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SOSSUSVLEI, NAMIBIA

"Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship."

Omar Bradley

 

ABOUT NAMIBIA

They claim Namibia was forged in the jaws of hell with its searing heat and harsh environments but having travelled though this breath-taking wilderness it is one of my favourite destinations in Africa.

 

Namibia can claim many titles. It is one of the least populated countries on the planet with the word ‘Namib’ translating as ‘vast place’. Over 40% of the country is dedicated to national parks and conservation projects whilst to the south lies the vast ‘Namib Desert’ covering 80,000 km2. At 80 million years old it is the world oldest desert and contains some of the most majestic and iconic sites in the world.

Capital Language Monetary Unit Population Area Time Zone Passport / Visa
Windhoek English, Afrikaans NAD 2,329,982 825,418 Sq. KM GMT +1 No Visa

The famous dunes of Sossusvlei are found in the south west of Windhoek. In a landscape that burns under the sun, it is an expanse devoid of human life yet rich in wildlife. A series of apricot and burnt orange panoramas transform into reds and maroons in the evening sunlight. Where else can you travel during the day with endless blue skies, that at night become the darkest and most luminous? The night sky is alive with star constellations, nebula, and Magellanic Clouds fighting for space – truly stunning.

Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire

SOSSUSVLEI

Sossusvlei is one of the highlights of the Namib-Naukluft National Park which covers an area of 49,768 km2 (19,216 sq. mi), making it one the largest parks in Africa. Sossusvlei is known for the strong Atlantic winds that have sculpted the rough landscape. The colour of the huge star-shaped sand dunes are caused by iron oxidising within the sand; apparently the older the dune the brighter the orange. Big Daddy, Dune 45, Dead Vlei and the iconic fossilised camelthorn forest can be found here alongside the flora and fauna that has adapted to this harsh eco system.

Dead Vlei, Namibia
Solitary oryx standing on a sand dune in Sossusvlei desert during sunset on the edge of shadowy and light sand. Sossusvlei, Namibia.
Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire

EXPLORING SOSSUSVLEI

To see the wildlife and to climb one of the dunes you will need to start early in the morning. Being a popular destination do not be surprised by the number of vehicles that gather at the gates of Sesriem park by 6am. From that gates it is a 70km trek across the huge empty expanses, which constantly change colour as the sun begins to rise.

 

If you are lucky you will see Oryx, Springboks, Gemsbok, Ostriches, Cape fox and giraffes on the way. Most of the wildlife only survive the heat due to the Atlantic fog that condenses on the ground at night and a plant called the Nara Melons. These are endemic to the region, with roots that reach down 40 meters to access the water table. The melons provide nourishment to the animals in the area, with whom they share a symbiotic relationship – the animals obtain vital fluids and nutrients from the fruit and in turn they spread the seeds in their droppings, ensuring the survival of the plant.

Dune 45, Sossuvlei, Namibia
Namibia - Dead Vlei and the ancient camelthorn trees
Dune 45, a massive red sand dune in the Namib Desert, Sossusvlei, Namibia
Namibia - Skeleton Coast
Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire

CLIMBING THE DUNES

Level of Effort: 4/5

Take: Water, sun protection

Time to Climb: 2 Hrs

When: Start early in the morning


It looks easy climbing sand dunes, but nothing could be further from the truth. Big Daddy is the tallest sand dune in the park standing at 325m in height. Many venturers start the climb ill prepared turning back due to the excessive heat, lack of water or lack of clothing to protect the skin.


THE CLIMB

It will feel like walking through mud as you ascend the dunes - it is energy sapping. If you start climbing before it starts to warm up then your chances to reach the top will be good, however once the sun has fully risen and the heat starts radiating off the sand it will become nearly impossible. We planned our ascent well and reached the top without incident after many water stops. The panorama from the top was glorious as we overlooked the dunes rolling into the distance with ant sized people scuttling below us. In the distance, in another pan Oryx could be seen slowly walking towards a lone camelthorn tree.


THE DESCENT

Our descent took a fraction of the time, moon jumping down the side of the dune in 5 minutes. With the sun in full force, we were able to then walk unhindered around the petrified trees as most tourists had left as they did not have water with them or it had been left in their vehicles, 3kms away from the dune.


FINAL THOUGHTS

It is not surprising that Mad Max: Fury Road, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Samsara have been filmed here. It is a raw and arid yet magical landscape that has been left untouched by man but continues to be sculpted by the elements. We will be going back.