We said goodbye to the folks at Wolwedans and headed to our next destination: Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. They are located in the Namib-Naukluft National Park which was supposed to be a 1 hour drive away, however, with our vehicle, it took almost 3 hours. Good thing we were not in a rush to get there.
Here we are on the map (we are now heading to the big red star):
We arrived in the town of Sesriem which is at the entrance to the national park. In Sesriem, you will find groceries, fuel and most items you may need for your trip.
We had traveled almost 550 kms since we left Windhoek 2 days earlier, so I thought it would be a good idea to fill up our vehicle. The attendant put in 10 litres of fuel and the pump stopped. He tried to put more into the tank, a little at a time, but 25 litres seemed to be the limit. I doubt that our Nissan 4×4 was getting 22 kms per litre of diesel, so I concluded we had an issue with the fuel tank. More on that later.
We were staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge ($N 4,400.00 or $USD 546.00 per night which includes all meals and park entrance fees for two people and one vehicle). It is run by a government agency, the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), which manages other lodges in Namibian national parks. It is the only accommodation inside the park which meant we could explore the dunes before the gates opened (sunrise) or stay in the park after they closed (sunset).
We were advised by our travel agent to spend the extra money and stay here in order to have additional park time and not be bound by the gate closing and opening times. There are other lodges close by in Sesriem, however, you have to follow the park’s entrance/exit rules. Unfortunately for us, our vehicle insurance prohibited us from driving after sunset or before sunrise, so we could not fully exploit the advantage we were supposed to have by staying the park. It was maddening to find this out after we had prepaid everything and arrived in Namibia.
Speaking of rules – if you are one of those people who think that rules don’t apply to you, you might want to think again. If you aren’t staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge and you are not out of the park by sunset, you will be trapped in the park as the gate will be closed and locked. Really. I don’t think spending the night in your vehicle is a good way to sleep in Namibia… not to forget, you will probably receive a fine.
We parked our vehicle in the parking lot and were eventually met by someone who drove us and our luggage to the main reception area. The manager of the lodge welcomed us to the property and gave us a tour of the main buildings (bar, restaurant, gift shop, etc) and she was very helpful. She greeted us with the phrase, “Welcome home.” What a wonderful welcome.
It was a beautiful lodge in a lovely location near the Sesriem Canyon. All the rooms had a very nice view, were very spacious and well appointed. The furniture and bed were really comfortable and the room was spotless. The lodge looked like an older facility, but it was well maintained and a wonderful place to stay.
I was really excited to be here in the park. Most of the iconic images that we see of Namibia are from this location in the Namib Desert – specifically, the large red sand dunes and the gnarly (and dead) Acacia trees. One thing I should mention is that the Namib is the most ancient desert in the world. How do I know this? I heard it on a BBC nature video, so it must be true :o)
There is a 60 km paved/tar road in the Namib-Naukluft National Park and you will need to drive to the end of it in order to reach Sossusvlei and Deadlvlei.
As you drive along this road, you will see large sand dunes in the distance, and the further you drive, the closer to the road they get. They are beautiful and I was astounded by how wonderful they looked in the evening light. The following images are typical of what we saw as we were driving:
Further along was Dune 45 – which gets its name by being at the 45th kilometer of this road. Guide books and the staff at the lodge kept telling us how beautiful it was. IMHO, there were many other dunes that were more picturesque, but as it is very close to the highway (about 200 m away), it is one of the few dunes in the area that is easy to climb.
Yes, the sand in the evening light is really that colour.
At Dune 45, there are beautiful (and dead) Acacia trees. In the evening light with the red sand in the background, it makes for really surreal looking images.
And as I’ve mentioned before, African sunsets are beyond beautiful. I wish they could last forever.
As the sun was about to set, we decided to head back to the lodge. So much for having extra time in the park. Gotta hate insurance and car rental companies.
The food (dinner) at the lodge was good, but nothing great. We had been spoiled by 3 nights of 5-star dining, so it was a tough act to follow. The staff at the lodge were courteous although a little aloof at times.
A friend of mine recommended that we take a hot air balloon ride over the dunes in the desert as it would give us a unique perspective. We booked our passage with Namib Sky for the next morning. It is pricey at $N 3,950.00 ($USD 490.00 per person including a champagne breakfast and transportation to the launch site), but as you will soon find out, it was well worth the money and time spent.
We met the driver the next morning bright and early at 6:00 am at the park gates where he then drove us to the balloon launch site. It looked like a really clear and calm morning (sometimes, they have heavy fog or high winds) so the conditions were ideal for a flight.
As we arrived at the launch site, the crew were already inflating the balloon. It is amazing the amount of effort and coordination that goes into a balloon flight.
Our pilot (Dennis) gave us our safety instructions and informed us on what the flight plan was going to be. We then took off and lo and behold, we were airborne.
Before inflating the balloon, the crew will place the basket (where you will be standing during the flight) on its side on the very dusty ground. By the time you are airborne, there will be a substantial amount of dust that will end up in and on this basket. Be careful when placing camera bags on the ground and changing lenses. I found out the hard way how much dust was present and I (and my camera bag) got completely covered. It did not help that I was wearing black either…
I have been in several hot air balloons before and each time, I am always amazed on how gentle the flight is – and what a great view you will have.
This flight was no different … we could see the sun rising over the sand dunes for miles and in all directions.
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