Leaving the town of Swakopmund under an overcast sky, the ominous green sea to our right is dotted with shipwrecks on the pink sand beaches, while sand dunes tower to our left. The cooling environment of the beach soon gives way to endless desert scenes radiating the late morning sun.
Cruising along the landscape takes another dramatic turn as we become surrounded by ancient tilted rock formations, some of which are dated to over 1,000 million years old. Driving further south we hit the Tropic of Capricorn and the southern most point at which the sun can be directly overhead (in the summer only).
Everywhere seems to have it’s own quirky outback town and Namibia’s is no different. Solitaire, aptly named, is the place. In the middle of nowhere it’s a one horse town that has somehow become a mark on the map worthy of a visit. With only a petrol station, general store, toilets and a pie shop it warrants a short stop for the other old and rusting cars, petrol pumps and farming equipment, oh and the pies are good too. Taking a break from the truck on the benches outside the pie shop social weaver birds flitter around chirping as they pick up the pastry crumbs from our pies (they’re that good) and hunt for suitable nesting material to expand their treetop mansions.
A familiar smell makes it’s way into the truck and we look around to see rain falling in the distance, and as we roll into the slightly damp campsite at Sesriem we’re told the small shower is the first rain they’ve seen in these parts for three years. With a large bar area and pool the campsite is popular with both overland tours and the rent-a-4WD guys as it’s also the jump off for Dune 45 and the Sossusvlei.
The Namib Desert is the world oldest at 55 million and covers a ginormous 81,000 kilometres squared stretching 2,100km from Angola to South Africa. Rising while the scorpions are still at play it’s a predawn mission out to Dune 45, so named as it’s the 45th dune from the Tsauchalo River. Along with the rest of the 4WD’s and overland trucks it’s a mad dash to beat each other up the dune before the sun rises. With loads of others we reach the 77 metre summit just as the sun splashes the eastern facing slopes, turning them a myriad of phenomenally dazzling yellows, reds and oranges. With each changing angle of the sun the dunes perform a vibrant dancing of the colours as far as the eyes can see. Sossusvlei has the second largest sand dune in the world behind Badain Jaran in China, and the highest is currently Dune 7 (7th dune from Tsauchalo River) at 1,256ft (382m). Unfortunately you can’t climb it.
The only thing to break this most peaceful serenity is a vocal American cheerleader intent on loudly showing off how badly her handstand skills on sand really are. We feel pity (and relief that she’s not with us) for the rest of the group who hang their heads in an attempt not to be associated with this embarrassment of spectacles. Kanyo and Moogs, our guide and driver, have the breakfast ready on our arrival back down and the unpolluted air still has that morning crispness as we scoff down our meal of bacon, sausages and eggs.
Dune 45 is only one of the highlights of the day, the second being Deadvlei (Dead Marsh) within the Sossoulevi region. Forking out 110 Namibian dollars each (USD$6.50) we get a five kilometre joy ride in a supped up Land Cruiser, our mad as a hatter driver having us hooting the entire way before we’re deposited at the start of Deadvlei. As we walk over the small ridge to the clay pan lake we’re treated to a vista of cracked earth pitted with massive dead trees as if it had been a school kids art project.
The real life Dali landscape is mesmerising in the flesh and we begin to picture melting clocks dripping from the tree whilst elephants roam on stilts. A quick squirt back in the truck of fun the sun has taken its fiery grip as we head for an overnight stop of little interest in Bethanie.
A brief resupply in town we crank the Aussie hip hop from the likes of The Herd, Hilltop Hoods, Bliss n Eso and Butterfingers in an attempt to educate our European contingent with some degree of success.
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Tips for Sossusvlei
- If you’re 4WD-ing independently make sure you get here well before sunrise as it gets busy.
- Walk past the crowds at the top of the dune to get a view uninterrupted by people and their footprints.