Sun 11th & Mon 12th Dec – Sossus Oasis campsite, Sessriem
Tue 13th Dec – Kwessi Dunes, NamibRand Nature Reserve
Walvis Bay Seal Colony – Sossusm Oasis: 381km
Deadvei & other Sossusvlei drives: 138km
Sossus Oasis – Kwessi Dunes: 55km
Total km driven since leaving Nairobi: 13,636km
DEAD PAN AMONGST THE MIGHTY DUNES
Kian and I were sat up on top of ‘Big Daddy’, looking down at the specks on the salt pan below trying to figure out which were Gillian, Babcia and Mzee. It was Kian’s idea, of course! Which self-respecting 13-year-old wouldn’t look across Deadvlei pan at the massive dune at the other end and say ‘I want to run down that’? I should have known better but there I found myself, exhausted after over an hour of climbing and crawling, all huffing and puffing, up 265 metres of steep sandy faces to the crest of the dune at the top of the desert.
It had all started in a much more sedate fashion. We’d skirted around the edge of the Namib Desert all the way from Walvis Bay, dropping in and out of the river valleys that come off the highland plateau in the heart of Namibia, all the way to Sessriem Gate at Sossusvlei. Our campsite, which we subsequently discovered was on a main gemsbok and jackal highway to the green grass and water of the campsite swimming pool, was right by the park gate so we could be amongst the first into the park when the gates opened at 6 am.
We’d wanted to get in early so we could explore Deadvlei in the cool of morning but in the end that didn’t matter as a low bank of fog hung over the Sossusvlei valley, so we couldn’t see anything other than the very bottom of the dunes that we knew were towering around us. Deadvlei lies about 60km inside the park. It’s the poster image of Namibia – a large pan surrounded by dunes with the remnants of old acacia trees dotted about the floor. The pan is a 1.5km trudge through the sand then you crest a final dune and an eerie, haunting scene faces you… made all the more so by the morning mist. It didn’t take long for the mist to lift and, as the sun got higher in the sky and the shadows retreated, we were left with dark tree skeletons against a bright white pan with deep orange sand dunes all around… quite a stunning sight that left us all filling our camera’s memory cards with National Geographic standard images of the place.
I have to say that Deadvlei looked a lot more impressive from ground level than from atop Big Daddy, but the sight of the rest of the Namib Desert stretching away from us in all directions more than made up for this. The Namib covers 10% or 81,000 of Namibia’s 824,000 sq km land area, but it wasn’t just a sea of sand… there were rocky mountains jutting through in various places and a series of pans could be seen between the dunes, although none of the others seemed to have as many trees as Deadvlei. We took a few pictures and noticed we’d kept the others waiting long enough so we decided to race down to the bottom… which took about 3 minutes, including several tumbles and me stopping to pick up various things that Kian had jettisoned into the soft sand on the way down… water bottle, cap, sunglasses… before we finally made it to the firm surface of the pan. Kian looked like he’d taken a sand bath, including washing his face and mouth with it, and I had grown 2 inches from the sand in my shoes. We agreed it had been great fun but rather like an amusement park ride… over an hour of getting ready for a couple of minutes of excitement… so we turned and worked our way back across the hot sand to the cars.
Once you’ve been to Deadvlei and climbed up a couple of large sand dunes, there’s not much more to do at Sossusvlei. We did find a narrow canyon to explore close to our campsite which we pottered down to in the afternoon though the highlight of that outing was finally spotting a brown hyena, a desert-adapted animal that I’d hoped we would see in the Makgadigadi but was now delighted we could add to our sightings list.
After 2 nights at Sossus Oasis, it was time to say ‘Kwaheri’, safe travels and Merry Christmas to Babcia and Mzee, who would be heading NE back to Windhoek as we continued south around the edge of the Namib. The week we’d spent with them had just whizzed by, even though it seemed we’d been flat-out busy every day. They thoroughly enjoyed having finally made it down here and are already talking about what things they’ll do on their return visit…
Gillian, Kian and I took a short drive to Kwessi Dunes, a luxury camp set against the dunes. The camp is used as a base for trips to Sossusvlei but, as we’d already spent a day there, we instead explored the dunes on foot and by quad bike, with Gillian also joining us on this slightly more sedate outing than we had in Swakopmund, although this time we ended up with G’n’T sundowners overlooking the sandscape. Kwessi is part of a ‘dark skies’ initiative so the lighting in and around the camp is muted and they do no activities at night, all with the aim of letting you enjoy the starry sky at night… and what an amazing starry sky it was! Each room has a ‘star-bed’ area at the back of each tent, open to the night sky but leaving you with the option of moving back inside if it gets a little chilly.
We’d love to have spent more time at Kwessi. We had some of our best gemsbok viewings at their waterhole and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude of the setting, nestled amongst the dunes but looking at amazing views of mountains rising in the distance. Sadly, almost 3 months in, our time on the road is drawing to a close… we have just a few more days left in southern Namibia before Cape Town and Christmas festivities with the South African family beckon!