Sossusvlei & Sand Dunes

Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes. The name "Sossusvlei" is of mixed origin and roughly means "dead-end marsh". Vlei is the Afrikaans word for "marsh", while "sossus" is Nama for "no return" or "dead end". Sossusvlei owes this name to the fact that it is an endorheic drainage basin (i.e., a drainage basin without outflows) for the ephemeral Tsauchab River. The name 'Sossusvlei' should strictly only be applied to the pan that lies at the place where the dunes close in, preventing the waters of the Tsauchab River from flowing any further - that is, on the rare occasions that the river does flow as far as this. This particular 'vlei' is actually a more-or-less circular, hard-surfaced depression that is almost entirely surrounded by sharp-edged dunes, beyond which lies a formidable sea of rolling sand, stretching in unbroken all the way to the coast. However, the name 'Sossusvlei' nowdays applies to the whole area - an area that encompasses the great plain of the Tsauchab River together with the red dunes that march along like giant sentinels to south and north of the plain. The satellite photo above clearly shows the "dead end" element

The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are strong and constantly changing.

The sand-dunes at Sossusvlei are about 60km from the Sesriem gate (the entrance to the park) and the drive takes about an hour to get to the car park. From the 4*4 Car Park we walked half way up Big Mama, and saw Dead Vlei at the foot of Big Mama. It has dead camelthorn trees, some over 800 years old. Deadvlei is a clay pan, about 2 km from Sossusvlei, that used to be an oasis with acacia trees; afterwards, the river that watered the oasis changed its course. The pan is thus peppered with blackened, dead acacia trees, in vivid contrast to the shiny white of the salty floor of the pan and the intense orange of the dunes.

The high sand dunes are a vivid pink-to-orange color, because of a high percentage of iron in the sand. The oldest dunes are those of a more intense reddish color. These dunes are among the highest in the world; many of them are above 200 metres, the highest being the one nicknamed Big Daddy, about 380 metres high.

The highest and more stable dunes are partially covered with a relatively rich vegetation, which is mainly watered by a number of underground and ephemeral rivers that seasonally flood the pans. Another relevant source of water for Sossusvlei is the humidity brought by the daily morning fogs that enter the desert from the Atlantic Ocean.

Petrified dunes are found in several places in the Sossusvlei area (one place called "Petrified Dunes" is about 60 km after the Sesriem gate on the road to Solitaire). Petrified dunes are very ancient (billions of years old) red sand dunes that have solidified to rock. They thus represent the final stage in the Sossusvlei dunes' life cycle.

As luck would have it, we were there on one of the few cloudy mornings, just after a rain storm - 20mm which was a whole years rain in one day.

We stayed at Kulala Lodge for two nights. It turned out to be a stay of two halves

Day one, the place was packed, but it rained, the hotel could not cope as water poured through the roof of the main building. But the staff were very good and coped well.

Day two the number of guests dropped by 75%, and service dropped too. I gather they can go from 6 guests to 56 guests in the course of a week

Our trip to the dunes was with Moses and he was an exceptionally good guide. You could well do the dunes yourself, but it takes an hour longer as you would have to drive much further if you drove yourself. Work out your own cost benefit with this one.

I did have a beef with the view from our tent, room 10, as it was set back from the rest and did not enjoy the quality of view that others had. However the view from the main service block was outstanding

The staff were well trained and knew their jobs. I had a slight issue with them being free to hog the one Internet computor -there is no wifi.

Overall a pleasant base from which to see the sand dunes

Click on any of the thumbnails below to get a larger photo

Even though our day at the dunes was mainly overcast, we were impressed by their grandeur and colour. It was an impressive trek to reach the ridge
The Kulala Lodge was one of many in Namibia run by Wilderness Lodges. They are well fitted out, but the company have a number of staff issues to sort out.
On from Sossusvlei, we stopped at Solitaire, to enjoy one of MooseMcGregor confections. A bit of a Namibian legend, known for Apple Pies in the middle of the desert.


On to Swakopmund

Namibia Holiday