Desert and dunes, Namibia
The “Dune Sea” of Namibia’s Great Namib Desert runs over 200 miles from the Orange River to the South to the Kuiseb River to the North. It contains some of the oldest, largest, and reddest dunes in the world. These giants reach up to 300 meters above the parched river bed.
The Namib-Naukluft National Park covers 23,000 sq miles and is one of the largest parks in the world. The shifting sands are constantly changing here making this one of the most dynamic landscapes in the world.
Sossuvlei is at the heart of the desert and an excellent place to explore some of the largest dunes in the Namib. Sesriem is the main camp that allows access to the park and has good facilities.
This place does not look or seem of this earth. The light and contrasts are a photographers dream.
Check out my Namib-Naukfluft National Park page for more information.
Namib-Nauklfut National Park
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.
Namib is one of the oldest deserts in the world. The name means vast, and is really a vast park of orange sand. Is one of the largest conservation area of the world. The sand was swept to Sossusvley from Kalahari Desert by the Orange River.
The landscape are really incredible beautiful. One of the most beautiful I have ever seen? Perhaps.
I spent 3 days here. One of the mornings I took a little plain and flight all over this red world. It was really great.
From the Buellsport Guest Farm you can make some very nice walking-trips through the surroundings: Namib Naukluft park.
One of them is the walk through the Quivertree gorge.
By car you are being driven (via a viewpoint) to the beginning of the trail.
You descent into the gorge, you see wild zebras, quivertrees, dassies, antelopes and you find water on the ground. (very rare in this dry surrounding).
The water is so clear you can drink it or bath in it like in a natural bath-tube.
Further down the gorge you get picked up again and driven back.
Start: 7.30 am.
Back around 2 p.m. (depends how fast you walk)
Time to walk: 1.5-3.5 hours
Bring: enough water, good shoes.
Soussouvlei is a really nice place to go, %c
BUT: be warned. The road that goes in (and out, since it is only one) is 67 km long, the last 5 km are only permitted if you have a 4WD (and believe it, you will need it, since it is only sand there).
The road was tarred 1 year ago,when we were there(2003), but you wouldn't believe it. It has so many big potholes, that a normal gravel-road like elsewhere in Namibia would be better. The only thing what it improves is, that there isn't that much dust from the cars anymore.
If you go into this dead-end street and you are 2 cars: leave one outside, you must come back the same road anyway...
The big dunes begin after about 30 km.
Dune number 45, which is famous because its closest to the street can be climbed: just try it!
If you have a 4WD do the last 5 km, it is also quite fun driving.
In the Dead Vlei (at the end) you should go and walk a little (1km to, 1km back).
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.
I went to Elim Dune over 5 pm to see the sunset. Everybody comes here to see the sunset cause is the nearest sand dune to Sesriem, about 5 km from it. It was my first contact with these incredible beautiful read dunes.
At the sand only big ants and desert beetles. The first steps to climb the dune are really hard cause your legs will be buried in the sand, try to find the better way to climb it. Some do follow others step, but I did search another way … that was much easier. After you must get down … but that is great fun, just run down.
It is worth the effort cause you will have a wonderful view from the top. Naukluft Mountains looks violet, the land is yellow and the dunes oranges and red, with some green spots … just a beautiful pallet of colours.
Take of your shoes and feel that sand in your bare feet.
It wasn't hot, but you must bring with you water, and have your mouth close ... you will finish with red sand everywhere.
After climbing Dune 45 we had breakfast and went to Dead Vlei. It was really cold, very cold, even after walking for long time.
It was a long way to reach the Dead Vlei, over 5 km. We found gemsbok in our way. A white dry lake under our feet, and some more dunes to climb, but little ones. At last you reach where dead trees are, like burn ones, and where the bigest dune in the world is, "bigone".
The way back can be easyer cause you can take a shuttle to the parking. Follow the people to find the shuttle, is over 1 Km from the Dead Vlei.
Of course you must take water, is a long way. And if you want ... do it as I did, with bared feet, it was great.
Little canyon very near Sesriem's campsite. Its a canyon of great beauty that is worth the visit indeed. Of about 30 meters in deep, I did saw a little pool inside, but I have read that in rain season the canyon gets fill of water "That must be incredible to see"
It is not easy to see cause its appear suddenly.
The day I took a plain to flight over Namib Desert I saw it from the sky, and it was much longer that I imagne from the floor.
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.
Deserts are fascinating places - they are beautiful in their simplicity and in their extreme; but they are also interesting places in ecological terms. The Namib is one of the driest places on earth with basically very little or no rainfall. How can anything possibly survive here? The answer lies within the shores of Namibia, reached by the cold Benguela current all the way from the Antarctic. The cold currents cool the air that condenses into fog as it meets the warmer desert air. The prevailing winds push the moist fog inland, into the desert. Many years of adaptation have allowed plants, to absorb this fog - allowing other creatures to colonise even such a hostile environment. Geckos scramble around foraging for particles of dead matter, snake predate on whatever they may find, gemsbok can survive without water. Animals such as foxes, gerbils and elephants will eat desert melons - a valuable source of water. Beetles will climb on the dunes in the morning, stand on their heads with their backs facing the wind and let the water condense and trickle down their backs and into their mouths. The dunes seem to be alive, in fact they shift at a rate of about 20 cm a year - the desert is indeed ever-changing. The Namib is truly a natural wonder, for its incredible scenic beauty and the story it tells about how nature always finds a way.
The Namib is probably the oldest desert on earth, the other contender being the Atacama in Chile. The Namib's age has given time for the different forms of life to adapt to it.
The Namib desert is spread across the western part of Namibia, with parts of it protected by natural parks and mining areas. The Namib-Naukluft, Skeleton Coast and West Coast Recreational area are all in the Namib.
One can find dune deserts, mountains and gravel plains - so the Namib is not simply just a sea of sand, it is indeed a varied and interesting extreme world of its own.
For more info of places in the Namib refer to my Namib Naukluft pages.
Dune 45 is over 170 metres above the valley floor, next to the road. Not the highest but easy to climb to.
It was 5 am when you get up at Sesriem Camp to go to Dune 45 to see the sunrise. All the groups of the camp where going to do the same, so at that time there was traffic jam at the middle of the desert :)
We arrive to the dune, it was very cold, but with the first steps the cold disappeared. As the day before I decided to take another way to climb the dune, but this time I took the wrong and more difficult way. My legs buried in the sand in every step but at last I get to the top and share with the others the sunrise.
I was a wonderful experience. After run down over that red sand.
After climbing some groups have champagne at the edge of the dune, I only had a normal breakfast :)
While staying at the Kulala Desert Lodge we arranged to visit Sossusvlei with one of their guides, Francis. He was an excellent guide and made sure we got to the best photo stops ahead of the tour groups (although that did mean a very early start to the day, of course!)
The highlight was visiting Dead Vlei. We parked the jeep and walked across several dunes. As we came over the top of the last, Dead Vlei was spread before us. It's an amazing sight and if you're a photographer you'll love it - the contrast betwen the white dried-up clay, stark black trees and surrounding red dunes is out of this world! See my travelogue for more images.
This is the most photographed dune in the Sussusvlei area .... or maybe in the whole of Namibia. It is definitely very photogenic, with its wonderful curves playing with the light, especially at sunrise. Many people who visit also like to climb the dune, which is not as easy as it looks as for each step you make upwards you fall 2 back :-) But the view from the top is definitely worthwhile - you can see dunes upon dunes and the vlei (pan) slowly getting narrower, being stifled by towering sand dunes. It is unmissable if you visit Namibia!
OK I have to be honest – I didn’t climb Dune 45, but Chris did and told me all about it, so I figure I know enough to describe it here! Basically it’s a huge pile of sand and you climb up it – and if you think that sounds easy you’ve obviously never walked on even a small seaside dune. For every step you take forwards you slip almost the same amount backwards, which means it takes a very long time and a lot of effort to get to the top. And this is no ordinary dune – it’s one of the largest in the Namib Desert, at over 150 metres high. From the top (apparently) you get a great view of red sand in waves of dunes on all sides.
If you blow up my photo and peer at it carefully, Chris is the small figure just to the right of the dark shaded area at the top of the dune!