Once I knew I was going to Namibia, and had made sure Sossusvlei was concreted on to my list of places to experience, research commenced. My research consisted of the (probably) usual Lonely Planet guide, travel agent advice, maps and copious internet sites. I looked at images, blogs, published stories and photography websites.
Are you going to Sossusvlei? Here are some tips from my experience…
1. Sossusvlei is 60km from the main gate on a tarred road that has a maximum speed limit of 60km/hr. So, unless you want an Oryx as a new fender attachment you’ll need to travel at this speed, especially since it will be pitch black for most of it. That means it will take an hour!
2. To ensure you make it to Sossusvlei just before the sun rises, stay inside the main gate at Sesriem Campsite (you can leave an hour before sunrise from here), or if you have money to burn or really dislike the heat stay inside the secondary gate at Sossus Dune Lodge (which means you can leave earlier again – anyone up for a 4.30am start?).
3. To get to Dune 45 (45km from the gate and walk straight up 150m) and Hiddenvlei (60km from gate and 2km walk in) you can make it in a 2wd. To get to Sossusvlei, 5km from the 2wd carpark you will need to walk, a 4wd or money. It is very sandy. There are 4wd busses that can take you to Sossusvlei from the carpark at Deadvlei for a substantial fee. For Deadvlei, park at Sossusvlei. It is 64km from the gate and 1.1km walk in.
4. The obvious one… Sunrise and sunset are the best times to photograph the dunes because the colours are just so rich. You really do want to be there for those. The desert feels like it is being transformed every morning and evening – it really is incredible to watch. If you are camped outside the main gate (all other accommodation except those in 2) you will only be able to enter the park at sunrise and need to exit by sunset.
Staying inside the main gate, you still need to keep in mind the internal gate only opens an hour before sunrise and closes an hour after sunset. If you are out at Sossusvlei, that is still an hour back to the gate!
5. Shotlist – my recommendations (but definitely not complete – how could it ever be in a place like Namib-Naukluft Park!):
Elim Dune – only 5km from the gate, this is a great sunset dune to explore.
Dune 45 – climb before sunrise for views and sunrise, but be warned there are usually lots of people on this one for sunrise (particularly the overlanders – and yes, that was me once upon a time too!).
Deadvlei – climb the dune to the east of the pan for the sunrise (2.2km return hike) and then scoot down the side into the pan for some shots as the sun starts to hit the opposite dune, trees and finally pan. Late afternoon is also good here.
Hiddenvlei – good afternoon hike (4km return on soft sand), with nice pan and towering dunes, very similar to Deadvlei and with less people. Just be sure to leave enough time to get back to the car and then the gate.
Sossusvlei – you can climb Big Daddy from here (the tallest dune – well, what did you think that name meant?) as well as walk in and around the pan and smaller dunes (this pan is where we saw the most wildlife early in the morning).
Wildlife – from dune bugs (my term) to Oryx you just need to be aware as you will see them everywhere. We saw lizards, beetles, snakes, birds, Spotted Eagle Owl, Ostriches, Oryx, Springbok, Ground Squirrel, Dassie Rat.
Detail – there is amazing detail shots waiting everywhere you look, from sand ripples and animal tracks to mud and bark patterns. If you have trouble finding detail shots you just aren’t looking!
Now, go explore…