Grant and Susan in Sossusvlei, Namibia
Dunes at Sossusvlei Pan, Namibia
September 29, 1997
From the northern Namib we headed south for Sesriem, the closest campsite to Sossusvlei, where the famous Namib sand dunes start. The road was pretty awful, including sand and corrugations, and we definitely would not have done it on the bike, so we felt slightly less guilty about being in an air conditioned truck with a cooler for iced cold drinks, compared to sweltering in riding leathers in the 45C heat. At Sesriem, we camped in the official government campsite, which had (cold) showers and a swimming pool, both of which were very popular during the middle of the day. The usual practice is to drive into Sossusvlei (45-50 minutes from the campsite by car) well before sunrise, then if you have a 4x4 vehicle you can drive right to the dunes, otherwise you have to walk for 5 kilometers, which is at least an hour and a half walk on soft sand. Since sunrise and sunset are the preferred times for photography, as well as being the coolest time of the day to undertake the walk in, there's not much to do in the hot middle of the day except sit in the swimming pool. They could really use a bar with iced drinks, but at least they had a store which did sell both cold drinks and ice.
Susan on the walk into Sossusvlei dunes
The first day there we arrived at the Sesriem campsite in the late afternoon, so decided to do a short foray into Sesriem Canyon and save the main event for the next day. We had planned on a pre-dawn excursion, but the night was so hot we hardly slept at all, and were not in shape to get up early. So instead we headed in to Sossusvlei in mid-afternoon, and started walking to the dunes at 5:00 p.m. Preparations involved applying significant quantities of sunscreen, drenching our t-shirts and hats for the evaporative cooling effect, and carrying 4 liters of water, gorp, and of course, our GPS, which proved its worth. We didn't actually get to the official Sossusvlei dune that evening, because we kept stopping to take pictures along the way, as it is all quite spectacular.
Gemsbok (oryx) in the Namib Desert near Sossusvlei Pan
We even saw a group of seven gemsbok (oryx), and that made the trip worthwhile for me! By sunset at 6:50 p.m. we were still well short of our destination, so we hitched a ride back to the parking lot with a fellow Australian coming out in his 4x4. That saved us a long walk out, and enabled us to get back to the official campsite by 8:30 p.m.
Next day we decided to start earlier, and also to just camp overnight in the parking lot, saving the 45 minute drive out in the evening, and back in the next morning. While camping in this area is not officially allowed, there is no enforcement of the rule, and since we were self-sufficient for water the lack of facilities (there were toilets) didn't matter. Grant even rigged up a shower facility, which was much appreciated when we finally got back from 4 hours of walking! If you decide to do the same, please have respect for the location and leave it at least as clean or better than you found it, and keep it quiet and unobtrusive. Don't spoil it for others!
Susan wading in Sossusvlei Pan, a once in a decade opportunity
This time we started the walk to Sossusvlei by 4:00 p.m., which allowed us to get there by 6:00 p.m., an hour before sunset. For the first time in many years, they had sufficient rain this year that the pan below the dunes was filled with water, and there was still quite a lot of water when we were there, so I waded into the muck for a photo opportunity. It was one of the most deservedly photographed places in Namibia.
We walked back to the parking lot, in the dark, and used the GPS waypoints we had recorded on our way in to help us get out faster than we came in. But it was still 8:30 p.m. before we got to the parking lot, so we were confirmed in our decision to sleep over there. The one thing we hadn't counted on, which manifested themselves while I was cooking supper, was 6 inch long spiders, quite aggressive, running around after dark. Although they did scuttle off if you threatened them, they were definitely not scared of us. I was very glad not to be sleeping in a tent, as we didn't know whether or not they were poisonous!
Hidden Vlei, Namibia
The following morning, having walked 10 km the previous night, I decided to hold the fort while Grant headed off at sunrise for Hidden Vlei, supposedly only 2 km away. When he hadn't returned 4 hours later, I was starting to worry a little, but he did have the GPS, so I knew he wasn't lost. As usual, the photo opportunities were so great he spent much longer than expected. Although he didn't feel like he has completely DONE Sossusvlei, (not even scratched the surface -G-) our time was running out so we headed east once again to Windhoek to complete our circle.