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Sunday 12 Feb 2012
Sossusvlei, Namibia

Namib Desert dunes

I awoke in the morning to the sound of chirping Springbok (like a Gazelle) and a lovely malty pot-pourri smell that came off the dry Namib grasses...

After stuffing myself on the lodge's breakfast (gotta get my money's worth!), I ventured in through the Sesriem gate to get my park permit. While there I enquired about places to stay and found that there was a good lodge within the national park itself called the "Sossus Dune Lodge".

Sossus Dune Lodge
Sossus Dune Lodge

I decided to check out the lodge before doing anything else. As it was government run, I didn't hold much hope that it would be a well-run operation, but when I arrived I was amazed at how good the setup was. For $1,100 per night (110 euro) I was able to get a luxurious hut on stilts with an absolutely huge interior and stunning view of a nearby gorge from the sundeck. 5 star all the way. The staff were excellent, polite and very helpful. There was a small pool tastefully decorated. Full buffet breakfast and dinner was included in the price. All in all, it was simply the best accomodation choice for visiting Sossusvlei. For those readers who have played "Dead Island", it was an exact copy of the huts found in the resort... bereft of zombies mind! Wink

Quite simply the best government-run ANYTHING I've ever experienced... it was clear that the National Parks Authority of Namibia had it in their minds to compete with the privately-owned luxury lodges that are situated outside the gate, and succeeded in doing so brilliantly. Of course, being the only lodge allowed within the national park gives it a considerable edge over its competitors and there is some discussion on the web about how the Namibia government abused it's authority to gain the upperhand, but I wouldn't worry for the future of the other lodges: they all seemed to be booked out, whereas the Sossus Dune Lodge was practically empty. The National Parks Authority need to start marketing the place better! (a guest told me later on that it recently had a facelift and only a few years ago was a dump, so perhaps it has a reputation and hence under-booked).

The advantage of staying within the park gates meant I could stay to watch the sunset and view the evening light on the dunes (which is the best time for photography), instead of having to leave early to get out before they close the gate.

Namib Desert dune at...
Namib Desert dune

I decided to spend the afternoon relaxing on the sundeck of the hut watching Springbok nibbling away at the grass, avoiding the midday heat before heading onto the famous Sossusvlei dunes. Sossusvlei is a section of the Namib desert that is famous for it's huge sand-dunes, particularly because of how the morning and evening light shine on them, lighting one side while leaving the other in relative darkness allowing for some formidable photography. The reason it works so well here, when compared to dunes from other places is because the dunes were formed by strong westerly winds which means that the sides of the dune face exactly east-west directly into the morning/evening sun respectively, hence showing the dramatic contrast in shading. The dunes are also easily accessible as they appear on either side of a valley with a tar road down the middle.

Watching the sunset from...
Watching the sunset on Dune 45

The term "Sossusvlei" refers to only a small collection of dunes on the western-most point (4WD accessible only) but there are many other dunes here, such as Dune 45 which is famous for it's red colour (and a good spot to see sunrise/sunset if you are in a 2WD vehicle)

I didn't realise but the dunes were a good hour's drive away from the lodge so when I left at 3pm it was already fairly late in the day and perhaps 2pm would have been better. I was determined to get to see the Sossusvlei dunes which are accessible only via 4WD from the car park situated at the end of the tar road that runs past Dune 45, so once there you can normally hire a guide to take you in a "bus". Most buses end their service at 5pm so I was cutting it short. As luck would have it I met up with a German couple who had arranged with a driver to come back by 6.30pm, so I hooked up with them. It was a great decision as the German couple were familiar with the area (having come here for 25 years!) and were able to guide me around the place while giving me some good tips on where to see sunrise.

Deadvlei
Deadvlei. The sun would rise
behind the dunes giving longer
shadows in the morning.

One of the first stops was at a place called Deadvlei ("Vlei" is Afrikaans for field). This is a particularly stunning place to visit. A former lake that dried up many years ago when the sand dunes eventually cut-off the last stream feeding water into it. Many trees were growing in the lake at the time, but these all have died hence giving the place it's name. A sombre place, the photographs here were particularly stunning because of the stark contrast in colours between the salt-flats, the black dead trees, the red dunes and the blue sky. The shapes of the trees also made for some fascinating shadows, but I think the best time to see Deadvlei would be early in the morning after sunrise as the shadows would be longer and coming toward you.

Sossuvlei dune at sunset
Sossuvlei dune at sunset

Even though we did eventually reach Sossusvlei followed by an exhausting trek up a sand-dune in the heat to get to the summit (reminded me of how I felt on Kilimanjaro!), Deadvlei was my favourite section.

In the morning, crowds rush to Sossusvlei to catch the sunrise, but to be honest it was no more special than any of the other dunes that are more easily accessible, and in fact I think Dune 45 offers a far more rewarding experience when you climb it. After returning to the car park I sped off to Dune 45 to catch the sunset there. Climbed the dune (2nd one this evening.. my calf muscles never forgave me), sat down and contemplated the sight before me. It really was beautiful and I would definately recommend staying within the park to savour it all.

Had dinner under the stars at the lodge. Got chatting to Omar & Victoria from the UK. Omar is a direct descendant of the Mughals in India, the rulers with whom I still have a fascination after visiting India last year. We chatted late into the evening over cigars and South African Merlot, while listening to the jackals howl.

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Omar Says:

4 May 2013

Hi Peter! Great to read this. We had some adventures after we met you, including getting stuck in the dunes, having to fix the car yards away from elephant and rhinos in Etosha and spending a night in a village in Botswana when the car really broke down!

peterforan Replies:

4 May 2013

Hi Omar! Wow a blast from the past :) ... sounds like a mad trip you had! Do you have pics up anywhere?

Sithern Efrika

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