The immediate reaction on arriving at the foot of these immense orange dunes, is a sense of awe, and yet also of familiarity. Dune 45, Big Daddy and Big Mama along with the desolation of Deadvlei and the remnants of ancient dead acacias must be some of the most photographed desert scenes.
The scale and sinuous form are extraordinary, the geometry sensuous. Here multi-directional wind lifts up the dune skirts forming star shapes with three or more arms extending from their peaks. Eastwards a transverse dune belt lies sculpted by southerly winds in summer and firmly packed by the easterlies in winter into linear shapes. Further north the barchans / crescentic dunes lie perpendicular to the strong southerlies and are pushed like waves northwards towards the Kuiseb River where the encroaching sand is halted and stopped from spreading onto the gravel plains that spread northwards to the Swakop River.
This arid desert biome supports a surprising population of adapted fauna and flora. An average of less than 50mm of rain falls in a year, but precipitation is supplemented by coastal fog – a crucial source of water for many plants and animals.
The cool air and golden light of dawn envelopes the landscape as we drive to Sesriem, gateway to Sossusvlei and those famous majestic orange sand dunes. The hour’s road trip was a precursor to the adventure which lay ahead. Deep sandy valleys opened up and the sight of colourful hot-air balloons floating through the soft pastels of the early morning added to the hue. Animals rouse and our first sightings are of these elegant desert antelope, the gemsbok (Oryx gazella). A family group pad down a dune while one lone animal waits ahead for the last to catch up and we witness their gentle greeting. A touching of noses, deep eye contact – they slip into step and side by side they carry on. To capture this fleeting moment adds to the memorable events of the day.
For more information on the oryx, a superbly desert adapted antelope species, i’ve added a link here.
It’s a harsh place this Namib desert. Sandstorms obliterate, wind forever sculpts the sea of sand pushing it northwards. Referred to as world’s oldest desert some of the highest wind speeds are recorded in the south, particularly in the Sperrgebiet. The dunes march across the landscape forming linear or star shapes or the classical barchan, depending on the wind direction and how it funnels through the valleys.
Kolmanskop is a deserted mining village near the harbour town of Luderitz. The last inhabitant left in 1956 and the village stands ghostly and abandoned as the sand reclaims the desolate buildings.
Another abandoned building in the middle of nowhere; like a stage setting for lost dreams and hopes, one can’t help wondering what happened to the inhabitants.
Things can get a bit surreal in the desert where heat does strange things to the horizon. As the road snaked along into the distance the shimmer of water appeared and objects elongated and floated weirdly into the sky. A band of small people appeared to be scurrying along, stopping to check the surroundings and then bounding off. Imagine our surprise as we got closer to discover a clan of suricates (Suricata suricatta) or meerkat instead of the illusion of giants striding across the sands. Living in burrows they are well adapted to coping with the desert heat and a network of underground living quarters has many different entrances. Pouff! And they vanished just as strangely as they had materialised out of the mirage. As we travelled the land caught us in it’s spell of wonder. Next up is Sossusvlei and those awesome orange sand dunes.