Sossusvlei is generally regarded as one of the most spectacular landscapes in Namibia. The ‘vlei’ itself is situated at the point where the Tsauchab River dams up at the foot of a spectacular series of sand dunes, its route to the sea blocked. The sand that makes up these massive dunes, amongst the biggest in the world, was carried here by the east winds from central Namibia and owe their distinctive overall colour to the presence of iron oxide, with streaks of black contributed by magnetite and red by traces of garnet.
We have been to Sossusvlei several times, the most recent trips being with Jane’s son Mick (who set up this website for us – see lookatbowen.com), and we also included a visit to Sossusvlei in a short round trip from Windhoek with some friends, Duncan and Beryl, taking in the Kuiseb Canyon and Sesriem Canyon.
It is a leisurely drive on the gravel C26 from Windhoek to the Gamsberg Pass. From the top of the pass there are quite spectacular views of the Kuiseb River in the valley below and after a short stop we moved on to the Kuiseb Canyon.
The Kuiseb Canyon is carved by the Kuiseb River, and is well known as the area in which two German geologists, Henno Martin and Hermann Korn, lived for more than two years in order to avoid internment during World War II. Henno Martin’s book “The Sheltering Desert” gives a vivid account of this experience and is well worth reading.
The Kuiseb River seldom flows on the surface and even more seldom does it reach the sea, but it plays a very important role in preventing the northward march of the sand dunes.
Sesriem Canyon, on the Tsauchab River, gets its name from the days when the early travelers needed to draw water from the river in the canyon and, because of its depth, tied six leather thongs together, fastened a bucket to the end and lowered it to the pools below. In Afrikaans “ses” is six and “riem” is the name for the leather thongs; hence Sesriem.
Sesriem is the “gateway” to Sossusvlei in the Namib Naukluft National Park and there is a plethora of accommodation available in the area. We stayed at Betesda Lodge, which was very comfortable, albeit a little further from Sossusvlei than some of the alternatives. The following morning we left Betesda quite early for the short drive to Sossusvlei.
Located about 50km inland from the Atlantic Ocean, Sossusvlei and the neighbouring Deadvlei and Hidden Vlei lie at an altitude of between 550 and 560 metres above sea level, with the dunes around the vlei rising 80 to 110 metres above this. The highest dune in the area is thought to be Dune 7 (apparently the seventh dune after crossing the Tsauchab River, and not to be confused with the famous Dune 7 near Walvis Bay) at approximately 380 metres.
These dunes are called “Star Dunes” and are given their characteristic shapes by the winds that blow from different directions as the seasons change. The dunes are therefore fairly stable and are not moving in a particular direction under the influence of the wind.
Of particular delight to photographers is the vlei close to Sossusvlei itself known as Deadvlei, named after the eerie skeletal remains of ancient-looking Camelthorn trees found in the pan. Extremely photogenic, depictions of this moody spot can be found in almost every guide book or coffee table book on Namibia!
From Sossusvlei we returned to Windhoek via the spectacular Spreetshoogte Pass, reportedly the steepest pass in Namibia.