Amongst the Dunes in the Namibian Desert

namibie

The most famous dune…

The Namibian Desert was inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites in 2013. The announcement brought back many wonderful memories for me as the desert was one of the highlights of our Namibian honeymoon: the majesty and beauty of the place, coupled with (several) glasses of champagne amongst the dunes, and topped off with upgrades to some amazing lodge accommodations in the middle of nowhere! There aren’t that many people in Namibian desert, let alone tourists, but it is a popular destination for recently married couples, especially French… and there are many good reasons for this.

namibia sandwich harbor

Sandwich Harbour

One of the reasons it is so attractive is that it is so special – regarded as the oldest desert in the world it consists of a unique ecosystem due to its location next to the ocean, which allows the formation of fog over its dunes. The desert is vast and has highest sand dunes in the world. We visited two distinct parts of the desert: the “young” ocean side, where the sand is fresh and white, and the “ancient” interior, where the dunes are immense and the sand is relatively old and red.

namibia skeleton coast

The skeleton coast

The young desert runs along the inhospitable Skeleton Coast – the dense fog and huge waves have seen the demise of many boats. The name of the coast relates to the whale and sea bones that littered the shore during the time of industrial whaling. Our trip in the direction of the Pelican Point seal colony included a journey of abandoned ghost ships, many pelicans and a visit ONTO the boat of a large seal. The colony of seals could be smelt from far away …and the stench will stay with me for a long time! It is a paradise here for the seals and they enjoy riding the waves as much as the surfers that come here for the great waves. After the boat trip along the coast we were put down near Sandwich Harbour, where the desert dunes rise up from the ocean… a magic place. You won’t find too many people here as it is not accessible by private car. And then a bonus, a lunch in the dunes and some dune riding in a 4 x 4…

Some 350km away we were waking up in the ancient zone of the desert. Skipping breakfast, we departed early from our accommodation to make it the opening of the park when the light is the best …and it is relatively cool! We stopped at Dune 45 (45km from Sesriem) before heading to the Sossusvlei area to take on Big Daddy, one of the tallest of the world’s sand dunes at 325m.

namibia big daddy

Here is the climb

This climb is a challenge – we made it but our companions for the day abandoned their attempt half way. It is worth the effort though to make it to the top as you are rewarded with a magic summit view. The descent is much quicker – straight down in the direction of the Deadvlei plain with a few (ungraceful) somersaults thrown in. Once you have brushed off all the sand at the bottom you cross Deadvlei: once a lake, all the water has long disappeared and what remains are desiccated black acacia trees spread out on the parched ground. Check out the contrast of the red dunes, blue sky, white ground and black tree trunks in my favorite Namibian photo… what do you think?

dead vldi

Dead Vlei

 

scorpion namibia

A scorpion…

Whether you are on a honeymoon or not, I encourage you to visit this magic location and magnificent country.

 

Voyagista’s Tips

 

  • We were based at Sams Giardino’s in Swakopmund for our journey into the young desert. Sam loves his wine and gave us a small instruction on the subject while we were staying there.

  • We opted for a boat tour from Walvis Bay, followed by a 4×4 excursion to discover the desert near Sandwich Harbour. The first part of the tour was very nice but touristy, the second part in the desert was incredible – definitely recommended! You are not going to find many people here because it is only accessible with a tour so you can enjoy the isolation not available at Sossusvlei.

  • To see the giant red dunes in the old desert you head for Sossusvlei and make base at Sesriem. We were upgraded to the Little Kulala Lodge for our visit, which is very practically located close to the dunes. A great place…have a look… envious?!

  • Between Swakopmund and Sesriem the road is long (350km & 5 hours) but you can admire the Kuiseb Canyon on the way and stop for lunch at Solitaire, where it is possible to supposedly find the best apple tart in the country …unfortunately we can’t confirm as there were none left by the time we got there!

  • An excellent place to stay not far from Sesriem, the Wolwedans Lodge is located in the Namib Rand Nature Reserve, a private reserve offering beautiful scenery. Angelina Jolie has been here and you can follow in here footsteps to discover the fairy circles, which are endemic to this region of the world.

 

wolwedans namibia

Wolwedans at sunset

 

What are the Fairy Circles?

fairy circles namibia

The Fairy Circles are circles in the ground marked by no vegetation in the middle of a grassy area. They are encircled by a circle of vegetation distinct from the vegetation in the general area. Their existence has been for a long time shrouded in mystery but certain recent theories may be on the way to understanding the enigma. According to a German researcher, the formations are due to to termites in the sand, while another study suggests that the circles are created by a Darwininan struggle for survival between plants, where the weakest perish causing the bare ground. Any ideas yourself? Why are they round and why do they disappear after 50 years?!

 

 

World Heritage Focus: Namib Sand Sea 

(From the official World Heritage site) Namib Sand Sea is the only coastal desert in the world that includes extensive dune fields influenced by fog. Covering an area of over three million hectares and a buffer zone of 899,500 hectares, the site is composed of two dune systems, an ancient semi-consolidated one overlain by a younger active one. The desert dunes are formed by the transportation of materials thousands of kilometres from the hinterland, that are carried by river, ocean current and wind. It features gravel plains, coastal flats, rocky hills, inselbergs within the sand sea, a coastal lagoon and ephemeral rivers, resulting in a landscape of exceptional beauty. Fog is the primary source of water in the site, accounting for a unique environment in which endemic invertebrates, reptiles and mammals adapt to an ever-changing variety of microhabitats and ecological niches.

 

namibia desert

From the top of the dunes

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