After our time in South Africa had come to an end after 3 weeks, we continued our journey to the next country in Africa we planned to explore, Namibia. We spent our last night in South Africa in Joburg (what Johannesburg is called by its inhabitants), in the rather nice student quarter Braamfontein, where we had booked a room in the poshtel “Once in Joburg”. Poshtel is a blending of posh and hostel – so “Once” is an economical accommodation opportunity for people who don’t want to spend big money but still enjoy a little luxury. The next morning, we enjoyed our free breakfast, headed towards the airport, returned our car and were more than ready to go to Namibia – and start the camping part of our world tour. The guesthouses in South Africa were all very nice and we loved the hosts, but nothing is comparable to camping. Being out in the nature … eat, sleep, wake up, shower … all outside is just priceless.
Unfortunately, our enthusiasm quickly disappeared after arriving at the luggage belt in Windhoek, where we determined that Bianca’s bag is obviously not a real travel lover as we are and had, therefore, refused to go on the plane in Joburg. After we had registered the loss, we continued our journey to our guest house for the night, frustrated and a little bit crumpy but full of hope that the bag will eventually arrive. The next morning, we picked up our car and learnt everything about setting up a roof tent for the nightly beauty sleep as well as the proper use of a powerful 4 WD Toyota Hilux and its fancy properties. After that, we went back to the airport where we learnt the bag had not been located yet. So, we had to do what Bianca absolutely completely hates to the moon and back … go shopping when she is in need of something. Bianca is a real shopping queen and she spends a lot of time and money on it, but never (and really never) spends time and money on buying things she needs. She is freezing in the winter because she doesn’t have proper boots and a jacket, if you tell her to buy one she will hate you. In her opinion, shopping for things you need can only be a disappointing waste of time because you will never end up finding what you look for. So, yes, we spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Grove Mall in Windhoek and Bianca bought all necessities for the vacation in Namibia – just in case the bag had turned out to really be lost. After an extra night in Windhoek, we drove to our first stop in Namibia, Sesriem. We had just started our 5-hour drive when Julius from the airport called telling us he had just dropped off the bag at our campsite in Sesriem. Life was great again and Bianca’s happiness and motivation was back from one second to the other.
The drive from Windhoek to Sesriem is only about 280 kilometers long (174 miles) but takes around 5 hours because most of the way is not paved but just gravel road (in different conditions – from almost no gravel-gravelroad to the super stony-bumpy gravelroad full of big pieces of rock – almost like boulders). There are really good parts but some are really tough to drive and very bumpy. However, bumpy or not, brain concussion or not, the view is getting better with every kilometer you leave behind. The coolest thing about this drive is that you barely pass any cars or villages and you see no people.
Although Namibia is a very large country (more precisely it is the 34th largest country in the world after Venezuela, alright that does not really help with imagination of its size – it is 10 times larger than Austria and more than double the size of Germany), it is scarcely populated. It has only 2.2 million inhabitants, one reason being that large parts of the country are being covered by desert. It is home to the Namib desert, where it also got its name from. Apart from that, the famous Kalahari Desert (which is technically not only a desert but features a variety of landscapes) partly spreads over Namibia (as well as South Africa and Botswana). Namibia is one of the most diverse countries we have visited so far. It features two deserts (Namib and Kalahari), an endless coast (Skeleton Coast) and an enormous wildlife park (Etosha National Park). Namibia has a strong German influence (due to historic German occupation), German is widely spoken and every year an Oktoberfest takes place in Windhoek.
After a very nice five hour drive deep into the desert of Namibia, we reached our campsite, about 30 kilometers away from Sesriem, the center of Namib-Naukluft National Park.
Sesriem, Dune 45 & Dead Vlei
We decided to spent one day in the area around Sesriem. We had our campsite about 45 minutes away and were really happy about it because we had a wonderful site in the middle of nowhere with a stunning view on the surrounding mountains and dunes. However, we did not get to enjoy Sossusvlei at sunrise because only campers who stay at one of the two campsites inside the park are allowed to drive to Sossusvlei one hour before sunrise. For all other visitors, the gate is open from sunrise to sunset.
In order to get to the famous dunes and Dead Vlei, you have to go the town Sesriem first. There, you will find the entrance to the part of Namib-Naukluft National Park where many dunes are located and where also the famous Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei are located. These are basically white clay / salt pans in the middle of the desert where the dry, black trees grow that are usually always shown on pictures of Namibia.
We started our tour at our campsite at 6:00 AM. With a few sunrise picture stops, we reached Sesriem at around 7:00 AM. We grabbed a quick coffee at the gas station that also sells groceries, postcards, stamps and little snacks. There is no other grocery store in or around Sesriem, so the gas station is the place to go. Then we entered the National Park, the entrance fee is 80 Rand (5 EUR) / person + 10 Rand (0,60 EUR) / car. At the park entrance you also get a map that illustrates the park and therefore, all points worth visiting. Sossusvlei / Dead Vlei is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the gate and the way there is very spectacular and full of wonderful spots. The last four kilometers are only allowed to be passed with 4×4 cars because the street consists of pure sand, if you don’t have one, you have to park at the 2 WD-parking and take a shuttle to the end.
We first stopped at a viewpoint where you get to enjoy a wonderful panoramic view on the massive dunes of the park. The next stop was famous Dune 45, with a little bit over 300 meters (980 ft) the highest in the park. We looked up, looked at each other, took off our shoes and started the ascend. Already after the first few steps we had found out that hiking a dune is just as exhausting and also frustrating as hiking up a volcano. One step forward, two steps back, … but once you have reached the top, it is just as rewarding as hiking up a volcano. The view is so much better than at any viewpoint. At the top, we sat down in the warm sand and just enjoyed the view for a view minutes. Going back down is also the same cool shit as going down a volcano. We just slid down the sandy mountain and reached the bottom after only 30 seconds. The dune is surrounded by some of the dry trees as often found on postcards and pictures of Namibia.
Sossusvlei / Dead Vlei
After our little morning wake-up hike, we drove to the 2-WD parking, where we had to deflate our tires from 200 to 102 Bar as we had learnt it the day before, so we could successfully make it through the sand and until the end of the road. Tom loved the self-drive on the sand, Bianca loved it as well and was happy she did not have to drive. We enjoyed it a lot, it was partly smooth and partly very bumpy but it was a real adventure. After we had reached the parking, we prepared our breakfast cereal bowl and enjoyed it with the wonderful view on the dunes. Dead Vlei can be reached from the parking lot in about 15 – 20 minutes. You can only walk there and the walk is rather easy, what makes it hard it the burning hot sun and the sand that is exhausting to moving forward in. The view you get to enjoy at the end of the way is unimaginable. We have seen many pictures and thought we knew exactly what to expect but it was completely different – it was so stunning that no picture can really express or show what it actually looks like – our pictures, of course, being the ones coming most closely. We walked for about 30 minutes on the white sandy plateau through the black trees in the middle of the orange desert surrounded by dunes. It was burning hot and we could still not get enough of the wonderful view and the calm atmosphere.
After our visit to Dead Vlei, we went back to the 2 WD-parking, put on the compressor who did the work for us and filled up the tires to 200 Bar again. We drove back to our campsite and enjoyed a nice self-cooked dinner under a heaven full of a million shining stars.
What else is there
We visited Dune 45 and Sossusvlei / Dead Vlei, which was, regarding the hot weather, enough for one day. We did not rush through and really enjoyed all points we visited to the fullest. If you stay closer to the park and don’t have to drive very far, you can spend more time in the park and also consider visiting Sesriem Canyon, Elim Dune and Hidden Vlei.
Our Top Travel Hacks for Sossusvlei
- Book early if you want to stay inside the park – in high season (August – October and March – May) campsites and rooms can be booked our at least half a year in advance. The advantage is that you get to enjoy Sossusvlei in the early morning, where the light is the best and there are not so many people around.
- If you camp, you should bring groceries to Sesriem. There is no supermarket and the only place that sells basic stuff is the gas station right next to the park entrance.
- Rent a 4×4 – don’t save at the wrong spot. Renting a 4 WD is more expensive than a 2 WD but, as you can get them with comfortable and spacious roof tents, this is really something you should consider. The self-drive experience is unbeatable and getting to Sesriem is already an adventure without a 4 WD as most of the way from both sides (Windhoek and Swakopmund) is unpaved and very pebbly.
- If you don’t stay inside the park, go as early as possible as the light in the morning is much nicer than at noon or in the afternoon and also the temperatures are more descent in the morning.
- Take off your shoes and leave them in the car when hiking up Dune 45 in the morning – it is much more comfortable and the sand is not hot.
- Don’t forget: a hat/baseball cap, sunglasses, sunscreen and your camera
Our overnight stay
As we booked rather late, we could not get a camping spot at one of the two campsites inside the park, Sesriem Camp Site and Sossus Dune Lodge. As mentioned before, only if you stay at one of these two properties, you are allowed to head towards Sossusvlei for sunrise. We did not and we do not regret it. We stayed at “A little Sossus Campsite”, which also features a lodge at the other side of the street. The campsite is pretty luxurious considering the fact that it offers a pool (very small and ice-cold but still it got a pool). What makes it most luxurious though is the fact that every campsite has its own shower, sink and little kitchen area (with a sink and a space for the gas cooker). We, mistakenly, went to the lodge first because we thought it was the campsite. We were welcomed very friendly by the receptionist who offered us a free frozen towel to cool down and a refreshing cocktail. When he found out we had booked the campsite only, it was too late, he saw our delightment and the happiness in our eyes, so he did not charge us for the welcome drink.
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