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The Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert conjures up images of classic desert scenery with huge red dunes covered in wind ripples, a gemsbok against the sun with a feathery acacia tree adjacent to it.
This is some of the most exciting desert scenery in the world!
Sossusvlei lies on the Tsauchab River which flows west into the dune-field of central Namib, and never reaches the ocean. Here you can find flat white pans with green trees, surrounded by spectacular dunes. At the Nara Vlei and Sossusvlei the sand-dunes are the only things separating you from the Atlantic Ocean. Here the pan is dry and the mud cracked in a characteristic ‘crazy-paving’ way. The colour is silvery-white, and mounds of sand that have been collected by nara bushes and camelthorn trees, along with the huge sand-dunes that are up to 300 m high, give it a slightly surreal atmosphere.
Vlei is a term meaning ‘wetlands’, and Sossusvlei is one of the most spectacular examples of a vlei. After a heavy rain, the Sossusvlei remains full of water; flowers such as lilies and devil thorns grow, and birds such as waterbirds and waders arrive. The view reflected in the perfectly flat surface of the lake is unbelievable.
Hidden Vlei and Dead Vlei are wetlands which the river once ran through, and have now dried out due to the change of the course in the river. Most stunning here are the skeletons of trees which are up to 500 years old, and are said to be even more beautiful than the Sossusvlei.
The nearby Sesriem Canyon is 30 m deep, and was carved out of sandstone by the Tsauchab River. It was originally used by the country’s first settlers in to get water, and there are some steps cut into the rock giving an easy path to the bottom. Here there are pools which can be easily reached for a refreshing swim in the heat of day, and 500 m upriver from the steps is a watercourse which is also good to swim in.
Finally, it is possible to take a trip above the desert in a hot air balloon. These run in the early morning and are an unobtrusive way to view the land in the silence of the morning. The only interruption is the sound of the gas in occasional bursts as the balloon is kept in the air. When the balloon lands, a support vehicle which has been following provides a champagne breakfast, which in the stunningly beautiful surroundings is a wonderful end to the journey. This is perfect for landscape photography.
Its best to stay in one of the lodges that have a private entrance to the Sossusvlei where you can depart before dawn and catch the red dawn light across the dunes before masses of tourists arrive from the public entrance gate.