Namibia is the only country in the world named after a desert. For centuries man steered clear of the wasteland known as the Namib Desert. Eventually some tribes moved in following the animals for food and settled around the few sources of water and greenery. The Germans annexed the country in the late nineteenth century only to be muscled out by South Africans during World War I and Namibia gained independence in 1990. It is Africa's second youngest nation after Southern Sudan. It is also the world's second least populated country after Mongolia. But its dunes are second to none. The barren, inhospitable landscape that spelt death and was avoided like stinging nettle is now appreciated as one of the world's most spectacular natural marvels.
The Dunes at Sossusvlei
We left Little Kulala, a heart-warming lodge well before sunrise and sped towards Namib Naukluft Park's main attraction, the world's highest, reddest and most photographed dunes. On the night walk, we'd shone our torch to avoid snakes and scorpions but now we were scouting for ostrich, jackal, springbok and the long horned oryx. A hot air balloon floated overhead, heading to the same place. In an hour our jeep was flanked on both sides by the dark, lumbering, mountainous dunes. Lloyd, our guide described the beetles, lizards and spiders nestled in the dunes that get their moisture by condensing the fog on their backs.
Slowly, the sunlight hit the peaks and released the apricot blush, filling the landscape with intense colour. A razor sharp edge separated the sunlit side from its twin in dark shadow. Rich in iron ore, these sands have a colour that beggars the beauty of the Sahara or the Gobi or any other desert. Add to that the majesty of 300 metre height and it becomes a landscape that really ought to have a name unto itself. A magnificent oryx sauntered across the grassy plain and I wondered if it was moved by the beauty of his backyard.
Driving along the dunes we experienced their sprawl, but it was not until the overhead Cessna 210 flight the next morning that we truly appreciated the vast, unending expanse on both sides and the marvellous air-sculpted limbs of the dunes.
A walk at the end of the road led to a vast hollow called Deadvlei, or dead marsh, where the white crackled clay floor contrasted with the spectral charcoal black trees that had died of thirst thousands of years ago.
More about the place
How to get there: Fly from Johannesburg or Nairobi to Windhoek, Namibia, then charter to Little Kulala Desert Camp.
When to go: May to October
Stay at: Little Kulala Desert Camp www.wildernesssafaris.com
Explore: The dunes at Sossusvlei, the pan at Deadvlei and the spectacular basalt hills in the Kulala area.
Read: Lost world of the Kalahari by Laurens Van der Post and Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin.
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