Sossusvlei and extreme camping in the Namib Desert
Before we began this road trip, I knew three things about Namibia’s roads. Number one, they are generally dirt roads, though most are in reasonably good condition. Two, they are pretty much void of cars except for the odd passing bakkie (pickup truck), and three, they go on for miles and usually in a straight line. Whilst driving from Mata-Mata border post to Sesriem in the Namib Desert, I can vouch that this is true. In our 8-hour journey we maybe passed twenty cars, imagine how much easier your commute would be in the mornings if that was the case?!
Namibia's open roads
Sesriem is the gateway to the apricot dunes of the Namib Desert, Sossusvlei and, despite the name, perhaps the more enchanting Deadvlei, meaning dead marsh. Sesriem Camp, which is run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), is the only campsite at the park gates. Staying here gives you the advantage of being allowed into the park an hour before sunrise and sunset, a privilege not enjoyed by other visitors. The only other accommodation with this benefit is Sossus Dune Lodge, also run by NWR.
The position of the campsite is stunning. Red sandy pitches under the shade of their own camelthorn tree and each with water and electricity. We had a site on the outskirts which are definitely preferable – we were number 13 and in this case was not unlucky for us!
Campsite number 13 - the Bushwakka in position ready for setting up
With our Bushwakka Sundowner caravan swiftly unpacked, the hammock strung up and a fresh cup of tea just brewed, we sat under the shade of our canopy watching the gemsbok and springbok wandering the grassy dunes in front of us. Knowing we had three nights here, we relaxed back into our camp chairs and soaked up the view.
John enjoying some hammock downtime after 8 hours on the road
The Sundowner by night
Early the next morning, we set off for the 60km drive along the tar road to Sossusvlei, Well actually, we were heading for Sesriem Canyon but we couldn’t find the turn, which turned out to be a stroke of luck – all will become clear later. About 45km along the road you reach the aptly name Dune 45, a mountain of apricot sand and a perfect place to watch the sunrise. Sadly for us, the weather was somewhat overcast and with a string of people already snaking their way up to the top, we decided to carry on to Deadvlei. There is a carpark where the tar ends and the sand track begins, you can either catch a shuttle to Deadvlei/Sossusvlei or opt to drive yourself if you have a 4x4. Make sure you let your tyres right down though, the sand is super deep in parts and John had to go to the rescue of some people who had got themselves nicely stuck.
Getting stuck is not fun...luckily it wasn't us!
Out of our whole road trip, Deadvlei and the dunes were something that I was especially excited to see. From the opportunity for many a spectacular photograph, to witnessing an alien landscape that seems like it should be starved of life and somehow isn’t. I wasn’t disappointed. Even though the weather wasn’t quite playing ball, the sun did poke its head out between the stormy skies every now and then to illuminate the dunes. We even had a few spots of rain – not what I was expecting in the desert!
Sunrise over the dunes
Natalie on the top of the dune
Stormy skies over the orange dunescape
The view over Deadvlei
Deadvlei trees - eerily beautiful
One of the many dead camelthorn trees
The cracked clay floor of the pan
Tree skeletons, which are believed to have died 600-700 years ago, are now black because the intense sun has scorched them. The wood does not decompose because it is so dry.
Our Deadvlei photoshoot!
A 360 degree timelapse of Deadvlei recorded with our GoPro and an Ikea egg timer (ask John!)
After Deadvlei we drove further along to Sossusvlei, however with another dune to climb before you reach Sossusvlei itself, the heat of the day was starting to take hold and our rumbling stomachs were telling us that breakfast was long overdue. We decided to come back later or the next day and headed back to camp. By now, the wind had picked up and all we could see ahead of us was a wall of dust, right about where our campsite was. That was also when John decided to mention that he’d left the top windows open in our caravan to let the breeze in while we were out. Translation – the caravan will be full of sand. And sure enough, our white duvet was kind of an orange colour too. With the sand battering our faces, we did what we could to take down the canopy and close up the caravan. Taking shelter in the restaurant, we contemplated our next move over a plate of burger and chips.
Even the ablution blocks were covered in a thick layer of orange sand!
We thought that it was going to be much like the movies where the sandstorm rolls through and then is over in a matter of minutes, however, we were very much mistaken. The weather report said the strong winds were due to last for the next few days and so with heavy hearts we decided that we should cut our stay short and leave the following day for our next destination, Okonjima Nature Reserve.
By early evening, the wind had calmed down enough for us to shake out some more of the sand, make some dinner and get an early night. Fearing that the calm atmosphere would not last, we had to sleep with the caravan completely closed up which was bad luck considering this was the warmest night we’d had by far. Struggling to sleep, the wind had picked up again by midnight and we were both desperately trying to keep our eyes closed and hope that sleep would overtake us. Let me tell you, gale force winds, sand and a tent do not a happy camper make! By 3am the wind was pumping and we could hear squeals from outside as people anxiously tried to hang on to their tents. Boy was I glad of our stable Bushwakka caravan! The noise levels were impossible to sleep through and every time we started to drift off, a huge gust would jolt us awake as if from the middle of a nightmare.
By 6am it had started to get light and we’d had enough. Braving a sand whipping, John went out to do an inspection of our ‘home’ and spotted a tree had fallen just by our car, luckily the other way! Packing up as quickly as we could, we left the desert behind without so much as a backward glance.
The fallen tree right by our car!
Thank you to Tamron SA for lending us the following awesome lenses:
And to Bushwakka for letting us use their new 2-person off-road Sundowner caravan, it was a life saver in the crazy desert sandstorm!
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