I think this is the most scenic place on the entire trip. The dunes that are part of the oldest desert in the world are spectacular. This system of dunes is the largest in Africa and is 110 km wide and nearly 120 km long. The sands are blown in from the Kalahari Desert. Sand are carried down the Orange River, which meets the coast a few hundred kilometres south and then washed back up onto the coast.
The !Nara plant (! Indicates a click) starts the whole process of producing these dunes and the equal percentages of wind blowing sand from the east and west ensure that the dunes grow vertically. The temperature here is hot, real hot. This environment does not get much rain at all and the animals here have adapted accordingly, in fact if there is rain it can be fatal for some of these desert dwelling creatures. Sand diving lizards and side winder snakes can be found here. They are hard to see and their tracks are the only indication of their presence that we see.
Then there are the vlei’s or pans. A river runs through the middle of this dune system but it very rarely has water. It is the only place where you will find substantial vegetation that can sustain life. Because of its lack of water flow the dunes start encroaching on the river and eventually cut it off. This has been happening for thousands of years and the river has been consumed by the dunes to a distance of 55km and the current pan Sossosvlei, is the most recent part of the river that has been cut off by the dunes.
Sossos, a local word meaning stuck or cut off, and vlei being pan, means it is an area that is hard to get out of. It was not given the name because of all the 4X4 that get stuck there, it was named by local people would come to this area some years ago to try and kill the bushman that resided in the area and to steal the diamonds that they were carrying. The attempts on the Bushman were unsuccessful and Bushmen would kill the intruders. The intruding tribes then named the area Sossosvlei meaning if you go there you will not come back.
So what do we do here? We visit a Dead Pan. It is about 800 years old and has petrified Acacia trees still stuck in the white river bed completely surrounded by dunes. This are provides some sensational photographic opportunities. Then we climb Dune 45, it takes time to do this as the dune is over 200m high and it is damn hot in the summer months. But it’s well worth the effort for the views of this spectacular dunes system that you get at the top. The colours of the dunes change as the sun dips over their perfect edges. It is a day that is hot, uncomfortable, sweaty and exhausting. However this effort will provide you with some of the best photos of the trip. It is a fantastic and memorable place.
Tip of the Day: Wear shoes when walking on these sands! The sand is high in iron and will be twice the temperature of the atmosphere, sometimes reaching 80°C.