Tag Archives: Tsauchab River

Weekend at Tsauchab River Camp

The only time that the Tsauchab River has any water in it is after exceptionally heavy rains, and in the Naukluft region of Namibia that is very rarely. The “river” is approximately 100 km long and is best known for the spectacular Sesriem Canyon, which it has carved through the sedimentary rock over the millennia, and for the usually dry lake called Sossusvlei, in the very heart of the Namib Desert. Sossusvlei marks the end of the Tsauchab River’s abortive attempt to reach the Atlantic, for here it is blocked by some of the biggest sand dunes in the world.

It is on the banks of this ephemeral river that the Tsauchab River Camp is situated.

Approaching the campsite - dry, barren and not very inviting

Approaching the campsite - dry, barren and not very inviting

The driveway to the reception area of the Tsauchab River Camp is decorated on both sides with metal animals and the like, assembled from oddments from cars, tractors and who-knows-what-else, welded together. Some of the assemblages are easily recognized, some are a mystery to all but the creator. Yes…But is it art? Hmm.

? Common ostriches

? Common ostriches

? Kudu

? Kudu

? Springbok

? Springbok

? Owl

? Owl

Whatever your view of the scrap-metal creations, don’t let them put you off. The campsites are magnificent! I think that they must rank as the most spacious campsites in all of Namibia – the campsite that we stayed in had no fewer than three separate areas in which we could camp, and no fewer than three separate toilets. Some of the toilets are not strong on privacy, which is not terribly important in view of the isolation of the campsite.

There are a few gaps in the toilet walls...

There are a few gaps in the toilet walls...

...and sometimes there aren't enough walls!

...and sometimes there aren't enough walls!

Clear instructions for using the toilet!

Clear instructions for using the toilet!

And some allow limited activity. I assume that it was a courtesy to the ladies that this was shaped and positioned like an ordinary toilet and not like the urinals that usually populate gentlemen’s facilities.

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The main ablutions, though, is built between the multiple trunks of an enormous ficus and is of the highest standard. Step inside and the fitments and cleanliness would do a good hotel proud.

Campsite and ablutions built into the fig tree

Campsite and ablutions built into the fig tree

One section of the Tsauchab River along this stretch is fed by a spring, and the pools contain water all the year round. Because of this, there is a stretch of riparian forest, mostly of wild figs, that is home to a multitude of birds and provides delightful walks through the deep shade. The channel of the river shows evidence of the flash floods that are a feature of much of Namibia, and the roots of some of the fig trees have been well exposed through the erosion of the river banks.

Roots exposed by erosion

Roots exposed by erosion

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In the evening we were treated to magnificent sunsets and were greeted in the morning by a slow parade of kudu along a ridge overlooking the campsite. In the absence of other campers in the vicinity we felt especially privileged to share these experiences in the absolute quiet that is such a rarity in the city.

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This is a spot definitely worth a visit.

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Familiar chat at Tsauchab campsite

Familiar chat at Tsauchab campsite

Sossusvlei

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.

En route to Sossusvlei

En route to Sossusvlei

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.

Duncan & Beryl at the top of the Gamsberg Pass
Duncan & Beryl at the top of the Gamsberg Pass
The bridge over the Kuiseb River at Gamsberg
The bridge over the Kuiseb River at Gamsberg

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 Canyon
Sesriem Canyon
Crossing a flooded road en route to Betesda
Crossing a flooded road en route to Betesda

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.

Some of the hills are startlingly beautiful
Some of the hills are startlingly beautiful

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.

Dunes at Sossusvlei
Dunes at Sossusvlei

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.

Dunes & Gemsbok near Sossusvlei
Dunes & Gemsbok near Sossusvlei

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!

Dead vlei
Dead vlei
Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei
Jane & Mick at Sossusvlei
Jane & Mick at Sossusvlei

From Sossusvlei we returned to Windhoek via the spectacular Spreetshoogte Pass, reportedly the steepest pass in Namibia.

View from Spreetshoogte Pass
View from Spreetshoogte Pass