Sossusvlei and the dunes

Friday 21 to Sunday 23 October

We left Helmeringhausen full of diesel and water. It was another long drive on gravel roads. MaryLou of MapsME suggested 7 hours for the 250km but knew exactly where to go. Selena of TomTom didn’t know about our destination but with a bit of prodding suggested 3.5 hours.

The gravel roads in Namibia are generally very good. They are frequently graded so the corrugation is limited. A dust storm follows you and at times visibility is nil after you pass another vehicle.

There was more stunning scenery, flat plains, rocky hills and massive escarpments. We dipped into a valley and suddenly there was greenery, but most of this part of the country is extremely dry.

We would see ostriches occasionally and a few kudus, goats in the mountainous regions and cattle where there were waterholes. Generally, very little.

Serena of TomTom was more accurate than Mary Lou of MapsME and we arrived in time for lunch at the reserve reception centre, before going to our hotel. I must be missing toasties because the one served here was the best I had had for a very long time.

Without knowing why, our travel agent had booked us into the honeymoon lodge at Sossus Dunes Lodge. All the lodges were linked to the bar and restaurant by a long boardwalk and our lodge was right at the end. A 400m long walk. There were petals on the bed and an outdoor day bed to view the desert. So after a little indulged relaxation we headed out to see the late afternoon light on the dunes.

The receptionist who checked us in had said Dune 45 was 4km away. I was suspicious so I checked with Mary Lou of MapsME. Sure enough the receptionist doesn’t know her numbers because Dune 45 was 45km down the road.

Surprisingly the road to the dunes is tarred, unlike most of Namibia. In retrospect I suspect the tar is actually to protect the environment, as all vehicles are restricted to it.

Dune 45 was stunning in the late afternoon. The cameras clicked. It is possible to climb up it, but we chose not to. There was enough beauty from the ground.

We stopped a few times as we returned to our lodge. Oryx and ostriches were grazing where there didn’t appear anything to graze on. The shadows and sun created interesting patterns against the blue sky.

This is part of the Namib Desert, which is considered the oldest desert on earth and it stretches along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa for 2000km and inland up to 200km. We were really just seeing a tiny stretch of it.

We were offered a tour to the dunes for sunrise, or a breakfast box if we wanted to drive ourselves. We opted for the later and slept in a little. We were on the road just after 6am along with half of the tourists to Namibia. A convey on the tarred road. We drove 60km to the end of the tarred road. There were crowds waiting for the shuttle to go further into the dunes. There was also a path to Hiddenvlei, which we opted for. We got beyond the crowds and found ourselves in a red sandy valley. It was quiet and peaceful. Too good to be true.

We climbed to a peak to see more dunes – spectacular. Although we could see other people and even the carpark, we felt very much on our own. An oryx raced past. I was too slow to photograph it. But as we climbed further on the dune it was just us and three oryx grazing.

We returned to the car park and debated driving the sandy road to the other dunes or taking the shuttle. We waited ages for the shuttle and when we got to the next stop Bruce was regretting not driving and challenging the sandy road.

It was busy – streams of people. We almost regretted coming to this dune as it was just too busy. We decided to return to our car. Alas the passengers far outnumbered the shuttles. There was no order. A shuttle would stop and fill up quickly. So you move to that spot. The next shuttle would stop somewhere else and you’d miss out on a seat. It was an ugly scene, lots of hot frustrated visitors clamouring for a seat. After waiting a hour, the day was getting too warm to do anything but return to the lodge when we finally procured seats. The driver was kind enough to take us to the furthest dune Sossusvlei for a photo opportunity before returning to the car park. By now Bruce was sure he should have driven here.

That was until we came across a bogged car that required one of the shuttle drivers to rescue it. A slow journey for us, but probably the right decision.