Namib Desert, Namibia

STOP 29 | Day 90 to 91 |

As we left the town of Swakopmund we made a brief stop along the coast at Walvis Bay, which in Afrikaans is known as Walvisbaai (meaning Whale Bay). Over the years Walvis Bay was a hot spot for the Southern Right Whales and subsequently attracted whalers and many fishing vessels. Walvis Bay remained under South African sovereignty until 1993 when it was returned to Namibia. These days the bay is a popular tourist spot to see the migrating flamingos. In the winter months one can find thousands of flamingos in the bay, although not a peak time we still managed to spot a few scattered in the bay that day. Heading back inland we could feel the temperatures rise as we were driving back to the heart of the desert. On the road that morning we crossed paths with our tour guide from Nairobi to Victoria Falls – he was in a Nomad truck headed in the opposite direction with a group of 24 campers. Continuing on we noticed a change in landscape. The cratered out and bouldered landscape was breathtaking and resembled what one would imagine the moon’s surface to look like. This area was known as the “Moon Landscape” and has featured such films as Mad Max and 2001 Space Odyssey – you could see this area was a filmmakers’ dream set!

We also crossed the Topic of Capricorn, which of course required a stop and photo op. We stopped for lunch shortly thereafter at a lodge in the sweltering heat. This stop also marked the point where we would embark on a desert waking tour. To say our guide was good would be an understatement! He educated us on all aspects of the desert, including the native flora and fauna, and how to survive. The dunes in particular given the winds blowing east-west or west-east create a natural magnetic north. The safest point with the heat is always the top of the sand dune as the winds will keep your body temperature cool and preserving water – not the bottom of the dune as some might think. Contrary to popular belief, there is significant amount of living species in the desert (second only to rainforests). Despite the soaring heat, our guide was by far the most entertaining guide we’ve had on our adventures. His enthusiasm along with his animated story telling is something that could not be taught.

Our campsite for the next few nights was Hammerstein Lodge. Unfortunately the lodge clearly targeted the accommodated traveler as the camping grounds (if you could even call it that) consisted of a gravel parking lot with the ablutions being the two showers/toilets for the pool. As it wasn’t too expensive to upgrade we ended up getting a room for the next few nights (A was clearly getting over camping, granted it’s been surprising she had lasted this long!).

The next morning was an early 4:40am departure to get to the Sesriem gate of Namib-Nauklift Park as it opened at sunrise. This was the entrance into the Sossusvlei Dune Fields of the Namib Desert. Given the activities today were all in the desert, the early morning start was key to beating the heat. Our first stop was Dune 45, which stands at 179 meters, it is named for being 45 kilometers from the gate and is the one dune which is accessible to climb. The dunes of the Namib Desert were created by sand carried by the wind from the coast of Namibia. The sand is estimated to be 5 million years old and is red in colour due to its iron oxide content. We welcomed the chilly air as we made the climb, the views at the top were definitely worth it! After a quick breakfast at the bottom of the dune we made our way to our next stop, where we got on 4×4 vehicles to take us near Deadvlei. The sand makes 4×4 vehicles necessary as we saw a few people who attempted to self drive with inadequate vehicles stuck along the way. Hiking up another dune allowed us to get a great view of Deadvlei. Deadvlei is a white clay pan which was formed after a rainfall, which created shallow pools allowing camel thorn trees to grow. However as the climate changed between the drought and the sand dunes blocking water access to the area the trees died. The remaining skeletons of the trees, which are believed to have died 600–700 years ago, are now black because the intense sun has scorched them and the wood does not decompose because it is so dry! The sight is amazing between the white clay pan, red sand dunes and black tree skeletons. J was also challenged to a rematch by our tour guide for a race down the dunes. Clearly our guide has done this before as he had perfected the dune running technique and beat J (trick is to not let your feet sink into the sand)! Lastly on our way home we stopped at Sesriem Canyon, a natural canyon carved by the Tsauchab River. The canyon is about a kilometer long and up to 30 meters deep. Its name is Afrikaans for “six belts”, which refers to the six belts the locals had to attach together to reach buckets down to the canyon’s water.

Back at the lodge we decided to take part in a “cat walk” offered by the lodge. As the owner of the lodge is a veterinarian they have pens which housed caracals, leopards and cheetahs, which they have previously found injured. Although not as exciting as seeing these animals in the wild, it was neat to be only a few feet away from them inside the pens. It was probably the largest cheetah we have ever seen, clearly an indication of how little exercise they get given they don’t have to hunt.

Our tour guide says this is his favorite day on the tour and we could definitely see why. The natural beauty of the desert is just spectacular and we continued to be in awe of all the different sights of Namibia. It was also quite a memorable way for J to spend his birthday!

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