Sossusvlei…….the surreal dead centre of Namibia

Friday 22nd July

Go into your local travel agent, ask for a brochure on Namibia and I’ll guarantee in there will be photos of Sossusvlei (pronounced so-soss-flay) or Deadvlei (dead-flay).  The images of this area are iconic and of course are well known to visitors. It is really only in here do you get the full scale of the Namib desert, it’s size and of course it’s desolation………………..

On the road again….heading back into the desert

The sun rose on Boseman’s Farm this morning and for those of us who slept in the open we awoke to another fine but chilly morning ( rain??? – hadn’t seen that for over 3 weeks now).  The fears about being attacked, stung or eaten by a wild animal were unfounded. The T25 fitness sessions ( or torture 25 as it came to be known ) were continuing at 06.30am daily so I joined in around 06.40 on the small plateau we had chosen which overlooked the camp and the farm.  The late start didn’t make it any easier and gained me some gentle ribbing from the others.

The 06.30am 25 minute torture (T25) session

Noelle & Kylie took the kids out for a run along the farm tracks before breakfast and all made it back safely …….. breakfast was the usual affair of eggs, bacon, cereals, fruit, toast and coffee.  Our coffee consumption had increased recently however it was mainly driven by the fact most water we were boiling to drink was coming from deep bores which given we were close to the coast was tasting quite salty.  The coffee was able to mask it and lets face it…coffee over a campfire in the desert is a pretty good way to start the day.  Tents packed, dishes done and the truck ready we departed for our overnight destination of Sesriem some 120km away but to get there we had to pass through Solitaire which as the name suggests is a settlement of minimal people.

The Namib desert……….sprawling sand dunes of beautiful symmetry

Although it was only 20km down the road from where we had stayed the previous night we arrived around 9am to find a thriving community of shacks and old rusted out cars looking not unlike a frontier town somewhere in the wild west.  I’m sure I saw a cactus. This is the junction off the C14 road ( definition – well formed dirt track ) we had been on onto the C19.  The only reason people travel the C19 is to reach Sesriem which is the gateway ( yes it has a gate and a curfew ) into the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

The name says it all….but they have great apple studel and coffee

Solitaire started as a single cottage in 1948 due to its remote location.  Over the years a few more buildings have been added and these days you find a fuel station, a small shop in what appears to be a barn, accommodation and Big Moose’s Bakery which is home to the world famous in Namibia Apple Strudel.  Although we had just had breakfast we could always find space for some Apple Strudel,  Dessert in the Desert….and another coffee.

The road to Sossusvlei…………turn right at Solitaire. It’s hard to imagine the change of landscape on the other side of those hills

Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan situated in the largest conservation area in Africa, the Namib-Naukluft National Park.  This photogenic area is famous for its large, red sand dunes, which are some of the tallest in the world and is one of Namibia’s most visited attractions.

It looks isolated and desolate yet some animals thrive here

Sossusvlei  literally translates to “dead-end” ( from the Nama word “Sossus” ) “marsh” (from the Afrikaans word “Vlei”).   Sossusvlei refers specifically to the salt and clay pan at the end of the Tsauchab River’s course; however, often the entire area including Dune 45, Deadvlei and Hiddenvlei is referred to as Sossusvlei.


At Sossusvlei, the dunes meet preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further, hence its name meaning “dead-end marsh”. Namibia is very dry and the Tsauchab River seldom flows as far as the pan. However, following an exceptional rainy season in the Naukluft Mountains the pan is filled and appears as a lake, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness this remarkable site.

The walk towards DeadVlei……..

The characteristic red dunes of the Namib Desert have developed over many millions of years.  The red sand that forms the dunes was deposited into the Atlantic Ocean from the Orange River.  The Benguela current then carries this sand northwards, to be deposited back onto the land by the ocean’s surf.  From here the wind carried the red sand inland to form the dunes over time.  The sand dunes in the Namib are dynamic and change shape with the wind.  The dunes around the Sossusvlei area are known as “star dunes” due to the wind shaping them from all directions.

With their curves and shadows they come across as paintings……This was (Sur)real!

After pitching tents and lunch at Sesreim Camp which is the gateway to Sossusvlei we were on the road into the park for around 65km which took an hour.  From the end of the road we transferred onto four wheel drives which took us along a very sandy track until we reached our drop off point……deep in the middle of the desert.  Self drive 4wd’s were allowed to access this track but we did see one getting “snatched” (snatch strap) out of the sand.  Low pressure in the tyres and high speed were apparently the tricks to not getting stuck.  From the drop off point  we were then pointed in the direction we     wanted to go by the driver and off he went.  Our destination was Deadvlei which was around a kilometer walk across scorching dunes in the heat of the afternoon.  Most of us had taken our shoes off and it was bare feet a la bushmen. There were signs of animals and I’m sure if you dug deep enough you would come across life keeping cool in the depths of the sand.

Deadvlei – an oasis of calm and texture hidden between dunes…

As we walked up and across the sand all we could see was……sand and the massive dunes in the distance.  Finally topping out on a small dune we were literally stopped in our tracks as we looked down to what was a dried out chalky white pan contrasted against the iron red sands with what looked like toothpicks sticking up but really are the remnants of dead Acacia trees.   Some 900 years ago the  dunes and shifting sands cut off Dead Vlei from the river.  It became too dry in Dead Vlei for the trees to even decompose. They simply sit scorched in the sun, monuments to their own destruction. This is truly a surreal oasis of nothing hidden by surrounding dunes.

Words can’t describe standing here …………

Walking onto the pan gave us a bit more texture and less shifting ground under our feet.  We spent around an hour taking it in.  The boys decided to climb one of the surrounding dunes ( straight up ) and after watching them for about 10 minutes I too headed up after them. It probably took us around 20 mins to reach the ridge and there was some deep breathing at the top.  It was one step forward but two back.  It was only around 200 metres high but this was way harder than climbing Kinabalu.  Our reward though was a run straight down the face of the dune that gave you a sense of floating.  Each footstep sunk into the sand holding you up and slowing you down.  It’s a pity that sand-boarding is not allowed here.

Deadvlei – On the pan……it is about 1km in length

We then made our way back over the dunes to the pickup point and were driven to a living marsh a short distance away.  This receives some water hence the shrubs and trees are alive and well. (we even saw a grazing Oryx ) Over time the shifting sands will no doubt cut off this Vlei as well leaving it to eventually dry and die ( won’t be in our lifetime )

Wildlife make their home here….a lone Oryx (Gemsbok) grazing. The horns are well over a metre long and they have been known to attack

It was then another high-speed 4wd run through the sandy tracks back to the truck where we headed for our next destination which was Dune 45, probably the most famous sand dune in Namibia if not the world.  It is named Dune 45 as it sites at the 45km mark on the road into Sossusvlei.  Given it’s proximity to the road it has become an attraction in it’s own right as people climb it early in the morning to see the sunrise or as we were about to do late in the afternoon to watch the sunset.  As it turns out this would be our last desert sunset on this trip so it was a pretty neat place to watch the sun go down.

Leaving nothing but footprints on the climb up Dune 45. The lee side of the dunes are in shadow giving a contrast of color

The climb up was marginally easier due to the people in front of you and following their footsteps.  Following the ridge-line we reached the highest point and joined a handful of other visitors to the park sitting ourselves down and taking in the vista.  The kids were busy jumping off and around the ridge doing flips and just being kids.  I did warn BB that this would be his last sunset and it was thought by others that he may not see the next day if he didn’t stop jumping off the ridge.

The sun sets on the world’s biggest and steepest sandpit……Boys being boys on Dune 45

As the sun dropped the temperature plummeted as well, as we watched it sink behind the dunes on the horizon and once again took in the colors and beauty of the sky it was agreed that this sunset would make our top 12 sunsets in Namibia list ( by this time we had been in Namibia for 12 days ). Sitting atop a dune in the Namib desert watching a sunset would be hard to top and we agreed life was probably going to get a little mundane in the coming days.

Dune 45 at the top as another day comes to an end in the Namib desert.


The boys took an alternative route down which held us up slightly however we made the deadline in having to leave the park with minutes to spare.  If you are late out you will be fined which was something we (and I’m sure others) hadn’t budgeted for.  Back at the camp Charles had his last dinner he would be cooking for us ready.  It was a curry from memory….It may not have been but whatever it was, it was tasty.  The camp was packed with solo travelers, family travelers and overland groups.  After dinner we hit the showers to wash away some of the sand.  Later some headed to the bar to watch cricket, some of us congregated around the bush telly (fire) with a drink and the kids hit their sleeping bags.

The burnt colors of the Namib desert….simply stunning……the colors are exactly as you see them.

This was our penultimate day of the overland trip and that evening it was more about reflection than anticipation.  Tomorrow we would be arriving in Windhoek ( the capital..not the beer…but the beer comes from here ) and by tomorrow night it would be all over.  It’s pretty hard to describe the landscape of Sossusvlei with the written word so I wont’ try anymore…. Hopefully the pictures we have put up go some way towards explaining it’s beauty.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit – make it happen, you wont be disappointed.

The wind shaped dunes….looks great in a photo but even more spectacular in person





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