The views of the Namib Desert and the parched Deadvlei pan from Big Daddy Dune are breath-taking.  Here's how to make the most of your day in Sossusvlei.


My feet are sunk deep into hot ochre sand.

Behind me is endless chatter. Backpackers, travellers and tourists jostle for space, dig into their backpacks for lunch and extend their best selfie arm.

I’m standing on the narrow ridge at the top of Big Daddy Dune, 325m in the air, with the vast landscape of the Namib Desert rippling and shimmering in the early morning sun.

The sand here originated in the Kalahari. Over the years it was carried out to sea by the Orange River, pushed north by strong currents, and dumped back on land where it forms the iconic Sossusvlei dunes.

Dunes that, still being sculpted by the wind, appear to move throughout the day as shadows distort the contours.

Crisp curves sweep gracefully towards the horizon as I dig out my own lunch and take my own selfie.

It’s a mesmerising scene and one of our top moments in Namibia.

DEAD TREES OF DEADVLEI

From the ridge of Big Daddy Dune, the salt pan of Deadvlei appears almost vertically below. There’s the long way down: to walk back along the ridge; and a fun way: to throw yourself down the almost vertical sand dune.

We go for the fun way.

Stepping off the ridge and down its steep side, my feet sink deep into the sand – the dune’s assurance that I’m not going to topple down head first.

In long careful strides, I start gaining pace sliding down the dune. The curves of Big Daddy appear to rise around me as I quickly descend down the sheer face. It’s almost like flying. The carefree thrill of a young kid surges in me. A whoop of excitement comes from nowhere.

With an abrupt stop, the ride comes to an end. My feet leave behind the cushioned comfort of deep sand for the hard cracked clay of the salt pan.

A river used to flow through Deadvlei and periodically flood the area, keeping the dunes contained to its periphery. Its water once provided life to the camel-thorn trees that now stand as eerie skeletons in the pan.

Etched into the landscape like a surrealist painting, even death is not enough to topple them. Some arc to the side, as if being drawn to the earth in desperate search of water. Others forlornly reach into the air forming black forks against brilliant orange dunes and a bright blue sky.

The soft clay that once lay under the flooded river has baked in the desert sun forming the pan. It is white, bright and blinding; fractured by huge cracks scarring its surface.

It’s an eerie yet beautiful sight.

HIKING TO HIDDENVLEI

Hiddenvlei is another salt pan, more remote and further from the road. Armed with sandwiches and water, we set off into the desert.

It’s approaching midday. The hot sun is a furnace and the wind is firing grains of sand at our faces. A lizard runs for cover under a rock, beetles dig down for protection and a snake slithers under the roots of a tree.

Annoyed with shoes full of sand, we discard them and walk barefoot. Initially, the soft warm sand is a welcome relief, but it soon becomes so hot we scramble to put our shoes back on.

The path is marked with wooden sticks. But each stick, a few hundred meters from the last, blends seamlessly with the dead trees that litter the area. Following the route is a keen test of observation, and one we don’t pass.

But we persist and eventually we find the trail. Our senses adjust and like marker-whisperers, we now seem able to distinguish stick from dead tree effortlessly.

Forty minutes after leaving, Hiddenvlei appears below us. It is not as glorious as Deadvlei. It has fewer trees and the surrounding dunes are not quite as high. But no one is here. Not a voice, not a footstep, not a click, not a ringtone.

BIG DADDY DUNE / THE DETAILS

Big Daddy Dune, Deadvlei and Hiddenvlei are all located at Sossusvlei, in the Namib desert. The desert stretches for more than 2,000 km along the Atlantic Coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Surprisingly this remote area is very easily accessible. A dried riverbed has forged a passage through the dunes, allowing a road to be created deeper than would otherwise be possible.

The entrance to Sossusvlei is in Sesriem and opens at sunrise. Be at the gate just before sunrise for the best light and most comfortable temperatures. There is no advantage in getting there earlier because as soon as the gates open, everyone can drive through. Payment is made when you leave.


Sesriem Gate / sunrise – sunset; Price: R80 per person + N$10 per car

Upon entering immediately head for Big Daddy Dune. It is the finest view and hardest walk, so it’s best to do as early as possible. Access to Big Daddy Dune and Deadvlei is from Deadvlei parking area.

The drive from Sesriem to Sossusvlei parking can be made in any car and takes 1 hour. The road from Sossusvlei parking to Deadvlei parking requires a 4wd. If you don’t have a 4wd or don’t want to attempt the sandy journey, park your car and either use the shuttle service provided or make the 1 hour 30-minute walk.


Sossusvlei – Deadvlei /shuttle service: N$170 per person

The hike up Big Daddy Dune takes about 1 hour and is hard work as you keep slipping back in the sand. It’s easiest to do in bare feet. Allow about 2 to 2 hours 30 minutes to hike up, savour the scene, drop down and explore Deadvlei. Make sure you take plenty of water.

HIDDENVLEI HIKE

The trail to Hiddenvlei starts back at Sossusvlei car park and takes 40 minutes. There is a sign at the car park pointing south to Hiddenvlei, but the path actually leaves at about 25 degree angle to the left of the sign in a south-south-east direction. Download the route on the map below and you won’t get lost. Allow 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete the hike and explore the pan.

Before exiting the park check-out Dune 45 and Sesriem Canyon. Both are worth a short explore. If you are still there near sunset head up to Elim Dune, for easy exit from the park.

MORE READING

For more wild Africa adventure, read about our safari experience at Kruger National Park. All our wild and wonderful articles can be found on our ROAM page. Looking for an African road trip, check out our Moroccan itinerary.

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Our guide to climbing Big Daddy Dune at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. / Namibia sand dunes / #namibia #sossusvlei #deadvlei

Our guide to climbing Big Daddy Dune at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. / Namibia sand dunes / #namibia #sossusvlei #deadvlei

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