Desert and dunes, Namibia
Namibia is a place of unique places, and Dead Vlei is definitely one of the most stunning ones.... This is an unworldly haunted place with long-dead camel-thorn acacias rising like gnarled fingers from the parched and cracked clay towards the impossibly blue cloudless skies. All this against a backdrop of the reddest and highest of dunes. So stark and desolate, yet amazingly photogenic. It is like stepping onto another planet … the experience is so surreal you automatically walk in silence contemplating the extreme conditions of this arena of death. The heat deters you from spending the whole day contemplating here, as there is not a single scrap of shade. If you are into weird thigs, it doesn't get weirder :-)
I'll put the directions here cuz VT says it is too long - when on earth is there a short way to explain where something in the desert is?? HA HA
Anyway .... Deadvlei is accessed by driving through all the road leading to Sussusvlei, passing Dune 45 (which you would have probably been visiting in the early morning). The road stops at a car park - this is as far as a normal 2WD can go. If you have a 4WD follow the signs to the Dead Vlei, and be prepared to switch on the 4WD and drive in the sand - it is some real fun :-) If on the other hand, you don't have a 4WD, no worry. There are constant shuttle services taking you to and from the Deadvlei parking ... or you can also walk, the scenery is pleasant.
Beautiful sunrise and the world's largest sand dunes. Staying in Sesriem Camp Site, we were able to reach the dunes before the crowds in the morning, meaning that there weren't so many people about. It's well worth getting up early to see the sunrise over the dunes.
As a child, when you thought of the desert, I'm sure you pictured mountains of bright red sand. Namibia has the desert of your dreams. The dunes are high, there is no scrub, and you will not be disappointed with the colour of the sand.
Travellers head to the area of Sessreim in the hope of getting up before sunrise, to enter the Namib Naukluft Park, and capturing a wonderful sunrise over the red dunes of the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world. Sessreim is one of four entrances to the Park, and the most popular starting point for visitors wishing to see the dunes. It is about 65 km from Sossusvlei, the holy grail of dune visitors. The last 5 km can only be travelled in a 4x4 vehicle. Once you reach the last part of the paved road there is a car park, and you can continue in special vehicles for the last part of the journey.
We opted to avoid the crowds (well the other 3 people who joined us in the 4x4 vehicle) and headed off to Dead Vlei rather than to Sossusvlei. Nothing could have prepared us for the view that greeted us as we emerged from the path into the Vlei. The hard white pan in the midst of the desert tells the story of centuries of infrequent flooding from a river whose route has long since changed. The ground is baked hard and reflects the sun’s heat very effectively.
It is huge. I have yet to see the photo that gives the true impression of the size. The only break in the white of the ground, the red of the sand and the blue of the sky is a scattering of dead camelthorn trees. They are extremely photogenic, and indeed, this place is a photographer’s dream.
At the far end from the path you follow from the car park, is one huge dune, Big Daddy, which we climbed (read about that in the sports tips!).
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.
The red dunes of Sossusvlei are one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia. They are amongst the oldest and highest sand dunes in the world.
The best time of day to see them is sunrise when the colours are strongest, which is only possible if you have camped at Sesriem or stayed at one of the Kulala Lodges. See the website below for details of accommodation.
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.
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.
This road is about 30km. It runs between the sea and the desert. It was one of the most amazing visual experiences I've ever had. We drove it one afternoon at about 15:00. There was still fog over the sea. You could see the boats on the water through the fog. It looked like a scene from a pirate movie.
On bright days, like the one on the photo everything seems very light and bright. People drive with their light on. You cannot describe it to anyone. You have to see it for yourself.
From the bottom it looks easy.
But wait till you start climbing. The kids ran up and down with no effort.
I made it to the top and has a photo to proof it. ( There is no way I will send it out into the world)
Once you got your breath back the view is stunning. Just be careful the sun really burns you up there.
Believe me that is the first thing people asks you when you come back from Namibia.
" Did you climb Dune 7"
So just do it.
Sossusvlei is in the Namib-Naukluft National Park,one of Africa's largest. Its famous for it's huge groups of sand dunes, which at up to 340 metres high are the tallest sand dunes in the world.
It was foggy the first morning I was there which is a very strange sight. Fog was spilling over the tops of sand dunes like a cloudy waterfall as the sun came up. It was a pity it was too dim to take aphoto. When the sun came up the fog melted away.
The Namib desert occupies an area of around 50 000 km², stretching some 1,000 miles from africas center(1 600 km) along the Atlantic Ocean coast of Namibia, which is named after this desert. Its east-west width varies from 30 to 100 miles (50-160 km). The Namib Desert also reaches into southwest Angola.
The area is considered to be the oldest desert in the world, having been arid or semi-arid conditions for at least 80 million years. Although it is pretty barren (but nevertheless desolately beautiful) some creatures are able to survive because of sea fog which is a result of the cold Benguela ocean currents hitting the land.
The sand-dunes at Sossusvlei are some 60km from Sesriem campsite, and the drive takes about an hour.
The gate from Sesriem to Sossusvlei opens in time for campers to drive to Sossusvlei before sunrise. Due to the opening time of the national park gates the only way you will be able to be in the dunes for sunrise is to either camp at Sesriem or stay in the accommodation at Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp, Kulala Lodge, Little Kulala or Kulala Wilderness Camp.
There are many other lodges in the Sesriem / Sossusvlei area, but if you are accommodated at one of these you will only reach the dunes after sunrise
Henties Bay is a small coastal village about 70 km from Swakopmund on the way to the Skeleton coast. Not much to do really except for the nice beach. The kids loved it and build tons of castles on the sand.
From what I heard it is the place to go if you are into fishing.
This is the most famous dune in Sossusvlei and the one everyone likes to climb.
If you get there in the early morning drive past it and go to Dead Vlei. This is because firstly you will get Dead Vlei all to yourself and its much better than Dune 45 and secondly, when you come back later you can climb Dune 45 and there will be less people around because they have all gone to Dead Vlei!
The reason that it is called Dune 45 is that all the dunes were mapped when the Germans first occupued Namibia and with their usual Teutonic efficiency they numbered them al. What they didn't take into account was the fact that the dunes moved so the maps quickly got out of date! These days apparantly the dunes are tracked by satellite! (not that they are going to move so fast as to run away in the middle of the night!!!)
Still, its there - go climb it. Get the T Shirt.
A photographers dream!
I have seen so many gorgeous photos of this place I just so wanted to go there and see it for myself. It didn't dissapoint.
Deadvlei is a clay pan formed from where water runs off after the rains. The dunes have hemmed it in and as a result the water forms a shallow lake and at one point trees were able to grow. Unfortunately now the trees have died leaving a ghostly forest of gnarled trunks and branches set agains the white pan, red dunes and blue sky. The age of the trees is not known and estimates range form 60 to 600 years.
However old they are they are fantastic to photograph and you can wander around for hours getting the perfect shot.
Go early in the morning when the sun rises to capture the most vivid colours and to avoid the crowds. The road is not good so you will have to park the car and walk 2km or take advantage of the local shuttle service which bumps back and forth to and from the sight.
Not exactly the Grand Canyon but an interesting insight into the geology of the area.
Explorers, transport riders and early travellers used to lower a bucket down to collect the water and it normally took 6 lengths of thong tied together, hence the Afrikaans name “Ses” meaning six, and “Riem” meaning thong.
The canyon is largely formed from conglomerate (rounded stones in a sandy bed). This was carried down by currents of the Tsauchab River. This rises in the Naukluft and Zaris Mountains to the east, and flows through to Sossusvlei.
The size of the stones corresponds to the force of the water. Its easy to see from the canyon walls the changes in sizes of the stones indicating a change is speed and force of the river.
If you couldn't care a hogs hoot about the geology its still a nice place to go for an hours walk regardless!
I will always jump at the chance to go ballooning and here in the desert is no exception.
It does mean getting up before dawn but its worth it.
It does mean you will feel rather chilly in the cold desert air but its worth it.
It does mean paying a lot of money but its worth it
It does mean going without breakfast until after the flight, but they do give you a champagne breakfast and loads to eat afterwards so its worth it.
If you have never done it try it. It is so peaceful and calm, there is no turbulence, no sudden movements , no wind, you just gently drift along enjoying the view.... and what a view!!