Spectacular Sossusvlei

We rarely go places more than once. Except when it comes to Mala Mala. Every time we visit, we know it won’t be the last.

Living in Sydney, we’re a direct flight to Johannesburg (a 14 hour flight, but direct none the less). We’d planned the trip for June (beginning of their winter), and if we were going all the way to Africa, we may as well combine it with somewhere new. Looking at the calendar, our trip fell right around the new moon, so we decided to add a few days in Sossusvlei, Namibia (which is known for phenomenal night sky). For reference, Namibia is on the west coast of Africa, and Sossusvlei is about 400 kilometres (~250 miles) south west of the capitol city of Windhoek.

Map of southern Africa
Map of Namibia

After an overnight at the airport Intercontinental in Johannesburg, we flew two hours west to Windhoek (pronounced VIND+huuk – who knew?). Windhoek reminded us a little bit of Arizona landscape-wise.

View from The Olive

We stayed at the ultra posh Olive, which was about a 45 minute drive from the international airport. Our room was over-the-top amazing and seemed bigger than our apartment in Sydney. To be honest, it was kind of overkill for just one night.

The next morning, we headed to the regional airport and boarded a very small plane for the flight to Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. There was a bit of drama about our luggage weight (they warned us, but it’s impossible to travel light with two full sets of camera gear, tripods, etc. ). Luckily the other two passengers on our plane were underweight so all good. The one-hour flight to Soussusvlei passed quickly as we were distracted by the abstract patterns of the desert below.

We decided to stay at Soussusvlei Desert Lodge due to its proximity to the national park. The lodge has its own entrance gate, which enables lodge vehicles to be the first ones in the park each day (which means you can enjoy the dunes and vleis before the masses arrive).

The lodge consists of a large common area for meals and an arc of tented chalets. Our only complaint with the lodge was that there was just too much food – seriously – you won’t go hungry here.

Our “tent” was at the far end of the property, and it was more of a canvas-sided chalet than a tent.

The back half of the structure contained the bathroom and was the base for a roof deck. The staff is happy to arrange a sleep out up there, but we used it for night sky timelapses. With no light pollution, the sky was so bright that is casted shadows.

We went on a few game drives, though the area isn’t known for a lot of wildlife given it’s a … desert. We did spot a few jackals and oryx, and the landscape is stunningly beautiful.

One morning we climbed Dune 45, named for its 45 kilometre proximity from the Sesrium Gate. I’m not great with heights when it comes to hiking, and I was a little nervous walking along the narrow dune ridge with sand shifting down on either side. A few fun facts:

  • The iron oxide rich sand here is 5 million years old
  • The dune 45 is 170 meters (557 feet) tall, which is small compared to the nearby 325 meter “Big Daddy”
  • It is a “star dune” which means that it has multiple arms which have been shaped by the wind (made more sense once we saw it from above)

After visiting Dune 45, we headed to Dead Vlei. The 1km walk from the car park was certainly easier than hiking Dune 45, but the temps had climbed to the low 30’s (high 80’s in farenheight). With the stark white clay pan, the dark dead camel thorn trees, the red sand from the nearby dune, and the deep blue sky, Dead Vlei is kind of a photography mecca. We enjoyed exploring Dead Vlei so much, that we returned the following morning and had the whole place to ourselves for over an hour.

Dead Vlei @ f22
Dead Vlei
Dead Vlei

With photos of the night sky, Dune 45, Dead Vlei sorted, we decided to splurge on a doors off helicopter tour. The landscape from the air is unreal, though it was a little daunting to put so much trust in a seatbelt. With the doors off, everything needs to be tied down (no stray glasses, iphones, etc.). We didn’t have our camera straps with us on this trip, so we jury-rigged something together from hiking boot laces. You don’t realise the power of the wind until you accidentally break the invisible barrier of where the door would be. Oops !

Our hour long tour was timed to end just after sunset (for the best light). After flying over the red dunes of Sossusvlei, the sand turned golden as we headed west, eventually reaching a massive colony of Cape fur seals .

We also did a sunrise hot air balloon flight, which seemed remarkably calm and safe compared to the doors off helicopter 🙂

Sossusvlei ticked all the boxes for us and definitely exceeded our expectations.

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