Namib Sea Sands: Sossus and other Vlei’s – August 2021

At Sesriem Campsite we decided to adhere to the camp rules that insiders may leave for Sossus (and the other vlei’s) an hour earlier than outsiders. So we had early dinner at the restaurant and called it an early night. Alarm clock set for 6am to pass through the gate at 6:30am. We were warned by family and friends who had been here before that it could be a rush to get to the dunes at sunrise and- in our case- being the slowest, we would be biting every one else’s dust.

We were very pleasantly surprised:

  • Possibly due to covid there were less than 20 campsites occupied, which renounced the whole “rush” thing.

  • When we passed through the park gate we were ‘moedersiel alleen’ on the road (totally alone).

  • It seems that maybe 10 or 20 or more years ago, the road to Sossus and the other vleis (pans) might have been off road dirt roads, which might explain friends telling us it’s one big dust cloud to get to the pans. Luckily now it is a 60km easy-peasy tar road.

At the end of 60km there is a parking lot and only 4×4’s are allowed to continue to Sossus and Dead vlei on their own recognisances. Even though we are 4×4, Trokkie is still built on a truck chassis and kinda looks like a truck and trucks are not allowed further than the parking lot. There is a shuttle service to take you to the end point. Which we did of course. When we arrived at the parking, the landscape was shrouded in fog. When we asked the ranger what kinda weather this was, he assured us it was like this very often but it would clear up later in the day.

The shuttle service first stops at Dead Vlei and the Big Daddy Dune. Seeing we had seen more alluring photos of Dead Vlei than of Sossus Vlei, we were more than happy to make this our first stop. With the intention of wandering and getting lost for hours, we made arrangements with our driver to pick us up about 4hrs later. He was kinda surprised that we would want to wander around for that long. But we stuck to the plan and off we went.

We followed the route marked with white sticks and, as we had seen a number of 4×4’s parked on the far end parking, saw indeed a few parties way far ahead of us. It’s an easy walk up to the vlei and the closer we came, the more intrigued we were. Man… it was amazing! With the morning fog it was even more spooky and eerie, but beautiful! We most probably took a million photos!

The big dune to climb is Big Daddy, but he was totally invisible due to the fog hanging so low over the dunes. It would have been quite futile to try climb Big Daddy and end up seeing nothing. In the few hours we wandered around there, the fog lifted regularly but mostly for just short stints.

When we saw a group climbing the side of the dune up to the crest, we thought… let’s do this and take a chance. The climb up proved however way more taxing than it looked from below. By the time we made it to the top we were buggered and out of breath. And when we looked again… Big Daddy was once more shrouded in the mist. I wish we could have called upon Star Trek’s Captain Kirk’s command :”Scotty, beam me up!” and be beamed to the top of Big Daddy when he was visible!

The views onto Dead Vlei from up there were awe inspiring! 

We decided to give the top of Big Daddy a miss and walked the crest back down. We saw another vlei to the right and veered away from the crest. This vlei was beautiful and seemingly much less trampled by tourists, although there was evidence of lots of buck traffic. A tree in the middle of the vlei showed how high the water potentially could be if serious rain came down. The question would be: how often would that happen? We obviously had chosen a day with some rain and mist, but that would probably not fill up all these vlei’s.

Obviously the vlei’s get their life nurturing moisture from fog blowing in from the ocean some 60 km’s to the west. There was a nice variety of cool and funky plants and shrubs dotting this vlei and from the spoor in the dried clay pan, we could see there must be regular buck traffic. 

At the far end of this particular vlei we saw what looked like a shortcut to Big Daddy’s top and although we weren’t planning to climb the dune, we thought that shortcut might take us to the far end of Dead Vlei on the other side, but it proved to take us just to another small vlei between the dunes: (another ‘putsonderwater’ (holewithoutwater) as lee would say)

We eventually walked back to the parking, where our driver took us to Sossus, which seems the only that has water in it. After Dead Vlei, Sossus was for us quite a dissapointment. Maybe not being here on a brilliant sunny day created the impression, but we were not infatuated with it. On top of that, the weather had turned to more than just morning fog, and it was rainy, windy and miserable.

We partially climbed Big Mama as we wanted to have a glimpse of what was on the other side of the big dune. Seeing that this whole area is called Namib Sand Sea and is declared a World Heritage site, a view of the waves of sand dunes is spectacular. I could very well imagine that flying over this area in a helicopter must be breath taking. (the image from google earth gives you an idea about the dune waves of the sand sea. The red pin indicates where the different vlei’s are and we only walk a fraction off road. The rest of this expanse of dunes and sand waves is untouched.) In our case, we had to do with what we had on this miserable day and we saw only a bit. In the stiff breeze we could see the sand being blown off the top of the dune. I’m always scared of being blown off my feet so we returned to the relative calm of the vlei.

On our way back to the parking, our driver stopped a few times so we could take photos of more red dunes!

When we eventually got back to Trokkie, we were cold, wet and windblown and we warmed up with a well deserved cup of soup. By the time our cup of soup had changed to a cup of coffee, a German family we had just met on the ridge of Big Daddy, arrived back on the parking. We said ‘hi’ again and shared a cup of coffee with them.

After they left, it seemd the weather had slightly cleared. We closed up our home and went for a walk to Hidden Vlei: a 2 km walk over the dunes and cracked, dried salt and clay.

But it was worth it! It was beautiful!

By then the fog had lifted and with dramatic clouds in the brilliant blue sky the white vleis, dead trees stood starkly etched

We slowly walked back to Trokkie surrounded by red dunes and dry caked pans. Although we had been at Hidden vlei for less than an hour, we were quite surprised to see how the wind had almost obliterated our footsteps.

We saw whole ‘highways’ of buck spoor crisscrossing the landscape.

We eventually arrived back at Trokkie and left the Sossus parking lot at about 5:30 pm. We stopped another million times along the way for photos with the stark contrast of sun and shadow side of the dunes. We saw the odd springbok, ostrich and gemsbok rather forlorn in this massive landscape.

We made a compulsory stop at dune 45 (but didn’t climb it!) and also stopped at the Namib Sand Sea world heritage sign.

By then it was nearly closing time of the gates, so we went to camp and called it a day.

Next day we slept a bit later.

Then we cleared up camp and got on the road… a terribly 4,5 km corrugated gravel road to Sesriem Canyon. Seriously shaken and not stirred, we arrived at the canyon.

There was a hell of a wind blowing and looking down into the canyon from the edge above was not an option. We took a walk down and were struck by the dramatic erosion of the rocky walls. The wind carved rock alley leads towards an area where the water doesn’t seem to evaporate of disappear into the soil. The pool reflects the dramatic passages.

We saw some animal spoor in the dust on the rocks and some weird carrot-like plants. Where we eventually had walked as far as where the canyon becomes less dramatic and transforms into a fairly normal riverbed, we were fascinated by the innumerable variety of rocks and pebbles. I was so engrossed in the endless shapes and erosion designs on the pebbles, that I lost the cap of my camera. 

We had to walk back for about 10 minutes before Stefaan spotted it, lying somewhere between the pebbles. Phew! I was lucky! 

We spent about two hours walking through the canyon and then we left towards Windhoek.

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4 thoughts on “Namib Sea Sands: Sossus and other Vlei’s – August 2021”

  1. Hi There, Trokkie need to take you to Joe’s in Windhoek, a place that is worth visiting for the game steaks.

    Amazing pictures and an awesome experience is what you guys are having. Enjoy Namibia.

    1. Thanks Jimny. Yes… we are having a blast. Time for you to retire too: 🙂 We were in Windhoek (story to come soon) when we celebrated our 1st anniversary on the road with Trokkie and yes… we made the compulsory visit to Joe’s… an epic place.

  2. Seriously stunning photographs guys! Loved it that you got there in the mist, a special twist to the usual barren red dunes we usually see pics about! Glad it was quieter for you also. I was there at the beginning of the year and timed it wrong landing up in the midday sun. Felt I should have known better being from the Southern Dunes and all!
    Keep up the adventure!

    1. Thanks Mike. We were totally bowled over by Dead Vlei and Hidden Vlei: just amazingly beautiful in its starkness with the spooky veil of the morning fog. While at Dead Vlei there were still various groups of people wandering around and climbing dunes, at Hidden Vlei we were all alone: solitude at its best!

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