Continuing from Pat 1 – you can read it here.
After restful stay in Luderitz (and a much needed break from camping), we were all set for probably one of the biggest attractions of Namibia – the Sossusvlei. Majestic dunes towering against the white of the dry salt pans, dead acacia trees withstanding the passage of time and the un-ending Namib desert for miles all around – this is Sossusvlei, a photographer’s dream!
We knew it was going to be a long drive from Luderitz to Sesriem (a small town in the desert providing access to the Sossusvlei and consisting of various lodges and camping sites). We wanted to leave Luderitz early but that was not to be – we had to stock up on groceries and the stores only open at 8am! The previous day had been a public holiday so none of the stores were open, with very few restaurants trading as well. So when planning a trip to Luderitz, make sure you avoid holidays!
Around 8.30am we were finally on our way.Rather than driving all the way on one of the main roads, we decided to take an alternate route – D707 – which I had read was really scenic. And it was! Driving through some mountains, bizarre rock formations and the nature reserve, before hitting the soft orangey hues of the dunes.
The drive like all the others so far, was simply gorgeous. However, just minutes before reaching our campsite in Sesriem, we had our first and only flat tyre. Given that the roads were only gravel almost throughout the country, I was surprised we didn’t have more flats! But thankfully the filling station at Sersriem also had a tyre repair shop and were sorted in under an hour.
I had booked the NWR campsite which was inside the Sesriem gates, giving us access to the dunes and Sossusvlei an hour before the others! This was an important consideration, given that Sossusvlei is very popular all year around, and hundreds of people flock to the dunes before sunrise. So the earlier you get there, the better are your chances to get pictures with minimal crowds. Unsurprisingly, the campsite was fully booked and I was glad we had booked the place earlier!
Since we still had a few hours before sunset, we decided to check out the Sesriem canyon, which lay just 20 minutes away from the camp. Shaped by the Tsauchab River over millions of years, and although much smaller than the Fish River Canyon, the rock formations were as stunning as ever, with visitors being allowed to walk through the canyon.
Back at the camp, we prepared an early supper and readied ourselves for an early morning. In order to enjoy the beauty of the dunes, it was imperative we reach the gates of the park at 6am in order to be able to reach Dune 45, so called as it is located 45 kms from the gate, before the sunrise at 7am. The speed limit is only 60km/hr inside the park.
We reached the dune well in time and started our upward trek, which was by no means an easy task, especially for not-so-fit people like me! But it was all worth it when the sun came up, throwing its golden rays on each of the dunes one by one.
The next stop, and one that I had been eagerly waiting for in the entire trip, was the deadvlei or dood vlei in Afrikaans. Deadvlei means a dead marsh pan which was formed when the Tsauchab river flooded the area. However, over time, the river was forced to change its course, leaving the area completely dry. A very striking feature in this pan are the dead and blackened camel thorn trees that are still standing. These trees are estimated to be more than 900 years old and have not decomposed due to the dry climate.
The deadvlei can only be approached in a 4×4 vehicle and it is about a 15 minute walk through the sand to the pan. Given the high temperatures in the day, it is important to plan the visit either in the early mornings or in the evening just before sunset, but keep in mind the gate closing times.
After what I can only describe as the most surreal experience, it was time to head to our next destination – a secluded campsite in the middle of the Namibrand Nature Reserve, a private reserve. This campsite was the most remote and cut off from any civilisation I have ever been, and it was the best site in the entire trip! Surrounded by nothing but the red sand dunes and an occasional orix coming to quench its thirst at the water hole, the Namib Rand Family Hideout was more than we could ask for. It even boasted a few fairy circles of its own! Fairy circles are mysterious circular patches of barren land that have not been explained yet!
Leaving the mysteries of the Namib Rand behind, we headed on towards Swakopmund, one of the biggest and most touristy coastal towns of Namibia. Known for its German architecture as it was part of the German part of north-west Africa, this town offers great restaurants, lovely views of the ocean and a number of adventure activities. Wallis bay which is just a 30 minute drive away, is known for its huge population of pink flamingos. It is also here (or Swakopmund) that one can take a tour to the Sandwich Bay, where huge dunes meet the ocean. A sight so pretty that I could have just sat there for hours. This too, can only be done in a 4×4 vehicle and considering the remoteness of the location and the skill required to drive over the dunes, it is best to book a tour or go with a guide.
Our two nights at the Desert Villa in Swakopmund just flew by and before we knew it, it was time to head to our last destination in Nambia – Etosha National Park. There are two routes to get from Swakop to Etosha. The first is the fully tarred road, which will take 5 hrs but is boring and suitable for anyone with a regular car. The other one is more scenic and exciting, going through Henties Baai, Khorixas and parts of Damaraland. This route will take about 8 hours but is mostly gravel. In Swakopmund, K&I had to hire a second, smaller car as we were leaving for Joburg earlier than our friends. Having seen the gravel roads, we were not too keen on driving in our little 2×2 even though the route looked really tempting. However, the very helpful owner of Desert Villa did assure us that driving on gravel in a regular car was ok!
Having taken the tar road, we reached our camp, Okaukuejo, in the national park quite quickly which gave us enough time to set up camp and spend a good few hours before sunset, checking out animals at the big waterhole just next to the camping area. Okaukejo is a government-run rest camp and is the biggest camp in Etosha. It can get quite busy so early bookings are advisable.
All of the nest day, we drove in the park trying to spot the game. But unfortunately for us, not much was to be seen. We saw the usual herds of zebra, giraffes and orix. A big African bull elephant also crossed our path but it was the cats that eluded us. For most people, this would sound like great game spotting. But having lived in South Africa now, I have turned a little snobbish! Game in the SA parks, especially Kruger are quite easily spotted.
what really stood out in Etosha for me was the vast salt pan, that stretches along one side of the park for miles. Also the flatness of the land there can be quite astonishing. The arid landscape along with the very flat land means that one can see for kilometres at an end.
Back at the campsite, dusty and weary, K and I tried to make the most of our last night of this magical holiday.