• Britt Berning

The ancient dunes of Sossusvlei

The southern African country Namibia takes its name from the Namib Desert, which spans the Southern half of the country. The Namib-Naukluft National Park in the Namib Desert, which is the largest conservation area in Africa, is home to the astonishing Sossusvlei dunes.

At over 5 million years old, the sand dunes of Sossusvlei are the most ancient in the world. The age of a dune is determined by its colour. Older dunes have a deep rust colour due to the accumulation of iron, and thus, a greater extent of oxidation. The red sand that composes the dunes is carried from the Orange River, on the Namibian-South African border, and deposited in the Atlantic Ocean. This sand is picked up by the Benguela current, carried north and eventually deposited on the shore. The wind then carries the sand inland to form the characteristic dunes.

The Sossusvlei dunes are considered some of the tallest in the world, most towering over 200m, with the tallest reaching an impressive 388m. If you hike across the desert, you will reach the aptly named Big Daddy, one of the taller dunes at 325m. If you have the strength to scale Big Daddy you will be rewarded with a prime view of another stunning site to behold – Deadvlei. Meaning dead-end marsh, Deadvlei is a cracked clay pan that sparkles white due to its salt content. Here the ephemeral Tschaub river is encircled by dunes and reaches a dead end some 60km from the coastline. However, the Namib desert receives so little rainfall that the pan remains bone dry most of the time. Deadvlei is pierced by the stark black skeletons of acacia trees that began to petrify over 700 hundred years ago. The severe lack of moisture in the desert has prevented these trees from decaying over time.

Camping or staying at a lodge inside the park allows you to hike the popular Dune 45 to watch the dunes change colour from rust to apricot to purple as the sun rises. If you don’t like the adventure of climbing sand dunes in the cold and dark, there is also the option of a scenic hot air balloon ride. Pair a trip to Namib-Naukluft National Park with a visit to the Skeleton Coast, where the dunes run into the Atlantic Ocean. This coast is permanently shrouded in mist due to the dry, warm desert air colliding with the cold Benguela current, and thus the Skeleton Coast is littered with shipwrecks and big bleached skeletons of beached whales. For the more adventurous, you can experience the dunes in a different way by partaking in sand boarding, quad biking, and skydiving in the town of Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast.

I fell in love with Namibia while travelling with the fantastic Wild Dog Safaris on their 10 Day Namibian Explorer camping tour. The Sossusvlei dunes are only the beginning of the beautiful and unique sites to see in this country.

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