The famous dunes of Namibia – in the Namib desert – were the ‘main dish’ of our Namibian trip. The dunes have been on my Top-100 Most Beautiful Must-See Places on the Planet, I think since I first drew it up. I’d long… longed to get there, and finally, early this year – I did it!
As I’ve already reported, the Namib is one of the driest places on the planet, with a mere centimeter of rain falling PER YEAR! As you’d expect, accordingly, hardly anything grows here at all. Oh, and another thing about the Namib – it’s the oldest desert in the world! If the internet is to be believed, it is 50-80 million years’ old! That is, it’s had dinosaurs roaming upon it! One more thing: in the local tongue the name Namib means ‘vast’. Indeed it is. Vastly beautiful too ->
This dune here happens to be one of the highest in the world – nearly 400 meters from top to bottom!
A few geekinesses facts about the dunes…
Wikipedia claims that the world’s tallest dunes measure over a kilometer, and they’re in Peru and Argentina. However, photos show how those dunes are located on very mountainous terrain. Also, they don’t look like ‘real’ dunes, but like… big piles of sand, surrounded by ‘simply mountains’, without any sand. Meanwhile, over in China in the Badain Jaran Desert the dunes really do reach over 500 meters – taller than Namibia’s by 100m. But they, too, seem to be just piles of sand – roughly shaped piles of sand at that. Whereas here in the Namib, in the Sossusvlei valley, they stand tall above perfectly flat landscapes, and the dunes themselves are perfectly smooth. What’s more, they’re decorated with trees – albeit perfectly black, dead ones! In short – these here dunes feel more like the real deal than their ‘competitors’; more beautiful at least, that’s for sure ->
Another thing about these here dunes – when the wind gets up, they turn into some kinda furry devil-monsters!
They are awesomely beautiful. Especially at dusk or dawn, when the shaded parts turn practically black:
At Deadvlei the black dead trees contrast spookily with the reds of the dunes. The trees are Namibia’s ‘business card’ – they always crop up when searching for anything Namibia-related on the net.
In the following pic – Dune 1. No names are given to the dunes – just numbers. On one side of the road – odd numbers; on the other – even. Just like house numbers on a street.
Here’s Dune-n. For they aren’t adorned with signs or anything to set them apart from one another.
We were told that the river that passes these here trees last saw some water in 2011. All the same – those trees are still quite green and alive!
Ah. It turns out some dunes do have names. Here’s Big Daddy. We decide to climb Big Daddy )…
The view from up top:
Next – a plateau of dried-up clay. Once, it used to get submerged from time to time, giving life to both flora and fauna. No longer.
Now for some technical details…
The dunes are situated in the Namib-Naukluft National Park; accordingly access to the dunes is restricted. Restricted, and illogical…
There are two gates into the park – an outer and an inner – separated by 500 meters. The outer gate opens after sunrise (at around 7am); the inner gate opens a short while before sunrise. So if you’re staying outside the grounds of the park (outside the outer gate), then you’ve no chance of seeing the sun come up. So what you need to do is set up camp inside the park’s grounds, at this or that camping site of questionable quality – or spend the night in your car there (or in a special tent on your car’s roof). But the park doesn’t offer anything decent like comfortable lodges with pools; therefore – you’re forced to stay the night outside the grounds. But anyway – even if you were to camp inside, it’s still 60+ kilometers to get to the dunes. The road is nicely metaled, but still – you’ll be behind the wheel a fair old while.
Why they’ve made it just so ultra-convenient and tourist-friendly, I don’t know. All I know is that if you want to see red dunes at dusk or dawn – get yourself to the Empty Quarter in Abu Dhabi. And there’s a bonus when doing so – you get to cross the Tropic of Capricorn while there.
But wait! There’s more strife ahead! If you’re ever here in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, just remember about those same 60+ kilometers going the other way. Both the inner and outer gates close straight after sundown – at around 7:30-8pm. Not that there’s any information to this effect anywhere – including on the net. What happens if you don’t make the gates in good time I don’t know; maybe bury yourself in the sand to keep warm until morning? Still, if caught out inside – you do get to see the sunrise. Joke! Each entrant is carefully logged. If someone’s missing come evening they send out a search party – I hope ).
Visiting these dunes, it’s best to hire a guide: he or she will tell you all that needs telling and show you all that needs showing. If you’ve been before, you can take your own rental car. Actually not just a car – it must be a 4×4 off-roader. When you get deep into the park the asphalt just disappears. A regular car just won’t hack it – and you’ll be stranded.
If you take the ‘guide + ride’ option, this is your ride crocodile. The crocs have their tires let down a bit when it gets full-on duney. Oh, and each croc has a name: ours was ‘Jakkals’; there was also a ‘Hyenas’…
The gates open, in we drive – and straight away – sunrise!…
Beauty all around. But it became clear that the brightest and biggest of all the dunes we wouldn’t be seeing…
For most of the time the road was of excellent quality; the views therefrom it – just as excellent. Including of a nano-dune encroaching on the road.
Here’s Dune 1. And the further we get, the nearer the dunes come up to the road.
Since this is a national park, you can’t roam willy-nilly wherever you fancy up and across dunes. Only certain dunes are climb-able. The first one that was opened to the public is Dune 45. Whole bus-loads of folks are driven directly to it. The internet tells me that Dune 45 isn’t named due to its location in the sequence of dunes along the sides of the road; apparently it’s because it lies 45km from Sesriem on the road to Sossusvlei. This dune’s not so tall. Just 80 meters. But that means anyone can climb it. But that also mean everyone climbs it. Too crowded, we decided to pass. We drove on…
Our guide told us here how there are different types of sand here. There’s the regular, aborigine sand; and then there’s the illegal alien sand – from the Kalahari Desert, some 600km from here. Apparently the Kalahari sand is blown south to the Orange River; it, in turn, carries it to the ocean; the ocean current (the cold Benguala Current) carries the sand north; it’s washed ashore; and then it’s carried by the wind across the various dunes. In all a journey of some 1500 kilometers. How long the journey takes I don’t know. But over tens of millions of years the ever-repeated process has given us this here vast territory of nothing but tall dunes.
I got to thinking – we should collect a bit of the local sand, drive it to the Kalahari, scatter it about there, and then the circle would be complete!
Meanwhile, we arrive at the furthest point of our excursion today – Sossusvlei. I should state here that it’s a full 50km to the coast from here, which is more than a day’s drive. So when the internet shows dunes next to the ocean when you search for Sossusvlei – I tell you it’s telling fibs. The actual dunes here are no less beautiful though. And interestingly named. This one is Big Mamma, and you can climb up it too…
But we were going to climb it on the way back. Now were headed for the dead forest behind it – Deadvlei ->
After a spot of photography at Deadvlei, we decided we just had to climb the very tallest of all the dunes – Big Daddy (while our guide decided he wouldn’t:).
As per, there are differing figures on how tall this dune is. The internet says 325 meters; a ranger at the tourist center here says 380. More confusion: the internet states that there is a 380-meter dune, but it isn’t Bid Daddy; it’s Dune 7.
Whatever, we were heading up this here dune – the tall one:
At first all was well, not too hot and the going not too tough… The sand is so fine and soft. You fairly sink into it, so its one step forward, half a step back (sort of). Not the most pleasant of sensations, but no doubt healthy. We’re headed up to the very top – that is, the peak to the top-right of this pic! ->
We continue; the sand now lovely and warm (around 9am): off with the sandals! But just an hour later – ouch! Too hot: on with the sandals! A bottle of water and 90 minutes later – and we make it to the top. And it was oh-so worth it ->
The view of Deadvlei and its dead trees (more on those later) ->
This smaller dune to the right – the ‘McDonald’s’ dune: for the lazier, unwashed masses. Not for nutcases such as us!!
Enough snapping. Time to head down and back… This sand though. Never known any sand like it. It even makes strange squeaking sounds! So soft and silky. Some simply slid down it on their posteriors. A snowboard would have come in handy…
We hit the dry clay ‘plateau’. We look back at the tracks we’d just made – and they’d disappeared already! Told you the sand was silky ).
After Big Daddy, it was back to our lodgings – and for a swim in the swimming pool! Yes, really. We were spending the night in nice lodges. Just the one pool, but a ‘real’ one. Also – Wi-Fi! Aaaah ).
Adequately refreshed (it was still only 4pm), we headed out again – to Dune 45 (the one we saw earlier in the day). Its height may be from 80 to nearly 200 meters – depending on whom you ask; also depending on the wind on a certain day.
We got their by car (45km) on a super-smooth road:
After a while a fierce wind hurricane blew up. Out here that means: sandstorm. Not nice, if out in it. Thankfully we were in our cars, and the storm didn’t last too long either. After it – new sandy forms appeared across the landscapes. Dune 45 became all hazy and blustery and uninviting. But still, extraordinarily unusual scenes:
But, we’d come so far. Time to get up it!…
Up we went, and the going was tough awful. Sand blowing about everywhere, approaching the edge of the dune was scary, getting the cameras out was deemed too risky, and each step was labored and slow. The only good thing was that the hot sand on the surface was blown away, leaving cooler sand to walk upon. Off again with the sandals!…
There was an interesting visual effect up on the dune at its edge: the wind blew a thin layer of sand off the edge – and we could see our reflections in it! It’s here in this vid (you can see me waving in it!), but you might not be able to see the effect. Also, the wind was so strong you had all on, as O.R. remarked, keeping your smartphone firmly gripped in your hand!
The wind eventually drops. We could sit, chill, meditate on the dunes…
Up here we came across some other adventure-tourists. And guess their nationality? Russky!
Midori Kuma made an appearance too!
The sun lowers; the shapes take on new forms; ominous dark clear-cut patches appear…
Time to head back…
Our ornithologist, N.I., had already made contact with the local birds. The knack to making friends with them – giving them a little water ). Happy birdies!
There were more birds back at our lodges – whole colonies, in fact:
But those nests had long been abandoned. I bet in search of wetter places to build nests ).
Our final Namibian dune installment – checking them out from up in a plane:
This is where we walked:
Big Daddy and the dead forest – to the left of the white clay plateau:
Valley of the dried-up river:
And that, folks, is your lot on Namibian dunes! Hope you liked it! A separate post on Deadvlei though – coming right up!
The rest of the pics from Namibia are here.