When you google places to visit in Namibia, you’ll almost surely see images from Sossusvlei: sunrises over red dunes, or dead scraggly trees rising out of salt and clay pans. It’s probably one of the more iconic places in the country and for good reason – the scenery alone will knock your socks off!
After some research, we opted to stay at Sesriem – the only campsite that’s actually in the national park. Because of this, planning is required! We booked weeks in advance and had to shift a few things in our itinerary to be able to stay here. The internal gates open at 5:15 and close at 8 so those in the park get an hour longer for sunrise and sunset which makes a difference! Particularly for watching the sunrise at Dune 45 – if you only get through the gate at 7 it is still a half hour to the site which means you’ve missed sunrise altogether. But while it’s a positive to stay within the park, the campsite is probably not as nice as the ones outside so you can make a judgement call on what’s most important to you. When we checked in we were told we would be in the overflow lot, which is essentially a parking lot right beside the main road into the park (so also very dusty!). While it served our purposes, I would still request a non-overflow site if booking in the future (there is a section for notes/requests for the online booking) ;).
We arrived late afternoon, set up camp and tried not to get engulfed by the dust before heading into the park around 5. We drove through the park, astounded by the colour of the sand dunes. We got as far as Dune 45 before opting to turn around and head to Elim Dune – a popular spot to watch sunset. Happily, the sand was not as soft as the sand on the dunes we sandboarded down, which meant it was much easier to climb! Watching the colours of the dunes change as the sun went down was magnificent! We climbed (slash slid) back down and left the internal gate just before 8.
The next morning was an early one – everyone staying in the overflow site was packed up and on their way into the park by 5:30. Some we already climbing up Dune 45 as we pulled into the parking area – from afar they looked like aunts climbing up an ant hill. We soon began the, relatively quick and easy, climb up and found a place to ourselves to watch the sunrise.
It was only 7:30, but we were already heading down Dune 45 and driving toward Deadvlei and Big Daddy – the highest dune in the park. The road leading toward the end of the park (where these particular attractions can be found) is paved and easy to drive. You’ll arrive at a parking lot where you can opt to park and take a shuttle the last 5km OR you can take your chances driving the 4×4 sandy path. Guess which one we took? 😉 As we started driving, the road didn’t seem that bad! But it wasn’t long before we saw actual 4×4 trucks getting stuck in the sand! And seconds later we were joining them. Bummer. We dug out a bit and James pushed while I drove – we were reversing, planning to head to the parking lot and take the designated shuttle. But our efforts, sadly, didn’t work (I swear I could create a blog just on the adventures we’ve had with our car!). One of the shuttle drivers came to our rescue – he said he would drive us to the end and pull out our car if we left the keys for him. The shuttle ride is $340 NAD roundtrip and we gave him a extra $310 just to get our car sorted for us. We grabbed our daypack, water, and a snack (we were planning on parking and making coffee and eggs before climbing Big Daddy – but it obviously wasn’t meant to be!) and headed toward Deadvlei with James (the shuttle driver).
We headed toward Big Daddy, which has another dune before it. We decided to walk beside the first dune and into Deadvlei to get a few pictures. It was when we got to the bottom of Big Daddy that we realized why most climb the first dune, and then descend slightly before going up Big Daddy – for us it would be a very steep climb up! I made some joke about our adventures and James always wanting to take the road less traveled before we started our climb. It was tough, but we made it! And the views were well worth the blood, sweat and tears (nah, there wasn’t blood or tears. But sweat. Lots and lots of sweat). As we reached the top, we could feel the sand was already getting very hot- and it was only 9:30! We took a few pictures and then had fun sliding back down. James purposely went for a few tumbles, and is still trying to get the sand off a week later.
We waited for James to come with the shuttle and were thrilled to hear he’d pulled our car out of the deep sand while we were exploring! We were soon on the road and back to our campsite for a well-deserved brunch of egg and bacon sandwiches.
We had another night booked and, in reality, you only need to stay in the park one night (unless you want to check out the sunrise or sunset from different vantage points). We spent some time by the pool in the afternoon and made a campfire as the sun went down.
[By the way, we’ve come to notice we’re almost always the only people building campfires at night – even though most campsites have firepits and sell firewood! We’ve seen the odd people building fires in Braii (BBQ) areas where it’s more of a cooking fire (raised, with a grid) but otherwise nothing! Are campfires more of a Canadian thing? Traveling around Namibia we have been wildly outnumbered by Europeans – primarily German, but also quite a few French. Maybe Europeans have better things to do growing up than camping, making s’mores and telling stories? Regardless, having a glass (stainless steel mug) of wine beside a roaring fire with James every night has been a highlight of this trip!].
Until next time…