This last week out in the Namib has really opened my eyes about the beauty of the desert. I’ve been astounded at its diversity from flat gravel plains, wind sculpted rocks and sand dunes as high as skyscrapers.
We left the tar 100 kilometres from Lüderitz and turned off for a week of wandering. Most of the roads in Namibia might be gravel but they are wide and beautifully graded, although there were long sections of corrugations too. Taking the more scenic route, the gravel plains before us were a multitude of oranges, reds, yellows and even lilac. The view got even more technicolor as the sun headed down over the Tiras mountains. Who said rocks were just brown or grey? With fences either side, we followed a sand track off the road 20 kilometres following a sign for camping. Like much of rural Southern rural Namibia, these huge former sheep farms had been turned over to game reserves. We saw no one and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We were amazed when we got to the end, that tucked behind the red sandstone hills there was a really pretty campsite, cottages and a lodge. It’s got to be the smartest campsite we’ve ever stayed in. Perfect for a night looking at the stars and cooking a curry in our big iron pot that sits on the fire.
After a full days driving through the dry landscape with hardly any houses or villages, we came to the part of the park that is most popular: Sossusvlei. It contains some of the biggest sand dunes in the world and the campsite at the entrance was busy. We parked up underneath a huge Sociable Weaver nest, the communal nest was a hive of activity. The tiny birds were totally unperturbed when we stuck our heads out of the sun roof, just metres from their nest to watch them.
We were up before dawn the following morning, much to Alisha’s disgust, to drive the 60 or so kilometres into the dune field. 45 kilometres in, at the impressive but unimaginably named: Dune 45, we grabbed a quick breakfast before the sun came over horizon. As the world exploded into colour; Lucy led our assault of the 150m high dune. The views were astounding, with one side of the dunes almost black and the other a fiery orange.
At the end of the road we hopped aboard a jeep to take the last few kilometres to the bottom of some of the biggest and photogenic dunes. The truck would have easily managed the deep sand track but only “normal” 4x4s were allowed. I can see how with our weight how we would churn it up even further. It was a steep learning curve for some of the people with rental cars, our jeep driver said he has to pull lots of people out. The dunes were magnificent. Alisha led us up one of the biggest’s spines. The dune went on and up undulating before us but after an hours climb we decided we were ready for the fun bit, jumping down. The running down the 200m high slope was over in a matter of seconds but we all squealed with delight on the way down.
At the bottom was an area known as “Dead Vlei”, a pan that fills with water every decade or so when it rains. The rain soon soaks away into the sand but it leaves a white crust and the area is filled with sand stripped dead trees.
The Namib-Naukluft Park covers an area half the size of Belgium, wanting to see more of the Namib deserts beauty and to experience its remoteness we spent 3 nights hopping between campsites. We had to be totally self-sufficient as the only “facilities” was a long-drop loo. We saw very few others but enjoyed the isolation and splendour. Every night we watched the stars until the full moon rose, to make it almost as light as day. Two curious Cape Foxes were visitors one night, Lucy absolutely fell in love with their bushy tails and huge ears. One of the campsites was near a tiny village of just a handful of houses, near a dry riverbed. The red sand dune field went on for hundreds of kilometres just beyond the thin strip of vegetation. The river, which is almost always dry, stops the dunes advancing any further. The other two were in splendid isolation next to granite out crops the only features for miles around in the stark but stunning landscape. The beauty, solitude and isolation was just magical.