Sossusvlei and the remote Namib Nakluft

The road to Sossusvlei

7 June. We are heading for one of the largest National Parks in Africa, a mere 50,000km² of sand and rock as well as being home to the famous sand dunes of Sossusvlei.

Our route takes us along some pretty spectacular scenery and we pass through the private Namibrand Nature Reserve which covers 2100km² and has some seriously nice lodges. Keith says “no” so we drive on, but if you are feeling flush do take a look. http://wolwedans.com.na.

Not everyone makes it on the road to Sossusvlei
Not everyone makes it on the road to Sossusvlei

The wildlife in this area is amazing. We have mixed herds of oryx, springbok and zebra running alongside the Land Rover, galloping, leaping and dodging around each other.  We are so busy watching them, especially the pronking springboks, that we don’t think to video any. However, we took a conscious decision to “live in the moment” on this trip and to enjoy everything we see around us, without seeing it through a lens, so, sorry, no video of this – you will just have to imagine it or come and see for yourself.

In Sesriem we have been recommended a campsite right outside the entrance to the park, where we will head tomorrow to see the dune fields of Sossusvlei. This site has everything, including some wonderful private pitches which are, sadly full tonight but we have booked one for the next two nights. Mind you, the public site has its own highlight – we have the place to ourselves and the views are stunning. We even have an oryx wandering about the place.

Sossus Oasis campsite. Shared ablutions
Sossus Oasis
campsite. Shared ablutions
Julie with our new Camp oryx in Sossusvlei
Julie with our new Camp oryx in Sossusvlei

Beautiful dunes in Sossusvlei

The early start is a bit of a shock to the system. But it should be worth it as early morning light is at its best and hopefully there will be less people around too.

We drive the 60kms from Sesriem to Sossusvlei, huge dunes rising above us on either side. As the sun rises over the sand dunes the shadows slowly lift to reveal varying shades of red and orange. We watch a hot air balloon slowly rise and wonder what the view is like from up there. Maybe another time.

Hot air balloon over Sossusvlei
Hot air balloon over Sossusvlei, early morning

The corridor along which we are driving gradually narrows and the dunes are closing in on us on either side. It is truly astonishing that this corridor has been created over millennia, by a very seldom flowing river. We can see the present course of the river because the green camelthorn trees make it clear for us. But, enough looking from the comfort of the car, we need to climb a dune.

Landy at Sossusvlei
Landy at Sossusvlei
Oryx at Sossusvlei
Oryx at Sossusvlei

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Lüderitz and the D707 to a German castle

Straight Road to Lüderitz

The B4 to Lüderitz is long, straight and remote. The intense sun causes the road to shimmer ahead of us and the flat, arid land offers no protection from the wind. We were thrilled to witness sand blowing across the tarmac in front of us, offering a good opportunity for a classic desert photo.

B4 Namibia sand
B4 to Lüderitz complete with windswept sand.

We step out of Landy in Lüderitz into a wind in which we can barely stand up. After a brief visit to a campsite on the coast we concede defeat and seek out a guest house instead. Kratzplatz is a funky little place. The yard is filled with all sorts of quirky objects, including lots of vehicle parts and “up-cycled” objects used as plant containers. The rooms are comfortable and they even have a busy attached bar and restaurant. It is the perfect place to catch up on clothes washing and internet use. http://www.kratzplatz.info

4×4 tracks and flamingoes

After a quick lunch we set off along the peninsula to the west of the town which has abundant tracks for the adventurous off-road enthusiast. Some of them are extremely tricky and although Keith enjoys himself I am a little nervous as Landy tips precariously to one side or slides down a particularly rocky part of the track. The views are worth the trouble though, as we find lovely isolated bays, sandy beaches with skeletal boat remains poking out, and beautiful pink flamingoes around every corner. The various beaches and bays have lovely names, such as Sturvogel Bucht, Guano Bay, Halifax Island (which has African penguins) and Diaz Point.

Lüderitz Peninsula 4x4 tracks
Lüderitz Peninsula 4×4 tracks
Lüderitz
Flamingoes in Lüderitz

Reaching Diaz Point involves a careful walk over a rickety bridge and lots of rock scrambling but we are rewarded with the sight of seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Also here is a cross, a replica of the one placed here by Bartholomeu Diaz, the first European explorer to enter the bay. He sheltered here in the late 14th century. It must have been a pretty lonely desolate place back then.

Lüderitz
Decayed boat on Luderitz Peninsula

As we make our way back to town we pass a few signs on fences and at the start of tracks, warning us not to proceed further. This is the Sperrgebiet National Park, previously a diamond mining area, covering 26,000 square kilometres. This park, however, cannot be visited independently and the signs warning of fines and imprisonment are apparently very serious. We duly take them seriously.

Lüderitz is a fascinating old German town with impressive buildings from the early 20th century. It became a supply base for the German Schutztruppe during the war with the Nama people in 1904-07. However, it was the diamonds, first discovered nearby in 1908, that enabled the town to prosper as a centre of supplies for the diamond mines, and the communities that grew up around them. The Consolidated Diamond Mines  company moved to Oranjemund in 1943 and the town slid into decline. It still looks a bit tired but the tourist industry is helping build it back up again and we found that the locals were friendly and keen to chat (without too much of an ulterior motive).

Lüderitz
The waterfront in Lüderitz

A diamond ghost town

The next day we set off to Kolmanskop, once the main town for the diamond industry, but now deserted and slowly being reclaimed by the sand. This place is absolutely fascinating and, although we are not generally fans of guided tours, this one is extremely well conducted. Some of the buildings, including the impressive concert hall, have been restored but most have been left exactly as they were when the workers and their families left them. Amongst sand dunes inside the houses we find bath tubs, rickety stairs and wonky doors and it is all very eerie. We throughly enjoy exploring all the houses and clambering up sand dunes in what used to be someone’s living room. This booming little town had comfortable staff quarters and very beautiful homes for the managers as well as a school, swimming pool, several shops and a hospital. They even had an ice factory and water and fresh food were transported in from Lüderitz. The restored buildings, together with the information provided by our guide, really brought the place to life for us and it is a real insight into the diamond industry and the workers’ way of life.  http://www.kolmanskop.net

Lüderitz
Inside a house in Kolmanskop
Lüderitz
Kolmanskop Ghost Town

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Overheating and Freezing in Namibia

Driving into Namibia through Ai Ais National Park

27 May. As we board the little pontoon to cross the Orange River into Namibia we wonder what to expect of the roads on this side of the Transfrontier Park. The drive this morning, back over the tricky passes to the border post at Sellendesdrift, was tiring and dusty and we have a long way to go to reach the campsite at Ai Ais Hot Springs.

After disembarking we set off on what appears to be a fairly decent dirt road and we soon arrive at the tiny and unbelievably remote immigration, customs and Police post. The formalities are quickly dealt with and we are on our way. It is a hilly and rocky terrain and after an hour or so Landy’s temperature gauge begins to rise. This is a first for her and, even though it is hot, it is nothing compared to what lies ahead of us. It’s winter for goodness sake! So, a little worried, we stop every now and again to allow her to cool down. During one of these breaks a friendly South African couple (annoyingly in a Toyota) offer to follow us to the campsite to make sure we arrive safely. We gladly accept and take our time for the rest of the journey feeling a little happier.

The landscape surrounding us is flat and rocky with very little in the way of vegetation. During our frequent stops we step out and gaze around us, glad that we brought lots of water, fuel and food because if you do have car problems here you could wait a long time for assistance.

In Ai Ais National Park, Nambia, a cooling down stop.
In Ai Ais National Park, a cooling down stop.

A busy campsite

We arrive, relieved, to find the kind of resort we don’t usually stay in but today we are pleased to have shade, showers, a bar, shop and swimming pool. There are also plenty of fellow campers and travellers to swap information and stories with. Particularly interesting to talk to are the fit (and slightly bonkers) people who have done the four or five day hike along the canyon, carrying all their own equipment, including drinking water. We decide to give this a miss; maybe another time?

If you feel inspired go to:  http://www.nwrnamibia.com/ai-ais.htm

Keith adopts the common, bonnet up, position for Landy and soon finds the problem. A small water leak is causing the overheating and he soon has it fixed.  We can now relax and take advantage of the facilities here. A short walk to stretch our legs (with a too close for comfort snake encounter) and then we head to the swimming pool for a lovely warm dip. The hot springs, however, are not for dipping your toes in; they are are a constant 65 degrees. (Ai Ais means burning water in the local language.)

Ai Ais Namibia Campsite
Snake on the path in the campsite at Ai AIs Hot Springs

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Serious off roading in Richtersveld

The Route to Richtersveld.

22 May. We decide to take the dirt road over Hellskloof Pass to the Richtersveld National Park, which forms the South African part of the trans-frontier park with Namibia, known as Ai Ais / Richtersveld National Park. This area is South Africa’s remotest park (and its only desert biome), and is accessible only with a 4×4, but the the harsh mountainous desert, studded with quiver trees and home to some seriously hardy creatures is well worth the challenging drive. It also has its own quaint little ferry and border crossing at Sendelingsdrift, to take you across to the Namibian side of the park and on to Fish River Canyon.

We discover that this road is serious off roading territory. A lot of it is either along rocky dry river beds, or running alongside them, and we wind and bump our way along the valleys, with towering rocks all around us. There are plenty of challenging parts which test the Landy and our driving skills but, of course, there are no real problems when driving a Landrover and we relax and enjoy the experience, stopping occasionally just to get out and stand in the silence, miles from other humans and we feel very small and insignificant.

On our way to Hellskloof Pass and Richtersveld
On our way to Hellskloof Pass and Richtersveld

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