The incredible sand dunes of the world’s oldest desert

Driving out of the Sperrgebiet, I stopped near Aus at what was described as a Commonwealth Cemetery on a touristic map.

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In fact, it was a normal cemetery, but with a military section with tombs from both sides of the Great War. Many of the victims died in 1918. Since South Africa took over the German colonies in 1916, these young men probably died in the great Spanish Influenza epidemic.

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I drove towards the Sossusvlei National Park. Sossusvlei is one of the most important touristic attraction in Namibia. It is known as the “Gates to the Namibian Desert”. However, it is located in the middle of nowhere and the road there is unpaved. I was quite surprised that I managed to drive hundreds of kilometres without getting a flat tire, a cracked windshield or any other problem.

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As in other parts of Southern Namibia, you can go a while without seeing another human being, but the scenery can be quite spectacular at times.

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After a few hours, I stopped at a place called Helmering. It is hard to describe how small Helmering is. You will have to trust me that apart from a couple of houses, it fits in this picture. There is absolutely no economic or geographic reason for people to live here, except for the road itself. The distances between towns are so great that most ordinary vehicles do not have the autonomy to travel the distance without carrying an external supply of fuel in jerrycans. Therefore, micro-villages like Helmering exist as pit stops along the way. They basically consist of a gas station/mechanic/spare tire store and a general store which can also be a cafe. The volume of traffic is minuscule, but nearly everybody stops for gas and perhaps other supplies. After all, if you drive past Helmering, you have been driving for hours and you will be doing the same afterwards. I stopped at three of these “pit stop villages” in Namibia.

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They say everything is bigger in Texas; but maybe not bird’s nests. Ironically, the birds who make these monsters are quite small.

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A local resident encountered on the way.

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And a strange traveller encountered in the National Park. I had seen him an hour earlier on the road, so I went over to talk to him. Jimbo (I swear that’s what he said his name was) is Japanese. I could immediately tell from his looks that he had not been travelling just for a couple of weeks, but I was not quite prepared for the answer when I asked him. It turns out he had biked from Istanbul to Spain, taken a ferry to Morocco, crossed the Sahara in Mauritania and then made his way to Namibia along the coastline. He had been riding his bike for three and a half years! Quite frankly, this left me a little perplexed. I’m not sure how I feel about such an adventure. Probably a little too hardcore for me.

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A picture shot near the entrance of the National Park, before sunset.

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I left early in the morning to catch the dunes at sunrise, but was delayed a little bit by technical difficulties. It turned out to be a good thing. I wasn’t the first one to climb the dunes, but by the time I was at the summit, most others had gone back down. The dunes are some of the highest in the World and are an absolutely stunning sight. It is believed the sand came from the Kalahari Desert, was blown into the ocean over a hundred million years ago, carried by oceanic currents and eventually thrown back on the coast of Namibia, but don’t quote me on that. The bottom line is that I don’t have anything to say about the place, other than I found it amazingly beautiful. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

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Climbing Dune 45, so romantically named because it stands 45 km from the Park entrance.

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You can clearly see the sand blowing over the dune in this picture.

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It’s hard to convey the size of the dunes in a picture, so I took this shot from the top. Look for people standing at the bottom. Dune 45 is over 170 m tall. Many dunes in the park are much higher, rising above 300 m.

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Steps in the sand don’t last very long here, especially on the windy side.

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There is a man on the crest of this dune, and unbelievably, he is carrying a bicycle. I’m pretty certain it’s Jimbo and I have no idea what he was doing. Some things should remain a mystery.

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The ground almost looks like it was tiled.

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Salt flats.

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The region has wet and dry periods that can last decades. It is hard to imagine, but it once rained for long enough for this tree to grow, and now it stands encased in a sea of salt. Some of these trees are over 500 years old. I was so impressed with the area I considered staying another day. However, I had made an arrangement with a German guy to drive our cars to Swakopmund in a convoy, so one could help the other if a car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Gladly, we did not have to resort to this.

#Namibia

5 thoughts on “The incredible sand dunes of the world’s oldest desert

    • Thanks! My only merit is in waking up early enough to take the shots. It would take an active effort to get bad pictures of Sossusvlei at dawn.

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    • Thanks for the link. I’m glad he got his bike back! Crazy it would happen near Cape Town. He biked through 1000x more dangerous parts of Africa in the previous years.

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