luxurious sleeping. Of course, you can also save money and camp.
The drive in from Sesriem to Sossusvlei is around 60kms and is spectacular. You can stop and climb a variety of dunes, a famous one being Dune 45 which is signposted from the road. Sesreim is where you wil need to pay your park fee and once you reach Sossusvlei, its the end of the 2WD road, there are 4WD vehicles waiting to take you in the last 5kms or so to the pans, such as Deadvlei and Sossusvlei itself.
The wind is constantly changing the shape of the dunes and the colours are really set alight at sunrise and sunset.
This is an area to explore, take photographs and leave nothing but footprints.
This is brilliant fun! Basically you climb to the top of a dune, sit or lie on a board, and slide down. The higher the dune, the more fun it is. The only drawbacks are that if you want to do it again you have to climb up the dune again, which takes considerably longer and is a lot more difficult, and also sand gets absolutely everywhere. I still found sand in my clothes several washes later!
You can get hold of your own board, or even just slide down on a plastic rubbish bag, or you can go with an organised tour. The advantage of the tour is that they provide the equipment, including goggles (believe me, you'll want them!), and they can also offer stand up boarding, where you stand on the board to slide down.
Three days and two nights spent walking and sleeping in the Namib Desert, with expert local guides from Tok Tokkie Trails.
Get a close-up view of life in the desert: chameleons, scorpions, snakes, etc. You may only see tracks, but the feeling of being in the middle of a fragile eco-system will be strong.
I learned more about the Namib desert from these 20kms than the 2,000kms I drove round Namibia.
One of the most unusual desert plants is Welwitschia. Unfortunately, I didn't see it as it grows only in the northernmost part of the Namib-Naukluft park which we didn't visit. The oldest specimen are known to have been growing for 2000 years and the 'middle-aged' are about 1000 years old. The plant is not a beauty - its two long leaves darkened by the sun and torn by the wind lie twisted around the cork-like stem. The plant takes most of the needed moisture from condensed fog and the pores in the leaves trap it and 'water' the sand below from where the moisture goes to the roots.
Another amazing plant growing in the dunes of Sossusvlei is a !nara melon. It has no leaves but stems growing along the ground that absorb moisture from the morning fog. Its root system is very well developed and it grows to 40metres down in order to reach water deep under the dunes. The stems can die out in case of the lack of moisture but the plant can survive and bear fruit which is a good source of liquid in dry periods.
Besides !nara melons the Namib is home to many species of succulents and lichens.
When you look at the sands and parched ground of Sossusvlei you may think that there are hardly any forms of life here. How mistaken you are! The array of plants and animals living here is really impressive. The Namib considered to be the oldest desert in the world (45 million years) has offered its plants and animals much more time to adapt than other, relatively lifeless, deserts.
It's enough to say that about 70 reptile species can be encountered here, of which 25 are considered endemic. Geckos using their long tongues to lick fog moisture from their noses and heads, sand lizards lifting their feet, as if they were dancing, to avoid too much contact with the hot sand, chameleons or adders are just a few examples.
As for mammals, there are baboons, which can go for months without drinking (116 days being the record), foxes, jackals or wild cats. The waterholes draw gemsboks which have an intricate system of blood vessels that cool their blood.
Insects, as well, have adapted to living in the dunes. The sand particles have been polished so well during the millions of years, that the sand resembles fluid into which the creatures can dive easily to avoid the scorching sun. An amazing example can be a long-legged beetle which runs in the hot sand at a speed of one metre per second creating an extra wind that lowers the temperature of it body. As long as it runs, it's OK. But if it stood still for some time in the hot sun, it would die of hyperthermia.
Set among high dunes, Dead Vlei is a white clay pan, contrasting sharply with the orange colour of the surrounding sands.
The pan was cut off from the flow of the Tsauchab river about 500 years ago. Due to the lack of water all the trees in this valley have died. What is left are are their dark skeletons which have been perfectly preserved as there is not even enough moisture for them to decompose. Those lifeless stumps against the white parched background of the pan look really sad but amazing.
Sossusvlei is home to the highest dunes in the world. Surrounded by the sea of sand they rise over 300 metres above sea level.
'Sossusvlei' can be translated as 'the gathering place of water' but in fact its prime feature seems to be the lack of water. In fact, Sossusvlei, which is a large clay pan with sand dunes around, does fill with water from time to time. It happens after a heavy rainfall and then dunes block the waters of the Tsauchab River preventing them from flowing towards the ocean. The dry pan changes then into a lake surrounded by greenery - a sight hard to imagine.
You can get to Sossusvlei from sesriem, but the last 4 km can be made only by 4x4 vehicles. If you aren't driving one you will have to walk the distance. To enter the Namib-Naukluft Park of which Sossusvlei is a part, one needs an entry permit, which can be obtained at the Sesriem, Namib and walvis tourism associations.
Who doesn't know the red dunes of Sossusvlei? They appear in ads, films and documentaries about Africa. And dune 45 is a real icon - a symbol of Namibia. But no picture or film can show the beauty and uniqueness of the dunes. First of all - the colours: all hues of orange, rusty and ochre. The orange comes from the iron in the sand which oxidizes and with time makes the colour of the dune brighter. It is advisable to visit the place for sunrise or sunset when the light paints the dunes in dramatic hues and shadows. But it's not just the colour that is so amazing - also the shapes which are constantly changing due to the wind. Some of the dunes have razor-sharp edges, others gentle slopes with wave-like patterns on them.
The most famous and accessible of the large dunes is of course dune 45 - called so because it's 45 km km from Sesriem. It rises about 150 m above the plains around. It may seem not very high, but believe me, getting on its top is not a simple task. Your feet sink in the sand and you make two steps forward and slide one step downwards. People say that it's much easier when you walk bare-footed, but when we were there before sunrise on a June morning, the sand was freezing cold so I didn't take my shoes off. But when I finally got to the top - just in time for the sunset - I forgot about being tired; the view was stunning.
Dead Vlei is a white clay pan located near the more famous salt pan of Sossusvlei, inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia. Its name means "dead marsh" (from English dead, and Afrikaans vlei, a lake or marsh in a valley between the dunes).
Dead Vlei is surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world, the highest reaching about 330 meters The clay pan was formed after rainfall, when the Tsauchab river flooded, creating temporary shallow pools where the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. When the sand dunes grew and cut off the water from the river then trees then died. The skeletons of the trees are believed to be about 1000 years old.
The dark brown color is due to the scorching of the wood. The wood cannot decompose because it is too dry.
If this scene looks familiar it's because it was the site of a few Hollywood films including The Cell with Jennifer Lopez.
Sossus-on-foot offers educational guided walks in Sossusvlei and to the Deadvlei. The price was a bit high ($35 USD per person) but I can honestly say it was worth it.
Our guide, Bussman for two hours took us around the desest and showed us all it had to offer - snakes, beetles, spiders nests and various plants to name a few. This guy was a genius! He could interpret all the markings and prints of the animals of the desert. He could even tell us what sex they were! He has personally lived in the desert with the Bushman nomadic peoples and described their way of life, told their stories and their turbulent history (and downfall) much like North America's Native Americans.
The walk ended at the famous Deadvlei site.
One of the most popular things to do in Sossusvlei National Park is to climb Dune 45 and watch the sunrise. It is a 180 meter sand dune. The first incline is the worst. The next section is a long flat part which allows you to catch your breath. Keep going you are almost at the top!!!!
The sand dunes of Sossusvlei National Park are some of the oldest in the world. The sand from them having been swept there from the Kalahari between 3 and 5 million years ago. The dunes themselves are classified as parabolic dunes. They are formed by the variable wind and never change shape. Although the dunes themselves never change shape, they do get taller. The tallest of the dunes are about 330 meters tall. At that point the winds at that height are too great so they can't get any taller.
They best way to experience the dunes is to cllimb one. My suggestion is to do it early in the morning before it gets too hot.
Dune 45 is one of the most accessable dunes in Sossusvlei National Park. The dunes in Sossusvlei are are sequentially numbered starting with 1. The guidebooks say that Dune 45 was numbered 45 because it is 45km from Sesriem camp but our guide was adament that it was just a coincidence.
Dune 45 rises about 180 m above the desert and is towered by the surrounding 330 meter dunes.
This is the famous dune that it seems everyone want to see it and climb up to. It is in the Sussusvlei area and to get to see it on sunrise you have to enter the park as early as they open the gate. It is hard work to climb it all the way up, I thought my winter practice in the deep snow would be helpful but not really, or maybe I didn't practice hard enough :))) The view from up the dune is breathtaking and when done it take just couple of minutes to slide quick down the dune.
Namibia is a vast desert full of impossibly high sand dunes that seem to go on forever. Just think of it as the largest beach on the face of the Earth and go for it! Hire a quad bike and go tearing up and over the dunes! Now this is serious fun. You also get some great views from atop the dunes that are as tall as mountains. Outdoor adventure at its best. Remember to have something to cover your mouth!