In May this year Helen and I were fortunate enough to travel from Walvis Bay in Namibia to Pretoria in South Africa by Rovos Rail. The train journey took us from Walvis Bay up to Tsumeb and down to Windhoek then onto Keetmanshoop all in Namibia then on through South Africa to Pretoria. Along the way there were several short tours to interesting places such as Etosha National Park, Sossusvlei, the Quiver Tree Forest in Keetmanshoop and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia and the ‘Big Hole” at Kimberley in South Africa.
“The spirit of man is nomad, his blood bedouin, and love is the aboriginal tracker on the faded desert spoor of his lost self; and so I came to live my life not by conscious plan or prearranged design but as someone following the flight of a bird.” ~ Laurens van der Post
The next sequence of images was taken on our trip to Sossusvlei. The Rovos Rail train stopped at Windhoek station. From there we were taken to Eros private airport in Windhoek to fly by Cessna 210 light aircraft to Sossusvlei.
The flight took around a hour and we flew over stark but fascinating scenery. After we arrived at Geluk airstrip we were taken to Sossusvlei Lodge where we spent the next 24 hours. The next image is from our unit looking out towards the Naukluft mountains.
The Naukluft is proper desert environment and was proclaimed as a protected area in 1979. The temperatures are hot during the day and cool at night. It is extremely dry.
“Desert sunsets when the sun and earth always seem larger, wilder, brighter, more demanding and more silent. Somehow more certain.”~ Victoria Erickson
We took a game drive into the desert on the first afternoon. The colours after the sun has set were sublime and got more saturated for about 20 minutes to half an hour after sunset.
Our Rovos group were “up with the sparrows” and after a cup of coffee and a rusk we got on our game vehicles which were going to take us into the park.
Sossusvlei Lodge is located at the Sesriem entrance gate to the Namib Naukluft Park. It was late autumn in Namibia in May so the sunrise was only around 7h15 which is when the Park gate opened. I was shocked to see about a half kilometre long queue of cars, bakkies ( pickups) and game vehicles lined up waiting to get in the park at 7h00.
The desert may offer stark scenery but it also offers some spectacular colouring in early morning and evenings. Having got through the entrance gate this was the scenery on the drive into the park.
“The desert, when the sun comes up. I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.” ~ Tom Hanks
We saw almost no game on the way to Deadvlei with the exception of one lone Gemsbok.
Dune 45 is one of the highest on the way to Sossusvlei and is so named because it is 45 kilometres from the Sesriem gate. The word Sesriem is Afrikaans word for six Gemsbok hide strips. The settlers in the area had to join six animal hide strips to form a rope long enough for a bucket to reach the water in the canyon floor.
The Namib Naukluft Park is huge covering around 50,000 square kilometres. It is roughly 500 kilometres long and 150 kilometres wide. Only a small proportion is accessible by visitors.
Camelthorn trees are dotted around the desert. They usually grow along an underground water system. These trees have an extensive tap root system which is known to reach down as far as 60 metres to find water. These trees have adapted to cope with the extremely hot dry days and bitterly cold nights in winter.
“What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote.” ~ Edward Abbey
The only moisture in the atmosphere in this area of the park is blown in from the sea almost 120 kilometres west of Sossusvlei.
The Namib is considered the oldest desert in the world and has been around for about 55 million years. For most of that time it has been extremely dry, with most of the moisture that keeps flora and fauna alive coming from fog.
“The desert sharpened the sweet ache of his longing, amplified it, gave shape to it in sere geology and clean slant of light.” ~ Jon Krakauer
The red colour of the dunes comes from minute flecks of rust coloured iron oxide mixed in with the silica of the sand.
We eventually reached out destination which was Deadvlei. This is a unique pan in this desert. Its floor is composed of white-greyish clay, its walls are the moving red dunes and this scene is punctuated by its iconic dead Camelthorn tree trunks.
The pan was formed by the seasonal flooding of the Tsauchab River. This provided enough water for Camelthorn trees to grow. However, the climate changed and the sand dunes progressively encroached on the pan and eventually blocked the Tsauchab river from flowing into the pan.
Our guide told us that Deadvlei had not had any rain since 2011. These shallow gullies in the pan floor show the remains of where water used to flow in the pan before the river was blocked off by the moving dunes and the latest period of no rain. In the background is the sand dune called “big daddy” claimed to be the largest in the world. It is interesting how the dunes reflect a different colour of rust-red to ochre and almost orange depending on the direction of the light.
“In the empire of desert, water is the king and shadow is the queen.” ~ Mehmet Murat ildan
The dead Camelthorn trees are estimated to be 900 years old. Under normal circumstances these trees would have decomposed but the exceptionally dry climate has desiccated them.
Deadvlei is a popular tourist site so trying to get images without people in them takes a degree of patience.
After about an hour wandering around Deadvlei the wind started to blow. While this is a dangerous environment for cameras ( fine sand in the working parts) but it also provides some interesting images.
Playing around with the exposure can create some interesting other-worldly looking images.
Deadvlei offers many wonderful photographic opportunities given the contrast between the dark-shaded tree trunks, bleached-white pans, and the red dunes which seem to polarise the blue sky making its colour deeper and more saturated.
“Listen to the silence. It has much to say.” ~ Rumi
Deadvlei is at least a one kilometre walk through thick sand from the parking area. It can get very hot when the wind is not blowing so you need to take water with you. The wind can blow quite hard which will sand blast you and your photographic kit so you need to take protective measures.
After spending a couple of hours at Deadvlei it was time to head back to camp. The wind was blowing and lifting the fine red sand into the air changing the look and feel of the dunes.
At around lunchtime of that day we climbed back onto our Cessna 210 to fly back to Windhoek. The next three images were taken out of the Cessna’s side window.
A dry sand river bed snaking through the desert. Water must have flowed down this sandy bed in the recent past as there were trees on the banks especially at the bends.
From up on high – interesting shapes and colours.
This soujorn to Sossusvlei was just one of four such excursions along our Rovos rail trip from Walvis Bay on the Namibia coast to Pretoria in South Africa. The trip took nine days. The Classic and Edwardian trains travel with beautiful pre-1940 dining cars. It was a romantic journey enabled us to relive the old days of luxury rail travel with five star service. Excellent cusine was served in the charming Victorian atmosphere of the dining cars and complemented by a selection of fine South African wines.
“Travel is more than seeing something new, it is also about leaving something behind, something that is old. Whether that be your past, your misconceptions, your comfort level or your anxieties. The next time you head down a new path, realise that there is no better time to be the new you” ~ Charles Kosman
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike