Sossusvlei Dunes, Namibia

Dried white clay punctuated by skeletons of ancient camelthorn trees

Situated in the largest conservation area in Africa (the Namib-Naukluft National Park), Sossusvlei is possibly Namibia’s most spectacular and best-known attraction. Characterised by the large red dunes that surround it, Sossusvlei is a large, white, salt and clay pan and is a great destination all year round. The dunes in this area are some of the highest in the world, reaching almost 400 meters, and provide photographic enthusiasts with wonderful images in the beautiful morning and evening light.

Sossusvlei literally translates to “dead-end marsh”, as it is the place where the dunes come together preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further, some 60km east of the Atlantic Ocean.  However, due to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert the River seldom flows this far and the pan remains bone-dry most years.  During an exceptional rainy season the Tsauchab fills the pan, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness this spectacular site. Photographic enthusiasts are spoilt with a glassy “lake” holding reflections of the surrounding dunes.  When the pan fills it can hold water for as long as a year.

Despite the harsh desert conditions in the area, one can find a wide variety of plants and animals that have adapted to survive.

All of the attractions surrounding Sossusvlei are easily accessible as all but the last 5 kilometers of the 65 kilometer drive to the vlei is tarred.  Shuttles provide access to the last 5 kilometers, should you not have a 4×4 vehicle.

There are a number of wonderful attractions to be enjoyed around Sossusvlei in the largest conservation area in Namibia, the Namib-Nakluft National Park, which covers almost 50,000 km2. The top attraction of the park and the second most popular attraction in Namibia, Sossusvlei is renowned for its majestic, warm red, star-shaped dunes contrasting against the stark white floors of the pans.

Other attractions in close proximity to Sossusvlei include Sesriem Canyon, Dune 45, Hiddenvlei, Big Daddy and Deadvlei.  All of these attractions can be accessed from the road that takes you to Sossusvlei, and are all well worth a visit. In a number of areas surrounding Sossuvlei look out for the petrified dunes.  These are ancient dunes that are approximately 1 billion years old and have solidified into rock.

Climbing to the top of Big Mama, as it is known to the locals, is well worth every bead of sweat. Catch your breath, take a drink and try to avoid camera shake before capturing some unique moments in your life. From the top you can see Naravlei; so-called because of the countless cucumber-like melons growing around the edge of the pan. The !Nara plant is a vital source of nourishment for many desert creatures, including man.

Cessna Pan is to the east and the rocky ridges of Witberg have proved to be a valuable landmark for adventurers over the years. Dead Vlei is at the foot of Big Mama. Its’ dead camelthorn trees, some over 800 years old, stand helplessly as photographers worldwide attempt to capture that unique, ageless desert shot. Out of view from the 2×4 car park, tucked behind a dune, is Hiddenvlei. Many species of bird shelter here on both dead and live camelthorn trees. For most of the year all 3 vleis are little more than huge hollows in the ground with no water whatsoever.

The belief that nothing could survive in temperatures that surpass 40ºC during the day and fall to below freezing at night is a real one. Water is scarce but life still manages to exist under the sand. Tiny tracks at the base of Sossusvlei’s dunes give the game away. A fine example is the toktokkie beetle, one of over 200 species of tenebrionid living in the Namib Desert. Whilst under the surface they communicate between sexes by tapping their abdomens on the ground. The shovel-snouted lizard is another sub-sand survivor, a reptile that has the ability to store water in its body.

Other desert-dwelling creatures drink droplets of the desert’s periodic fog or lick minute tear-drops of water trickling down rocks and plants. Others simply burrow a channel in the sand, an action that will allow them to accumulate moisture such as Grant’s golden mole. This amazing little rodent spends almost its entire life under the sand and as a result of this evolutionary adaptation, has no need for eyes.

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