Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Day 11: Sossusvlei Sand Dunes

Everyone who visits Namibia kinda has to visit the sand dunes at Sossusvlei. Why? Well for one they are huge but for me it’s more that they are part of the third largest national park in the world while also being in the driest country in the world. And after driving 1,600 kms on gravel and dirt roads through Namibia, I can attest to that last statement. It is typically as dry as you can get although, if you take the time to stop and look, even the driest parts have some kind of life that most might pass by.

What tourists typically do is stay at Sesriem, either at the one lodge in the national park or at any of the 20+ lodges dotted round the area near the park entrance. Then they all congregate at the main gate by 7am and tear 60kms on one of the only sealed roads in the country to Sossusvlei, a sort of sand pit with three trees for shade and several semi-tame(!?) jackals looking for scraps among the parked 2WD cars. You can get a lift in one of the park operated 4WD vehicles a few kms down the track to the 4WD car park from where you set out to walk to Dead Vlei

A rather ambitious panorama of Dead Vlei, taken in the heat of the day - I think it was 40 degrees plus. Insanely hot and no shade at all. Panoramas a re great for capturing BIG scenes. In this example the panorama doesn't work so well - the stitching process leaves tonal differences between the frames that show up in some viewing conditions. I'll wait till I get back to Sydney to fix it.

It’s a couple of kilometres of flogging through soft sand, up a rise then down into this ancient pan roughly the size of Wembley Stadium. When we were there it even came with half a dozen Glasgow Rangers fans (i.e. Scottish backpackers), eagerly staggering through the shifting sands with bare chests and feet in the 35+ degree heat. I expect they’ll be testing their medical insurance to the limit once they are medi-vacced off the dunes with heat stroke.

Originally the vlei was part of a river system but the river was somehow diverted back in the mists of time, leaving a small forest of acacia trees to die in the dryness. Because this is one of the driest places on earth, the trees have been preserved, desiccated. They are several centuries old but appear as if they died only one hundred years ago. It’s worth the flog if you can get there before the day gets too hot (i.e. before nine) but I certainly don’t recommend rushing through the park to climb to the top of the dunes for sunrise. Firstly because this is a tough climb on soft sand in extreme heat but also because some of the best dune views can be had between kilometre 36 and 45, 20 kms before you get to Dead Vlei. We spent a happy hour or two shooting these massive dunes as the light got stronger and the desperate traffic rushed past to get to the vlei on time for sunrise.

It's clear in this shot how steep and tiring it is to climb a sand dune of this size.
The footprints peter out very close tot he base of the dune!

Namib Naukluft national Park dunes. Single frame RAW HDR.

Park facts: Some information suggests you need to go to the park the night before to get your ticket/permit in advance to make the park entry the next day faster. We just turned up at 7am and drove into the park unhindered – and bought the permit (N$10 for the car, N$80 per person) on the way out.

Dead Vlei. One thing that annoyed us was that, even here, in the stillness of the desert heat, 60kms from the nearest habitation, all we could hear was the babbling of a few tourists more than a kilometre away on the other side of the pan. Some people can communicate in a near whisper but these folk might just as well have been using megaphones, it was so loud.

Another classic dune shot form the road leading into the park (Pic by Nat). Single frame HDR.

Sublime colours are a strong feature of the Namibian desert best captured before the sun gets to high in the sky. HDR off of one RAW file (pic by Nat).

Hard shadows and cracked earth are the hallmarks of the entire country away from the Caprivi Strip. Namibia is the driest nation on the planet.

Another dune view from the 40km marker - for us the best dune views were well before we reached the more famous icon on Dead Vlei

I'm a great believer in changing the regular point of view - we almost always shoot from the shoulder so one shot often looks like all the others - more or less. Lie in the sand in front of a tuft of grass and you get a totally different perspective on the same scene
(please check for scorpions, puff adders and spikes before you do this!).

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