Sossusvlei is one of the iconic destinations of Namibia and will be on the itinerary of most tours. It is one place where you can drive into the heart of the desert surrounded by the huge red dunes when most other places only allow you to glimpse around the edge of this grandeur.
The Namib Naukluft park is the largest park in Namibia protecting the worlds oldest desert . It consists of mountain and desert landscape with canyons and passes following dry river courses, and of course the sea of sand dunes. There are many conservancies and private lodges and some community campsites. A lot of the activities are on foot or horseback through the reserve rather than car access, and these are usually based out of the lodges. Photographically this is a place of dramatic landscapes and although there is plenty of desert adapted game they seem dwarfed by the monumental setting.
One of the main attractions is of course the dune sea at Sossusvlei. En route there almost everyone seems to gravitate to a rest stop at Solitaire. This is a strange place who's raison d'être appears to be solely to cater to the traveling hoards with restaurant, bakery, shop, garage and the ubiquitous tyre repair. The bakery is remarkable largely by its existence. The products are a bit rough ( and black) around the edges but the landscaping, using broken down cars and modern art from engine parts and scrap, is certainly novel and anywhere with shade in the midday heat is welcome, hence the popularity.
We travelled from Walvis to Sossusvlei across the Namib Naukluft mountains only stopping for refreshment in the quirky Solitaire. At Sesriem there is a choice of accommodations but the fact remains if you stay in the park there is a 45 minute advantage, entering the park at 5.15 am instead of 6.00 am, so although the facilities are not much to celebrate, especially in the overflow camp where we found ourselves, it is worth a bIt of discomfort for the advantage of the morning light.
We set an early alarm and were in the queue for the gate before even the dawn light glimmered.
The ride to the dunes is 30-45 minutes and so to catch sunrise in this magnificent place you have to be quick.
We set off the first morning for dead vlei as this is the most well known and sought after photo destination. It did not disappoint especially as early cloud added an extra texture to the morning. As soon as the heat hit the day we returned to rest up and in the evening headed out again, this time to dune 17 and dune 45, busy at sunrise but paradoxically quiet at this time.
Next morning we headed for Sossusvlei itself. It is a valley with much more life and vegetation than Deadvlei. Oryx and springbok can be seen sheltering in the trees between the dunes. Although unplanned, at least on my part, we managed to ascend the biggest dune for a breathtaking view from the top before the sun became too hot and drove us back to camp.
Just 4 km from the camp site is Sesriem canyon, a 3 km canyon cut out from the rock and representing erosion in an ancient river bed many millennia ago. The walls are pitted with holes where the mountain wheatears nest and the sedimentary rocks clearly show their layers and history. Geology in colour.