Namib Desert & Dead Vlei

Namib Desert & Dead Vlei

Leaving Swakopmund early in the morning we started the long drive south past coastal dunes and across desolate gavel plains dotted with rocky outcrops, before traversing the deep Gaub and Kuiseb passes.

You could sense with every mile we were getting further and further away from civilisation, with only the odd random shack selling mostly food by the side of the road, signposted by what I can only describe as a human doll standing alone by the roadside, the first slightly surreal experience of the day.


We stopped off quickly at the Tropic of Capricorn line for the obligatory photograph (the leaping became a bit of a theme for this trip 🙂 ), before continuing through canyons down to the riverbed at the bottom and then climbing steeply out to the top, where spectacular mountain panoramas were revealed. The scenery changed yet again as we passed dry savannah towards the small outpost of Solitaire.





Solitaire is one of the most surreal places I have ever visited. It stands alone on the edge of the Namib Desert, nothing and nobody for miles around, abandoned cars scattered around this small outpost consisting of just a petrol station, a small store, and one of Namibia’s great institutions for travelers to this region; Moose McGregor’s Desert Bakery.





Moose McGregor is a Namibian legend. He moved to Solitaire over 20 years ago and started his bakery to produce a variety of sweet treats for hungry tourists stopping by to fuel up their vehicles. His secret weapon was his Apple Pie, made from a secret family recipe that had been handed down to him through generations. I have to say, it tasted amazing !


Sadly, I have just discovered that Moose passed away a few months ago. You can read a little more about him on this blog.

Content and full of apple pie, we continued on to our Namib Desert Camp, with just enough time to pitch the tents and climb a nearby hill to watch sunset. It was a wonderful experience seeing the colours of the desert rapidly change as the evening golden light starts to fade behind the mountains. These photos have not had their colour adjusted by the way, this is exactly how it was. Yet another surreal moment of the day, which seem to have quite a few of them, and there was more to come tomorrow…



We rose before dawn the next day and drove deep into the desert to enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park gate at Sesriem before sunrise. This is home to the some of the world’s highest dunes, and we were going to climb one to watch sunrise. The highest dunes reach 300-400 meters, some being named such as “Big Daddy” and “Crazy Dune”.

As I’m sure you know, walking on sand is tiring enough, but actually scaling a sand dune ladened with camera gear took things to a completely different level. We managed to get to the top of a ridge just as the sun was starting to shine across the plains below.




It was yet another wonderful experience to witness. The shifting, contrasting patterns of light and shadow on these dunes was enthralling, and the view from the top was nothing short of spectacular.




We ran down the dune (it’s easier that way), emptied our shoes of half the dune we’d collected around our feet, and headed for Dead Vlei.




Our approach to Dead Vlie was via a 5km walk across the desert and dunes. Here you really were in complete isolation, detached from the outside world and surrounded by spectacular and evocative scenery.





Occasionally the orange sand would be punctured by the bright white of an ancient mineral pan, long since dried up, I don’t believe this region sees any rains at all now.

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We scaled one last sand dune to be confronted by yet another surreal scene that didn’t seem to belong to this world. There in front of us was another white mineral pan, but this time dotted with dead camel thorn trees.


This was Dead Vlei, which means “Dead Marsh”.



The clay pan was formed after heavy rainfall when the Tsauchab river flooded, creating temporary shallow pools where the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. When the climate changed, drought hit the area and sand dunes encroached on the pan, which blocked the river from the area.



The trees subsequently died, as there was no longer was enough water to survive. The remaining skeletons of the trees, which are believed to be about 900 years old, are now black because the intense sun has scorched them.. These trees are not petrified (turned to stone), the wood does not decompose because it is so dry.



This was possibly the highlight of my travels around Namibia. It’s quite a well known location for photography was you can imagine, but we were there in the middle of the day when the light was not exactly best for such things. I tried my best, without any filters that would have added contrast and controlled the light a little better. I would love to return one day better equipped and visit Dead Vlei in the early morning or late afternoon.

Returning to the bus, we quickly visited the nearby Sesriem Canyon, where the rock has been sculpted into amazing shapes by the force of the ephemeral Tsauchab River.



After the experiences of the day the canyon didn’t stand a chance of grabbing my attention so much, and before long we were back at camp, memory cards full from the day, and with a wonderful sunset to conclude the day…


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