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Entries about dunes

From the Kalahari to the Namib

Namibia Days Three, Four and a bit of Five


View Namibia road trip 2004 on ToonSarah's travel map.

On the road

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In Mariental
(taken by Chris)

After our overnight stay at Anib Lodge we faced our longest drive of the trip so far, but by now we were getting more used to the road conditions here – or rather, Chris was getting more used to them, as it was he who was doing all the driving. My role as navigator was much easier as there are relatively few roads in Namibia and therefore relatively few junctions! My most important task, therefore, was identifying on the map where we could refuel – petrol (gas) stations are also relatively few in number, and we were pleased that our map indicated where these were. Our car had one of those in-built computers that estimate how many more miles you can drive on what you have in the tank which, although not 100% reliable, was a reassuring extra. In any case, the advice was to top up whenever you have the chance, even if the tank isn’t even close to being empty, so our first stop this morning was in the town of Mariental just half an hour into our drive. While there we took the opportunity for a short stroll and a few photos.

Then we headed west, gradually leaving the scrub of the Kalahari behind and driving the long straight roads through a barren landscape towards Namibia’s other main desert region, the Namib-Naukluft. We stopped in what felt like the middle of nowhere to take some photos, with not another car in sight.

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On the road to the Namib Desert

The total distance was about 300 kilometres / 190 miles, but it took a lot longer than a similar distance would on roads at home, as even the recommended 50 mph speed limit was too fast for many stretches of these gravel roads. And although a saloon 2WD is fine on the somewhat better maintained roads that we stuck to, you do have to take care. It’s all too easy to skid and spin the car, as we were to find out in a few days’ time!

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Nearing the Namib-Naukluft National Park

As we approached our destination we started to see larger sand dunes on the horizon. The Namib-Naukluft National Park is home to the world’s highest dunes, although it would be tomorrow before we would see the highest of them all.

Kulala Desert Lodge

We reached our base for the next two nights in the late afternoon. Kulala Desert Lodge is located at the foot of the famous Sossusvlei Dunes and has its own entrance to the National Park so you can get in there early and be ahead of the crowds – something we were to benefit from tomorrow. For now it was too late in the day to do much more than settle into our room and explore our immediate surroundings.

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Our room at Kulala Desert Lodge

The rooms here are really special – thatched and canvas tents, built on a wooden platform, with an adobe ‘extension’. You sleep in the canvas part, while the adobe section at the back houses the bathroom facilities. That section has a flat roof which you can climb up to for wider views. If you ask, they will make your bed up on the roof and you can sleep under the stars. We chickened out as the nights were really cold, something I now regret as it would have been quite an experience.

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Me on our roof

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Chris on our roof

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View from our roof

Even in the day time the roof affords lovely views of the desert, although you can’t see the red dunes from the lodge.

We watched the sun set over a rather distant waterhole from the terrace of the main lodge building while enjoying a beer. Then it was time for dinner but we found the food here rather ordinary compared to what we enjoyed in most places on this trip. Still, the bar was cosy with a log fire and so was our tent!

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Sunset over the waterhole

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Sunset over the waterhole

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In the bar

In the Namib-Naukluft National Park

We were up early the next morning for a day exploring the national park. We had expected to be in a small group but were lucky enough to have our excellent guide, Francis, to ourselves.

Leaving very early, and taking advantage of Kulala’s private entrance, Francis was able to make sure we got to the best photo stops ahead of the tour groups, so we had a great day out.

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Sossusvlei

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The Namib-Naukluft National Park encompasses the desert environment of the Namib and the Naukluft mountain range, hence its name. Here we were very definitely in the desert part!

Dead Vlei

The most famous area of the Namib Desert is Sossusvlei, a clay pan surrounded by huge sand dunes, and the most famous area of Sossusvlei is the part known as Dead Vlei, so that was where we headed first. Francis parked the jeep and we walked across several dunes.

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On the way to Dead Vlei

As we came over the top of the last dune Dead Vlei was spread before us, an amazing sight! As a photographer I absolutely loved it - the contrast between the white dried-up clay, stark black trees and surrounding red dunes is out of this world!

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First view of Dead Vlei
~ the people on the far left give a sense of scale, and were the only other ones here for most of our time here

Dead Vlei, a mix of English and Afrikaans, means ‘dead marsh’, and the name describes it perfectly. It was created long ago after a period of rainfall, when the nearby Tsauchab river flooded, creating temporary shallow pools. These allowed camel thorn trees to grow, but when the climate changed, drought hit the area, and sand dunes developed around the pan, blocking the river from watering the area. Without water the trees died, probably about 600-700 years ago. Their skeletons remain, blackened by the sun but not decaying as the air is so dry. They look like the ghosts of trees long gone.

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Dead Vlei

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In Dead Vlei

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We spent a long while taking photos here and soaking up the atmosphere, with only a few other people around, but as more started to arrive we left, walking back across the dunes to where we had left the jeep, in the shade of some still-living trees. Here Francis set up a picnic brunch, provided by the lodge – cold meats, salad, fruit, yoghurt, soft drinks, coffee.

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Soussevlei Picnic

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Francis and Chris at our picnic site

Dune 45

After a leisurely meal we helped Francis pack up the picnic things and he then drove us back the way we had come. We stopped at Dune 45 – so-named because it lies 45 kilometres past the Sesriem gate on the way to Sossusvlei. It is one of the tallest dunes in the area, although not as high as Big Daddy, the dune that towers above Dead Vlei (seen in my ‘On the way to Dead Vlei’ photo above). That is the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area, about 325 metres, although there is an even higher dune elsewhere in the Namib, Dune 7, which is 383 metres tall.

Climbing Big Daddy is a popular challenge but one that requires the best part of a day. Dune 45 is ‘just’ 80 metres high and it is the most popular dune for visitors to climb, but not this visitor! I decided to leave that to Chris and stayed below taking photos.

Just think – these dunes are composed of sands five million years old, blown here from the Kalahari.

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Dune 45

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View from Dune 45
(taken by Chris)
~ I am down there somewhere!

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At the foot of Dune 45

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Near Dune 45

Once Chris returned from his climb, which he proclaimed worth the effort it took, we headed back to the lodge for what was left of the afternoon and a leisurely evening, as we would have an early start tomorrow.

Ballooning in the Namib Desert

This was not the first time we had the chance to go in a hot air balloon, as we had tried it once previously quite near home, in Oxfordshire. But the green fields of the Thames Valley are a far cry from the deserts of Namibia and we anticipated that this would be a very special experience – as indeed it was.

We were picked up from the lodge a bit before sunrise and given warm blankets to tuck around ourselves as we drove to the launch site a few miles away, along with a couple of other guests. Once there we watched as the balloon was inflated, enjoying the warmth that came from the flames. Desert nights here are very chilly, especially in winter!

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Nearly ready!

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Wrapped up warmly while waiting for our balloon to be ready

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Inflating the balloon

Once the balloon was ready we all climbed aboard and we took off, floating above the dunes as the sun rose over them. This was the perfect time of day for photos – not only was the red hue of the sands at its deepest but the low sun gave each dune a defined edge.

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Ballooning at Sossusvlei

Our pilot gave us a wonderful ride – at times dropping so low that the basket just caressed the top of a dune, at others climbing high so we could get a sense of the scale of the Sossusvlei landscape. At one point we passed above our lodge, at others there were a few deer below us, seeming unaware of our passing.

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Flying low over the dunes

After an hour or so we landed smoothly in a peaceful hollow between the dunes. The balloon was deflated, and breakfast served, with champagne and some exotic Namibian specialities such as smoked kudu. Our pilot opened the champagne bottles rather dramatically with a machete and gave me one of the bottle necks with the cork still wedged in it, which unfortunately has long since been mislaid.

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Opening the champagne

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Our champagne breakfast after ballooning

All too soon though it was time to return to the lodge - perhaps just as well as we had another long drive ahead of us today … but that’s a story best left to my next entry.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:26 Archived in Namibia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises desert road_trip views hotel roads balloon africa namibia dunes sossusvlei dead_vlei Comments (16)

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