Destination Series Namibia - Sossusvlei
Have you ever seen one of those movies? You know, the ones like The Mummy, The Martian or Dune shot in barren wasteland. Nothing but sand, blue skies and the desert playing smoke-and-mirrors on your weary mind. The protagonists cross its great expanse on camelback; some stagger, deranged and dehydrated, under a blistering sun while others simply discover their destiny in a wondrous world of infinite possibilities.
I bet you, however, have never heard a dune roar while you hurtle down its side. Your feet sinking into its quivering depths with every step. So, you hurry, loping downwards until you reach a gateway and suddenly the world becomes quiet. A plain of white cracked clay stretches out before you, hard and firm beneath your feet. In the distance, stark trees of black arise from its surface. As your breathing slows, you wander deeper still, captivated by the scene unfolding before you. And finally, you`re there, standing amongst ancient sentries of a lost time. The only sign that once, in a land now desolate and rimmed in velvety red, there was a river and shadows stretching their wings under growing Camel Thorn trees.
What it a sight it must have been...
Photo credit: Checco2 on Shutterstock
Located in southern part of the world`s oldest living deserts, Sossusvlei forms part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The Namib Desert spans over 32 000 km2 to the coastline between Kuiseb Canyon in the north and Koichab River in the south.
The landscape is a blend of absolute contrasts ranging from rocky outcroppings to the Kuiseb Canyon snaking through the earth; from dunes dominating the skyline to transient rivers creating the marshes known as Sossusvlei. The magic, however, does not end there for carried by the winds are life-giving resources for this golden desertscape.
Everywhere you look there are signs of creatures and plant life not only surviving but thriving. It wild, rugged and uniquely beautiful.
Places to see, things to do…
For most excursion into the Namib-Naukluft National Park, we have one golden rule – the earlier the better. If it means joining the queue outside the gate to enter at sunrise, then set an alarm and plan for an early start. Sossusvlei, like most deserts, becomes scorching during the day; therefore to optimize your time and make the general experience more enjoyable, it helps to follow the rule😊
1. Dune climbing
There are numerous rolling “star dunes” in the area, but the main reason tourists flock to Sossusvlei is to pit themselves against the might of Dune 45 or Big Daddy Dune. The second reaches a staggering height of 325 meters and, still, it is not the biggest beast around.
Whether you intend to climb to the summit or simply hike its ridge for a breathtaking view, every step is totally worth the blood, sweat and tears.
Photo credit Anya Nowrcha on Shutterstock
2. Sesriem Canyon
Over many of years the Tsauchab River has slowly carved a pathway through the earth forming a canyon and the sole place water can be found all year round. Be prepared to be awed when descending into a narrow walkway of stunning rock features and occasional pools.
You could be brave and trek the 5km walk through soft sand with ample amounts of water and layered in sunscreen. I, on the other hand, prefer door number 2 - taking a 4x4 or shuttle to reach my destination.
The word Sossusvlei is a combination of Nama and Afrikaans meaning “dead-end marsh” which specifically refers to the salt pans where the Tsauchab River ends.
Famous for its 900 year old camel thorn trees, Deadvlei was formed when a change in climate conspired with shifting dunes to barricade a river. In time the salt pans cracked forming plains of white that accentuates the sun-blackened trees encircled by walls red dunes.
The place least visited of all the treasures within the park is Hiddenvlei. It is found by following the proverbial "yellow brick road" of wooden poles for 2km with plenty of gems to entertain you along the way.
6. Fairy Circles
The mysterious phenomenon at the root of many speculations, scientific debates and folklore can be seen in a peculiar patchwork of grass-ringed circles scattered across the sandy terrain. Is there possibly a grain of truth to fantastical tales such as dancing faeries, fire-breathing dragons, ostrich bathing or visiting UFO. Or is the explanation for such a strange occurrence much more mundane?
Recent studies by Ecologists from Princeton University narrowed the cause down to an uneasy neutral zone between warring termite colonies of equal size (aka the border between their kingdoms). It is up to you do decide whether fighting termites in combination with the competing fauna, could be the answer to an age-old mystery?
7. Life in Abundance
When I normally think "desert" my mind conjures an image of an uninhabited Mars-land spreading out in every direction. A feeling of complete hopelessness settles in my bones as I ponder not only my existence, but how anything could possibly survive such a harsh and unforgiving environment.
But the Namib Desert is known as a living desert which hints at a thriving ecosystem. Amongst the popular scenes photographed are those of weaver nests sheltered within the branches of camel throne trees. Or a solitary oryx and its windswept tail leaving a trail of footprint in its wake. Other animals including springboks, mountain zebra, leopards, hyena`s and desert foxes also call this place home.
For those with keen eyes, another world awaits quite literally at your feet - the sand is teeming with activity. From beetles, spiders, lizards to snakes such as the sideways-moving Viper slinking in curvy waves across the silken surface. Still, the award for most adorable creature goes to the Namib Sand Gecko as it darts over the hot desert sand on tiny webbed feet.
Do you finally understand why tourists from all over the world have Sossusvlei on their bucket list? Is it also now ranking in the coveted top five positions on yours?
Not to be missed activities:
Hot air balloon rides - experience the sweeping changes in the landscape while gliding through the air.
Quad biking into the dunes.
Stargazing - the Namib Nature Reserve was declared as Africa`s first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2013.
The Welwitschia - a unique plant consisting of a single leaf that is exclusively found in the Namib Desert.
Epic sundowners with magnificent sunsets
Photo credit Caleb Shepard
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