Gate to monumental dunes and spectacular scenery
by Ron Swilling
A wide expanse of yellow-coloured grass tinged with lime extends into sienna desert sand, a stripe of Tsondab River trees and purple black dolorite peaks that stick their heads out of the vista of Namib beauty and gaze around in awe.
The horizon-to-horizon view of unspoilt land, accentuated by sky blue and transforming with the dipping sun, is your striking companion for your stay at Namib Naukluft Lodge.
The 16 rooms and their verandas, the dining-room, outside patio, lounge and pool all face and open onto the magnificent scenery. Constructed with its back against a granite hill, the view from the lodge dominates your time there, whether lounging at the pool or dining outdoors.
Sossusvlei and Dead Pan
Competing for spectacular beauty with this fine view is the dramatic landscape of Sossusvlei. Waking up before first light to reach the Sesriem gates for the 60 km drive through the dune world to the popular pan, is a chance to witness the dazzling colours of the sand mountains as the sun rises and to walk around the pan before the heat of the day reaches its sizzling zenith.
Mind-blowing and stunningly beautiful, Sossusvlei is best appreciated if viewed from above from the adjacent ‘big mama’ dune where rust-coloured sand, the dry bone colour of the pan and the bleached dry grass merge, dotted with the vivid green of camelthorn trees.
This colourful and extraordinary place where the Tsauchab River may end its journey in years of good rainfall, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a time to absorb a beauty far removed from the landscapes of our everyday world.
Breakfast is enjoyed under camelthorn trees before visiting the stark and striking Dead Pan, where skeletons of acacia trees stand firm, weathered by the elements, in a white-encrusted pan surrounded by soft and shiny apricot sand dunes.
The drive back to Sesriem is fringed with sand-dunes, the green line of trees drinking from the underground water of the ephemeral river and the few scattered dead trees embossed with desert texture and polished by time. Before returning to the lodge, a walk through the narrow Sesriem Canyon reveals the power of the river as it surged down in flash-flood, and the pace of eternity as it slowly carved out the canyon walls over millions of years.
After lunch at the lodge, the afternoon is enjoyed at the attractive pool area, reading, lazing or absorbing the panorama. A sundowner session at Marble Mountain provides another opportunity to enjoy the vistas while sipping on champagne, poised on white marbled rocks.
In the evening, supper is served on the patio, at the boma nestled between granite boulders where a barbecue meal sizzles on the fire, or in front of the lodge for a potjiekos (pot food) meal cooked in large cast-iron pots. The stars shine with a clarity visible only far from civilisation and the sound of barking geckos rings through the velvet night.
For the guests on the 2-day Sossusvlei Shuttle Tour organised by African Extravaganza, incorporating a round trip from Windhoek or Swakopmund, full board at the lodge, the Sossusvlei excursion and Marble Mountain sundowners, a good sound sleep and refreshing breakfast end the worthwhile trip.
For those self-drivers and tour groups who can linger longer, a range of activities is still available. A 3.2 km (1–2 hour) zebra trail crosses fresh Hartmann’s mountain zebra tracks and follows a circular track through rocky hills to a viewpoint.
The mountainous terrain is decorated with commiphora trees, Bushman’s-candle bushes and supple moringa trees that cling to rocks or emerge from the long grass. Klipspringer may watch from the top ridges or an owl may fly past in soft-feathered dusky flight, and it is easy to entertain the possibility that a leopard may be watching you from a craggy ridge.
Silence, wind or birdsong may play wilderness tunes to accompany you in this unblemished place that you have all to yourself. Two shorter trails skirt the granite hills next to the lodge, the one leading to a bird hide and small waterhole where on certain mornings of the year flocks of Namaqua sandgrouse gather after their long flights through the desert. A short clamber up the granite hill directly behind the lodge takes you to a perfect spot to view the sun setting, the vast golden landscape and distant fossilised dunes.
Nine-hole desert golf provides an extra activity for golfing fans, with clubs and balls available at reception. The holes have been replaced with stones to chip against, to avoid balls disappearing into holes extended by the industrious ground squirrels. An eight-site campsite (with five tent sites each) and dome tents lie behind the lodge, and a choice of settings provide magical venues for weddings and functions.
An added treat at the lodge is to drink its very own Marble Mountain water bottled on site.
Karakul wool wall hangings, Mitchinson prints and a huge sociable weaver nest hanging in the central area, add touches of Namibian culture, craft and fauna. While you are sipping a beer on the patio in the late afternoon, a few springbok blend into the long grass of a good rainy season, ground squirrels dig in the sand and a passing cheetah may quietly pad past if luck, fortune and opportune moments converge.
With friendly staff and a choice of family, double or single rooms, time spent at Namib Naukluft Lodge is extremely comfortable and relaxing, punctuated by the exceptional Namib scenery.
African Extravaganza also offers a shuttle service to their camps in the Sossusvlei area.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘08/Jan ‘09 edition of Travel News Namibia.