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Exploring Namibia's Starry Skies

  
  

Namibia is one of the top destinations in the world for stargazing. Its dark and clear night skies are amongst some of the most pristine in the world and below are four reasons why we think you have to go stargazing while visiting Namibia.

 Namibia photography, sossusvlei, stargazing namibia, photography, astrology

The moon rises in the clear winter sky.
(Image via I Dream of Africa)

1. Dark Sky, Bright Stars

In 2012 the NamibRand Nature Reserve was selected by the International Dark Sky Association as an official dark sky reserve on account of its low light pollution and cloudless night skies. And indeed the whole of Namibia has some of the darkest skies measured on earth allowing stargazers to gaze deep into the night sky on just about every night of the year. 

Many lodges around Namibia take advantage of the unusually dark skies in the country and have their own telescopes. All you need to do is enquire at the reception of wherever you are staying to find out if your lodge has such facilities.

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Starry sky over the desert.
(Image via I Dream Africa)

2. Photographing the night sky

The night sky over the Land of the Brave lends itself incredibly well to photography. Countless photographers, amateur and professional, travel from all over the world to capture astonishing images of our universe. 

Below is a particularly stirring video made from a collection of over 16,000 still images of the Namibian night sky.

The award winning Namibian Nights by Marsel van Oosten.
(Video ©Marsel van Oosten Squiver Photo Tours)

 

3. Guided tours

The great thing about visiting Namibia is that you can always find someone willing to take you on a guided tour of its attractions. The night sky is no different. There are several tour operators around the country that offer guided tours of the night sky.

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Taking a guided tour of the night sky is perfect for the whole family.
(Image via I Dream Africa)

The local guides are knowledgeable and passionate about the stars that shine down on Namibia and they are always more than willing to share their stories with visitors from near and far. Below are a few tour operators who offer stargazing tours.

Solna’s stargazing experience.

Rob Johnstone has been an astrology enthusiast since 1986 and his company SOLNA (Space Observation Learning in Namibia) offers two guided tour options for visitors.

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Guests at the SOLNA viewing site.
(Image via SOLNA)

The first is just 29km south of Windhoek at the Gocheganas Nature Reserve. If you wish to book a tour at the reserve then email reservations@gocheganas.com or telephone Gocheganas at +264 (0)61 224 909.

SOLNA also works in partnership with Wilderness Safaris with whom they organise stargazing tours throughout the whole of Namibia. It is best to get in contact with Wilderness Safaris if you want to organise a stargazing trip and you can email them on constancet@wilderness.com.na.

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A picture of Saturn taken from the SOLNA viewing site.
(Image via SOLNA)

Stargazing tours near Swakopmund

Stargazing Adventure Namibia is a company run by Dr Ansgar Gaedke and Lynette Gaedke that is based in Swakopmund. Dr Gaedke is a professional astronomer who graduated from the University of Hamburg in astrophysics and astronomy and now gives tours to visitors interested in astronomy.

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Photographs of one the company's many star tours.
(Image via Stargazing Adventure Namibia)

They have several activities for would-be stargazers and you should check them out here to see which tour suits you. They also have a great gallery of photographs to whet your appetite ahead of your stargazing adventure.

Hakos guest farm

Just west of Windhoek on top of the Gamsberg is the Hakos guest farm. On this farm the German-based International Amateur Observatory maintains an impressive collection of telescopes and other equipment for stargazing enthusiasts. There are several tour options on the farm and you can view them here.

The guest farm is specifically geared towards giving guests a memorable astrological experience in an environment that is largely untouched and unspoiled by man.

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One of the farm's many pieces of advanced equipment (L).
The isolated location of the farm (R).
(Images via Hakos guest farm)

4. Sossusvlei by night

If anyone needed another reason to visit Namibia’s iconic Sossusvlei, here it is: The stargazing opportunities at Sossusvlei are simply incredible. The sky is clear almost always and there is almost no light pollution out in the desert near the vlei.

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A tree on the vlei against a slowly rotating starry sky.
(Image via Rhino Africa Safaris)

The Sossusvlei Lodge was in fact recently ranked amongst the top 12 stargazing hotels in the world by CNN Travel. But this is not the only lodge in the area and there are also several other lodges that offer stargazing opportunities.

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The Sossusvlei Lodge by night.
(Image via Sossusvlei Lodge)

Below are three of the top-rated lodges that offer stargazing activities at or near Sossusvlei.

Sossusvlei Lodge

Little Kulala

Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

No matter where you are in Namibia the night sky is simply beautiful, and if you are visiting Africa from the Northern hemisphere then you should not miss out on this opportunity to see a totally different set of stars on the other end of the world.

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Quiver Trees by Night - Florian Breuer
(via Florian's Photographs)

Flying over Namibia's Skeleton Coast

  
  

The Skeleton Coast is one of Namibia’s most remote locations. It is also one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. This blog post will give you everything you need to know about going on a once in a lifetime flying safari to this isolated paradise.  

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Flying high above the dunes
(Image courtesy of Natural High Safaris)  

The Skeleton Coast can be difficult to get by land, as much of it is restricted and vehicles are simply not allowed in. But by plane, exploring this area is a cinch! There are several different ‘fly-in’ options for the traveler who wants to explore from the skies, with a variety of operators offering packages that range from scenic day flights to four-day flying tours.

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Get a unique view of the icnonic Sossusvlei from the skies.
(Image courtesy of Expert Africa)

Skeleton Coast Safaris

One such operator who organizes three-day safaris is the Schoeman family who run Skeleton Coast Safaris. It is a small family business that specialises in taking small groups of visitors (no more than eight) into Namibia’s desolate and beautiful Skeleton Coast.

The Schoeman’s run three camps which guests are ferried to and from in light aircraft. At each camp unique and beautiful flora, fauna, geology and shipwrecks can be found and explored making this experience definitely one for the bucket list. 


(Video courtesy of Expert Africa)    

Three nights, three camps

The three night tour usually follows the same schedule but nothing is set in stone when you get to places this remote. Each night you will be in a different location, and each of the camps you visit has its own distinct appeal.  

There is the Kuidas Camp, with its shipwrecks, amazing birdlife and astonishing stargazing opportunities in the evening. These attractions make the Kuidas Camp is the perfect way to kick-off your three day fly-in safari of the Skeleton Coast.  

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The camp is lush and yet the surrounds are stark.
(Image courtesy of Expert Africa)    

On your second night you will be stopping at the Leylandsdrift Camp which is situated near a natural spring. The camp borders the Skeleton Coast National Park and getting to this camp may juat be the highlight of your day as you will do several low sweeps of the surrounding area. Flying above this astonishing landscape will give you a once in a life time opportunity to take in one of Namibia’s most beautiful areas from a unique perspective.

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Isolated and beautiful, the desert dunes of Namibia's West coast.
(Image courtesy of Expert Africa)

Once you touch down at Leylandsdrift Camp you can go tracking desert adapted elephants (read more about these amazing creatures here) and visit the nearby Himba settlement where you can learn about one Namibia’s indigenous cultures.  

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A Himba woman.
(Image courtesy of Expert Africa)    

The Kunene River Camp is most often the last port of call for adventurers on the three day Skeleton Coast Safari. To get to this camp you will fly North from the Leylandsdrift Camp over seal colonies and more beautiful rolling desert. Once at the camp you will be treated to an open air 4x4 safari that will take you to the border between Namibia and Angola.  

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The Kunene River camp looks over the mighty river.
(Image courtesy of Expert Africa)

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Mountains and dunes meet on the plains near the camp.
(Image courtesy of Expert Africa)  

When you visit this camp, and during your journey to the campsite, keep an eye out for Namibia’s ‘fairy circles’. Seeing these geological wonders in the stirring mountainous region is truly unforgettable.  

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4x4 tours are all part of the unforgettable experience.
(Image courtesy of Expert Africa)  

Obviously a tour like this is an absolutely amazing experience which is incomparable to anything else you can do in any other country, but don’t just take our word for it: Read what people who have been on the tour think about it over here.  

Other operators

If a multiple day flying safari sounds a bit too hectic then why not hop on a scenic flight instead and get to witness Namibia unfold below you as you take a low-level flight over its dunes and landscapes. Here are just some of the companies in Namibia who offer scenic flights and flying safaris:

 

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One of the Skeleton Coast's many shipwrecks, seen from above.
(Image courtesy of the Namibian)  

One piece of advice

If you plan on visiting the Skeleton Coast remember that it is always wise to bring clothes that are good for both extremes of temperature that you will be exposed to in the region. During the day it can be extremely hot, while during the evening it can get bitterly cold- so make sure you bring shorts, t-shirts, long pants and sweaters.  

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Dunes and airplanes- a match made in Namibia.
(Image courtesy of the Namibian)

Namibia's Sesriem Canyon: Just before the dunes of Soussesvlei

  
  

Sesriem is often only thought of as just a gateway to the famous and amazing Sossusvlei, but it is also home to the Sesriem Canyon, a natural gorge carved millions of years ago by the once mighty Tsauchab River.

If you are heading into the Namib and you find yourself in the Naukluft National Park of Namibia, you will no doubt hear talk of Sesriem, a small settlement with a filling station and general supplies store close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains.

 

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Sesriem Canyon, Namibia

Photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com

 

Some Sesriem Canyon Facts

The canyon’s birth dates back between two and four million years, when continental upheavel resulted in the creation of most of the westward flowing rivers in the Namib Desert region.

Today the Tsauchab River only runs after good rains fall in the nearby Naukluft Mountains, but the canyon is a testament to the rivers long-past prime some 15- 18 million years ago when the gorge was created by the river’s once sweeping movement.

The canyon is up to 30 metres deep at points and is roughly about 1km long- with a width that ranges between one and three metres wide, flattening out as it approaches the iconic Sossusvlei.

The name Sesriem is derived from the Dutch/Afrikaans words for “six (zes) belt (riem)” and was given to the settlement by explorers returning from the Dorsland Treks. “Six belt” is a reference to the six belts, usually made of Oryx hide, that a thirsty settler would have to tie together in order to reach down into the deep hollows in the canyon floor to extract the crystal clear cool underground water which collects under the canyon’s floor.

 

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Take a stroll along the river bed of the Sesriem Canyon

Photo courtesy of summitpost.org

 

What is there to do?

Sesriem canyon is an interesting place to walk and appreciate the canyon’s multiple layers of exposed rock. It is best appreciated at sunrise or sunset, where the changing shadows and soft light foregrounds the area’s breathtaking scenery, setting up excellent photography opportunity or offering a weary traveler a chance for some quiet reflection.

For those visiting by day, a walking trail leads into the canyon from where the layers of the different sedimentary layers are more clearly visible.  A variety of tree species also grow within the canyon, such as the unique laurel fig.

Do note though, if you are visiting in the warmer months of the year, do try and avoid walking around during the hottest parts of the day. Rather beat the heat and leave for your walks through the canyon very early or later in the afternoon when the Namib begins to cools down.

 

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If you're staying in the park, ask your lodge to organise a special sundowner over the canyon for spectacular views

 

The Sesriem Canyon’s hidden treasures

After good rains, pools of water collect in the narrow, sheltered sections on the floor of the canyon. These pools of crystal clear water are an invigorating sight in the barren and stark surrounds, and some of the larger pools even present adventurous explorers with a chance to enjoy a refreshing swim.

Deeper hollows in the canyon’s floor hold supplies of permanent water, even in the dryer months, which many animals use to survive in the harsh land. The pools are filled with species of fish, so be on the lookout for the barbell which call these pool’s their homes.

A campsite managed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts is situated close by under huge camel-thorn trees, and right by the Sesriem gate, hot air balloons depart in the early morning, providing scenic flights over the Sossusvlei dunes.

 

Visiting Sossuvlei via Sesriem

The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are some 60km from the entrance the Sesriem gate of the Naukluft National Park, and the drive to the famous dunes will take about an hour.

The gate into Sesriem only opens at sunrise, so if you are staying outside of the park (which you will be unless you are staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge), you will have to wait until sunrise to begin their journey to Sossusvlei.

 

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Never-ending views over the Namib at Sossus Dune Lodge, a stone's throw from Sesriem Canyon

 

More stories

If you like nature walks: read about the Waterberg

If you like canyon hikes: read about the Fish River Canyon 

 More on the Sossusvlei area

 Waterberg Fish River Canyon Deadvlei 

 

Go Big Namibia Day 9 & 10: Sossusvlei & BIG DADDY

  
  
describe the image

Emeritta Lillo is on the road with the #GoBigNamibia tour. Each day she'll be sharing their adventures, so stay tuned for some handy travel tips and inspiration. Follow the team on Twitter @NamibiaHorizons #GoBigNamibia and Facebook for a chance to win

 

Last stop for the Go Big Namibia adventure was Sossusvlei, surrounded by the magnificent dunes of the Namib-Naukluft National park. We arrived just in time to catch an amazing sunset at the Sesriem canyon, where we enjoyed sundowners, snacks and reminiscing over the good memories made over the last 10 days.

After dinner, David treated us to a star gazing session, teaching us how to spot constellations like the Southern Cross, Scorpio and Capricorn. We’d never seen so many stars and so clearly - no wonder Sossusvlei is renowned for having some of the world’s darkest skies.

The following morning we were up at 5am to see the sunrise against some of the highest dunes in the world. We climbed to the top of Big Daddy (the highest of the dunes) to watch as the rising sun forced the dune’s shadow to slowly reveal the fossilized trees of the Deadvlei pan down below. The early morning wake up was a small price to pay for what was an unforgettable moment on this trip.

To round off the perfect morning we were treated to an outdoor breakfast at the foot of the dunes. What a way to end our Namibian adventure!

 

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Quiver trees and endless horizons on the drive from Swakopmund to Sossusvlei

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Due south: crossing the Tropic of Capricorn

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The mandatory stop at Solitaire for the town's famous apple pie

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Ees entertaining himself in the middle of the desert

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Spectaular views and top accommodation at the Sossus Dune Lodge

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Stargazing in some of the world's darkest skies

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The first rays of sun strike the dunes

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Oryx tracks are a reminder of the incredible animals and plants that survive in these extreme desert conditions

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The Go Big Namibia team takes on the highest dune in the world: Big Daddy

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And get to run all the way down...

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900 year old skeletons of camel thorn trees lie frozen in time at the bottom of Big Daddy

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The dry clay that covers the pan not only helps to preserve these old trees but is proof of the river that once ran through the barren desert

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Staff from Sossus Dune Lodge treat us to a feast at the foot of the dunes


Find out more about the #GoBigNamibia tour and start your own adventure

   

Is Deadvlei the 8th Wonder of the World?

  
  

With tree skeletons, hundreds of years old, lost in the middle of the desert, it’s little wonder Deadvlei has been nominated as the 8th Wonder of the World. Click on the image below to vote for Deadvlei and read on to learn more about this natural spectacle.

 

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The Wonder of Deadvlei

Amidst the towering red dunes of the Namib Rand, just outside Sossusvlei, lies the haunting and spectacular Deadvlei. The name Deadvlei means dead marsh (from the English dead and the Afrikaans vlei). What once was a marsh, is now a dried white clay pan, surrounded by some of the highest sand dunes in the world that have literally rusted over thousands of years, giving them their fiery complexion. 

It is believed that the clay pan formed more than a thousand years ago, when the Tsauchab river flooded after heavy rainfall and created shallow pools of water. In these marshes camel thorn trees began to grow. But after around 200 years, the climate changed. Drought struck the area. The sand dunes that encroached the area soon blocked off the Tsaucheb river and any water from the once luscious marsh.

With no water, the trees were unable to survive. But they did not disappear. So harsh was the climate that the trees dried out instead of decomposing, and the desert sun scorched them into blackened bones, never to vanish from the earth.

Now all that remains are 900 year old tree skeletons trapped in a white clay marsh, set against red rusted dunes and a brilliant blue sky. A forest frozen in time.

 

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Help Deadvlei become the 8th Wonder of the World!

To make sure Deadvlei secures the prestigious title of the 8th Wonder of the World, we need as many votes as possible! If you’ve been to Deadvlei, and its left you speechless or just standing in awe at the beauty and strangeness of it, vote for Deadvlei please vote for Deadvlei by clicking onhereVoting is now open, and remember, you can vote everyday, once every 24 hours, until September 30th! 

 

Amniótica - Deadvlei's Winter Dream from Amniótica on Vimeo

 

Visiting the Deadvlei

  • Deadvlei is located near the famous salt pan of Sossusvlei, inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia. View it on Google Maps here

  • The park gate is just past Sesriem, and is open between sunrise and sunset. From here, the 65km drive to Sossusvlei takes about an hour.

  • At the base of Dune 45 - 45km from the gate - there is a small parking area and a dry toilet. Sossusvlei has a larger parking area with more toilets and a picnic area. There is no water here, so bring plenty.

  • The route beyond this parking area (another 4km to Sossusvlei) can only be covered in a 4WD vehicle. Alternatively, there is a 4WD transfer service, or you can walk.

  • The climate here is extreme, even in winter. Visitors should bring at least two litres of water, sunscreen, a sunhat, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirt. Be aware that the sun is also reflected upwards from the sand!

  • Sossusvlei is one of the most visited destinations in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, but visitors can also enjoy hot air balloon rides, quad biking, desert hikes, paragliding and sand boarding. Download our Adventure Travel Planning Guide to find out more!

 

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The tree skeletons pose for the keen photographers

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Tourists from around the world come to witness this natural wonder

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Cracked white clay of the Deadvlei

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Deadvlei with teasing clouds, Photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com

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Deadvlei at Sunset, Photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com

  

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EXTREME NAMIBIA - The World's OLDEST Desert

  
  

In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

"Namib" is the Nama word for "vast" - and this desert, stretching for 1,600km along Namibia's coast, is certainly the embodiment of vastness. The most arid parts of this sandy expanse receive an average of just 2-5mm of rainfall a year, which would manke you think that this is 1,600km of nothing - yet even here, in one of the planet's most extreme wildernesses, life perseveres.

Namib desert from the air

The Struggle for Survival in the Namib

Bizarre plants, innovative insect, and mammals with their own "cooling systems" all manage to eke out an existence in the Namib; read on to find out about some of nature's most extreme adaptations!

Camlthorn trees in Deadvlei

Camelthorn trees are a characteristic sight in the Namib - most notably the fossilized remains of those in Deadvlei, which date back over 900 years, but have not rotted thanks to the extreme dryness. The tree's huge thorns deter overgrazing, and its deep roots can tap water sources located up to 50m underground. Because competition for the water is so tough, they have also developed a way to avoid growing too close together: their seeds, which grow in large, crescent-shaped pods, will only germinate once they have passed through the digestive tract of an animal. The animals then wander and disperse the seeds, far from the source. Clever!

Desert-adapted elephant

Desert-adapted elephants are not a distinct species of elephant, but their behavior is quite unlike that of savannah elephants. They walk up to 60km a day between water sources, and have learned to dig waterholes with their tusks. If this fails, they can go up to four days without drinking. Their home range can be an astonishing 2-3,000 square kilometers, and their feet are wide to facilitate walking across these great distances on the soft desert sand. Desert elephants they walk carefully to avoid knocking down trees, breaking branches or scraping bark - unlike their savannah cousins, which are known for being highly destructive.

A giant welwitschia

A very old welwitschia, standing around the height of a man. Its two leaves have shredded, making it look like there are many more. Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

The welwitschia is one of the world's oldest - and oddest - plants. It is the only species in its family, and throughout its lifetime - which can be up to 1,500 years - it will only grow two leaves, which can each measure up to 4 meters long. The welwitschia only grows in this region of Namibia and Angola, and given the arid nature of the Namib, it is believed to survive on the dew caused by the frequent fog. Welwitschias are truly prehistoric-looking, and are believed to date back to the Jurassic period.

Oryx in the Namib Desert

The oryx, also known as a gemsbok, is a common sight in the Namib desert, thanks to its incredible adaptations to the intense heat and lack of water. The oryx has an effective "cooling system" - blood is pumped through cooler vessels around its nose while it breathes rapidly - which means that while its body temperature can reach over 40 degrees celcius, their brain remains much cooler. The high body temperature means it loses very little water through sweating - which is good news, as they can rarely drink, and have to obtain most of their liquid from food. Additional adaptations include efficient kidneys to produce highly concentrated urine, a white belly to reflect the heat back onto the sand, and the ability to breate up to 210 times a minute - wow!

Namib Desert Facts

  • The Namib, at 55 million years old, is the world's most ancient desert, as well as being one of the driest. Much of it is protected as part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park which covers almost 50,000 square kilometers, making it larger than Switzerland.

  • Rainfall varies from 85mm in the westm to just 2mm in the east - but the area is often covered by a thick fog, which allows plants and animals to survive thanks to the dew it creates.

  • Another souce of water are the rivers. Although the beds seem to be almost always parched, there is permanent waterflow underground which creates linear "oases" on the surface.

  • Watch a fascinating video about some of Namibia's most extreme desert-adapted wildlife - including rolling spiders and invisible snakes - here.

Practical Information 

  • Sossusvlei is one of the most visited destinations in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, but visitors can also enjoy hot air balloon rides, quad biking, desert hikes, paragliding and sand boarding. Download our Adventure Travel Planning Guide to find out more!

  • True adrenaline junkies might prefer something a little more challenging - 100km of Namib Desert is a tortuous race which takes place near Sossusvlei in extreme weather conditions. Alternatively, one of the toughest foot races on earth is the Namib Desert Challenge which covers 228 km of inhospitable, desert terrainover five stages of high-endurance ultra-running. Read more about these events in our Endurance guide.

  • If you want to get up closer to some of the species that have learned to survive in the desert without venturing to the Namib, visit Swakopmund's Living Desert Snake Park - it houses a variety of snakes, scorpions, geckos and monitor lizards with information about each.

  • Spend a thrilling day tracking desert-adapted elephants - contact a Namibia tour operator to plan your tracking experience. You can also find your ideal accommodation near the Namib Desert in our Accommodation Guide.

EXTREME NAMIBIA - The World's HIGHEST Dunes

  
  

Namibia is a country of almost-superlatives. The second-least densely populated country in the world is also one of the newest, and is home to some of: the largest dunes, the darkest skies, the oldest cultures, the biggest conservation areas in Africa, the world's last rhinos and the most complex languages on the planet - to name but a few!

In this weekly blog series we explore some of Namibia's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

Taking on Big Daddy

Sossusvlei is surely Namibia's most iconic landscape. The rust-red dunes, bleached white pans and deep blue sky are instantly recognisable, and symbolise the country's vast, dry, uninhabited expanses. The dunes here are some of the highest in the world, and the tallest in this area - at a whopping 325m (1,066ft) - is the appropriately named Big Daddy.

The more popular - and widely photographed - Dune 45 is just 80m high, but people still like to climb the monster Big Daddy for two main reasons: firstly, because it overlooks the surreal landscape of Dead Vlei, a white pan filled with the dark fossils of camelthorn trees, and secondly because climbing Big Daddy gives you ultimate bragging rights.

Climbing a dune in Sossusvlei

Two adventurers climb a massive dune.

Embarking on your climbing expedition

It's not for the faint-hearted. Climbers need to start early - and round here, early means waking at 4:30am. This allows time to reach the park gate when it opens at sunrise, and then make the 65km drive to Sossusvlei in a 4x4 over the soft sand. An early start also displays the dunes as their most picturesque. The rising sun causes one side to glow a fiery red, while the other is entirely in the shadows. It truly is a paradise for even the most amateur photographer. As the sun soars higher in the sky, the landscape appears to flatten as the shadows disappear.

If the early wake-up call has left you feeling dizzy, ascending Big Daddy's crest will really make your head spin! It takes an average of 50 minutes to reach the first plateau - which rewards adventurers with awesome dune panoramas, a peek down into Dead Vlei, and gorgeous photo opportunities.

Climbing the crest of Big Daddy

Climbers take on Big Daddy

Continuting to the second peak requires stamina, bravery and an extremely large bottle of water. It takes at least another hour with the sun now high in the sky and not a spot of shade in sight! But of course, the views from the top are astounding, and if you reach the summit, you have truly conquered one of nature's harshest giants.

Now comes the reward - running down the soft sand of the slipface. Two hours of endurance to the top - five mintes of sheer pleasure bouncing down to the the bottom! The adrenaline rush will give you enough energy to take a stroll around Dead Vlei for some photos, before a well-earned lunch at a shady picnic spot.

SOssusvlei and Deadvlei, Namibia

Running down Big Daddy (left); Climbing Big Daddy offers an unusual view of Dead Vlei (right)

Sossusvlei Facts

  • Big Daddy is the tallest dune in Sossusvlei but not in the Namib Desert - that honor belongs to the giant 383m Dune 7.

  • In the Nama language, "Sossus" means "a gathering place for water". "Vlei" is Afrikaans for "a shallow lake".

  • The dunes of the Namib were created by sand being carried on the wind from the coast. The wind in Sossusvlei itself blows from all directions meaning the dunes are known as "star" dunes - as they cause the sand to form a star shape with multiple "arms". This wind pattern also means that the dunes hardly move.

  • The sand here is five million years old. It is comprised mostly of tiny grains of coated in a thin layer of iron oxide, giving the Namib its distinctive red color.

Sossusvlei from the air

An aerial view of the dunes at Sossusvlei gives a sense of scale

Practical Information

  • The park gate is just past Sesriem, and is open between sunrise and sunset. From here, the 65km drive to Sossusvlei takes about an hour.

  • At the base of Dune 45 - 45km from the gate - there is a small parking area and a dry toilet. Sossusvlei has a larger parking area with more toilets and a picnic area. There is no water here, so bring plenty.

  • The route beyond this parking area (another 4km to Sossusvlei) can only be covered in a 4WD vehicle. Alernatively, there is a 4WD transfer service, or you can walk.

  • The climate here is extreme, even in winter. Visitors should bring at least two litres of water, sunscreen, a sunhat, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirt. Be aware that the sun is also reflected upwards from the sand!

  • Read a local painter's perspective on Sossusvlei and see a photo gallery of the region.

  • Don't fancy scaling one of the world's highest dunes? Take a look at Gondwana Collection's 360 degree panorama of Sossusvlei instead!

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