Namibia offers a lot to the traveller: wildlife and cultural diversity in the country’s north and the iconic dunes to the south. When we had the opportunity to visit a couple of years ago, and with limited time, we chose to focus squarely on the south.
Why the south? We were drawn by the vastness conjured up by the world’s second largest canyon (eclipsed only by the Grand Canyon) and Namibia’s iconic sand dunes and deserts. As it turned out, nature in this corner of the globe offered something truly unique—like nothing else we had seen in other parts Africa, let alone the rest of the world.
What we didn’t realize—in fact, could never realize until we’d experienced it firsthand—was the sheer vastness of the Namibian desert.
Its enormity humbles, placing each of its visitors in his smallness against the power of Mother Nature. In this context, we found ourselves drawn not only to the grandeur and fabulous colours, but also the offer of tiny details—purple flowers blooming in the sand against all odds, lonely colourful lizards skirting along rock faces and defiant trails left in the sand by dung beetles.
The Namibian Desert features beauty in both the micro and the macro: life and movement surfacing on the sand made by the tiny footprints of beetles, and massive dunes being made into broad patterns over years of drifting from the wind.
From the softness of sand-dune sunrises to the celebration of a sundowner, here are a few of our favourite visuals and memories from Southern Namibia,.
When you arrive at Namib-Naukluft National Park and the Sossusvlei Dunes, you might feel as though you’ve been dropped smack in the middle of the world’s largest Technicolor sandbox. These dunes are estimated to be 60¬–80m years old, their fine ruddy-orange sand carried over time from the Kalahari Desert with the aid of winds from the Atlantic.
There exists an undeniable and child-like urge to climb to the top of the dunes when you see them. At Big Daddy Dune, we followed the line of footsteps along the dune’s upper edge, our feet sinking deep into the sand with every step. At the top, we were presented with two options: return the way we came or enjoy a run down the side. We choose the latter, taking giant leaps to “ski” down, knowing that the soft sand would catch us as we lost our footing.
If you wish to feel like a child all over again, this is the place. Not only because you can romp to your heart’s content—but simply for the sheer wonder of it all.
The Sossusvlei Dunes are best seen in the early morning as they change colours from a tinted pink to a bright orange as the sun creeps higher into the sky. There’s a narrow window of time until the angle of the sun and the heat of the desert strip away the coolness and visual crispness of the deep blue sky.
Just next to Big Daddy Dune at Sossusvlei is a scene that looks straight out of a Salvador Dali painting—chalk-white ground, sand-drifted tree skeletons and a rich blue sky. This is the stuff of photographers’ dreams.
The dried acacia trees in this seemingly post-apocalyptic world are estimated at almost 900 years old. This is staggering when you consider how perfectly preserved they are—all thanks to the persistent dry heat of the desert. They also lend perspective by illustrating changes in landscape and contour, for at one point not long ago this was a marshy area whose water came from the nearby Tsauchab River.
It’s hard to imagine this when you look at the surrounding dunes and desert, but the trees stand as proof that it was indeed so—as if Mother Nature wished us to take heed of the impermanence of it all.
The Petrified Dunes of the Namib Desert
Not too far from the sand dunes of Sossusvlei lie the petrified dunes of the Namib Desert, where the desert’s familiar sand has been transformed into solid rock. These petrified dunes are considered the most ancient of all of Namibia’s deserts. With age comes a shift along the colour spectrum to a darker shade of red, particularly when viewed at a distance.
In the desolate climate of the Namib Desert, animals and wildlife have developed ways to survive on limited water and in extreme temperatures. For example, the fleet-footed Oryx can live up to three weeks without water, as its body temperature rises to 45˚C (113˚F)during the day and it stores heat to fend off the desert chill at night. The Namib underlines nature’s ability to adapt and to adjust—even when conditions are virtually unlivable.
Fish River Canyon
At 162km (100mi) long, 27km (17mi) at its widest and 550m(1804ft) at its deepest, Namibia’s Fish River Canyon is considered the second largest canyon in the world (second only to the Grand Canyon in the US). Can it really be that big? Absolutely and incomprehensibly.
The eye plays compression tricks, fooling us into thinking maybe we’re looking at something smaller, less than imposing. Then you see another person in the distance, or an eagle flying overhead to land somewhere far inside—and you realize just how massive the canyon truly is.
When the daylight winds to a close and the cool air of the late afternoon arrives in Namibia, a ritual may be observed across the country’s south—the sundowner. Drive out to an overlook or a high rock—any place that will allow you a vantage point to consider the vastness of the desert landscape. Then wait, with a gin and tonic in one hand and a few bits of biltong (Namibian salted, dried meat) in the other. Absorb and and reflect on the day’s journey and consider all that you’ve taken in, with gratitude.
As the sunset takes over, the colours of the desert landscape turn to deep, bright reds and pinks. It’s just after the sun dips below the horizon that the colours seem the strongest and most vibrant—as if the desert glows brightest for just a few waning minutes at close of day.
And then it’s gone. The desert remains still, coolness comes with the evening and life picks up again in the details as the promise of the following morning’s heat awaits.
The Namibian desert. It seems an apt reminder to appreciate life from moment to moment.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Namibia encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.