An Unforgettable Day at the Dunes

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2014

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What I did
Dune 45, Dead Vlei, Cheetahs, Sesriem Canyon

Flag of Namibia  , Namib-Naukluft Park,
Thursday, November 15, 2012

After the best sleep I've had on this Namibian tour, we set off in a northerly direction for 295 km towards Hammerstein Lodge. This would be our gateway to the Sossusvlei red dunes the following day and this lodge has a selection of animals either roaming the property or in large enclosures. On the way to the lodge, we stopped at Duwisib Castle which was built by a German Prince in the early 1900’s. It is an interesting place to construct such a structure, but unfortunately the inside is not very exciting or royal. Still, it was a good place to break from the bumpy roads and the van. The landscape around this area reminds me of the Hamersley Ranges in the Pilbara. I think the Germans/Dutch members of the tour group are finding the landscape more fascinating than I because it is the large open expanses of nothingness that we come to expect in Australia.

After a brief swim in the icy pool at the lodge, we all elected to do the 'Wild Cat’ tour on offer. It was only 60 Namibian Dollars which is about $7 AUD. Some of the animals sheltered annoyingly under the thick veg, but the Leopard was having a bit of a bath in one corner and good to see. We were all able to walk into the Cheetah enclosure and I thought we’d all get a turn to pat them, but it seemed the 2 Cheetah’s (raised from kittens when the mum gave birth to them in a hunters trap) were in no mood to play with the humans and after sitting for a bit, they got up and simply strolled away from the 30 or so cameras. So cool to hear them purring though.

After a delicious evening meal buffet of local game, I went to bed early in readiness for the 4:15 am wake-up call. We needed to get up this early to get to the Sossusvlei National Park gate at sunrise when the gates are opened and people drive the 60km to the dead vlei parking area. It would have been much better to stay closer to the park, or even camp within the park itself. But I imagine the prices for accommodation are high closer to the park and my tour was not that expensive, so staying so far away is to keep their costs down I guess. Precisely as the sun rose over the horizon (6:15 am), the Park officials opened the gates and we were the sixth vehicle in line. Driving the next hour into the park was amazing. The dunes were initially a light apricot colour and then got redder as the sun rose higher; the shadow created by each dune also made a distinct ‘S’ shape in some dunes. This is why it pays to get here at dawn and see this colour change and shadow – also before the desert heat makes it unbearable. Our guide Ralph was very accommodating and would stop whenever we asked to take some photos from the vehicle. We passed Dune 45 and a group of people had already made it to the summit; I figured they must be the campers who can get to the dunes before sunrise. This Dune is 45 kms inland and one of the most accessible and so most people climb this. But we continued on into the heart of Sossusvlei to an area called the Dead Vlei, which was a lake that has since been cut off from water supply with the river blocked by dunes, so now it is a salt pan with dead trees that make for a spectacular contrast amongst the red dunes and this is where we sat and ate our breakfast packs. Incredible! The last 5 km to the Dead Vlei is 4WD only and we had to catch a shuttle there and then walk about 2 km across the dunes to the Dead Vlei. At this point I was just so glad that I was on a tour where all this planning and logistics was coordinated for me. No stress. The only negative was that I had to carry this stupid brown paper bag that contained breakfast. I wish I’d eaten the food in the car and then left the bag behind, because after breakfast I still had to carry it around (no litter of course and no bins!). I woulda paid someone a hundred bucks to carry that thing for me. Geez it was bloody annoying.

After breakfast, the majority of us climbed up one of the smaller dunes (which was still big – these are the highest sand dunes in the world!). The view from the top was awesome. So much sand, red, and just starting to get hot, but fortunately no wind. My shoes were rapidly filling with sand! It looked like I imagine Mars to be. On the way back out of the Sossusvlei area, we stopped at Dune 45 at my request and 5 of us climbed it – one of those things you must do when in the area. At the top you really feel the height and majesty of the dunes; I did have visions of what would happen if I slid off the crest – it would be a big tumble! By now it was getting hot and the wind was starting to kick up sand. Yet still people were only now arriving into the Park and I could not imagine clambering around the dunes in the midday heat.

We visited Sesriem Canyon after the dunes. This is in the same National Park and worth a visit, but after the dunes it is not much to be in awe about. We arrived at our next lodge about 12:30 pm, which sits at the base of fossilised dunes (they kept calling them petrified, but that always made me think they were scared from a horror movie). The lodge offered a drive and sundowner drink on top of the fossilised dunes. Only 3 of us did this, but I figured I would make the most of it and it was good to see the landscape from a different angle and the changing colours with the sunset. After a huge memorable day, I was ready for more delicious food (I think I have actually put on weight this break!) and bed. My 2 big ticket items (the ghost town and the dunes) now completed, the rest of the tour would be a bonus.
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