We had been told that in order to get the best photos, you needed to have the early dawn light on the huge sand dunes at Sossusvlei. Also, we had grand ambitions of climbing the highest sand dune in the world, something that needed to be done before the hot sun got too high in the sky.
The gates opened at 5:00am for anybody staying in the Namibia Wildlife Resorts Sesriem Campsite. All others can't enter until 6:00am. It was about 5:10am by the time we left our campsite.
Then, it's a 62 km (38.5 mile) drive on a virtually deserted paved park road to the car park. Almost feels like a race because although the speed limit is officially 60 km/h (36 mph), everybody (including official park vehicles) are doing closer to 100 km/h (62 mph)!!
But, there are some things going on along the way that confused us a little. First, at km 45, you come across a huge sand dune and there are already tour buses stopped with people hiking up the dune.
People hiking up Dune 45.
It turns out that Dune 45 is the largest dune in the area that can be hiked before sunrise so it's the most popular spot in the early hours. People like to get the early sun on the dunes for the best photos.
6:14am at Sossusvlei.
Problem was that we didn't know exactly where things were when we got there. First, there is a car park where two wheel drive vehicles have to park. Or those not wanting to take their 4x4 into the thick sand! We went for it!
You can take a shuttle the next 4 kms or you can walk it.
We drove past a few other 4x4's, one or two of which appeared to be stuck! A few others stopped too, not sure of where to go but we simply carried on around them. So we actually drove right by the poorly signed area of Deadvlei where the "Big Daddy" sand dune was that we were looking for. And we arrived at Sossusvlei.
The dunes at Sossusvlei
We had wanted to hike the "Big Daddy" sand dune. But that's something that needs to be started as soon as you get there and an hour had passed by the time we figured out exactly which dune it was.
Big Daddy sand dune. Tallest one on the left!
We got back in the truck and made our way over to Deadvlei.
A "vlei" is a dried up lake bed that has become either a salt pan or a clay pan. Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are clay pans, and Deadvlei is a very famous Namibian attraction due to the 900 year old tree skeletons of the dead camelthorn trees that died when the dunes shifted and water was no longer in the area.
Ruth, hiking up part of the Big Daddy sand dune. I was surprised how well she did given that the sides were very steep!
On the right side of the dune you look down onto Deadvlei. The tree skeletons you see at the bottom are full size trees. The dried up clay pan is huge.
We saw others in front of us who were making their way to the top of Big Daddy. We decided not to attempt it given our late start and it was fun stepping our way through the thick sand down the side of the dune.
We posed for a pic at Deadvlei.
The trees died almost 900 years ago. But the skeletons remain because things are so dry here that the wood doesn't rot or decompose. It's a kind of a spooky setting.
The floor of Deadvlei is dried clay. It almost looks like someone tiled the whole floor, and every tile is different. Just like snowflakes!
We decided to walk around the clay pan. Can you see Ruth?
Ruth, looking up at the top of Big Daddy at 360 metres (1,100 feet) high! Can you see the people nearing the top from the left hand side?
Can you see the people at the top of this dune? That's where we were when we decided not to carry on. So we came straight down the side! It was kind of fun, and the sand felt like a sponge. Our hiking boots were full of sand!
Dead camelthorn trees that are 900 years old.
The trees make interesting photo subjects!
Another reason to get there as early as possible...?
You can avoid the tourists!
Deadvlei is a popular tourist attraction and a lot of tour groups head there. Interestingly, the area is known as Sossusvlie, even though the attraction is Deadvlei. So to avoid the crowds, you either need to stay at the Sesriem Campsite and have a one hour head start at the opening gates, or to arrive in the heat of the afternoon.
We did the hour long drive back to the campsite at a leisurely pace. It was a hot afternoon. No idea how hot, but we would guess around 35C (95F). But it's very dry. There is a swimming pool, but unfortunately there's very little shade at the pool! So we sit in the main lodge which is breezy and shaded, or in the shade at our campsite so that we can watch the birds and animals from our site. We'll get you some of those pics for tomorrow!
Here's a sample...
This is our neighbour. He and his wife live in the tree at the next campsite over from us. He doesn't mind us looking at him, but he sure does look back!