No visit to Namibia is complete without a visit to the dunes and escarpment of the oldest desert in the world – the NAMIB.
Wilderness is privileged to own the Kulala Wilderness Reserve. It is a 27 000 ha reserve featuring a private access gate to Sossusvlei, making Kulala Desert Lodge and the stunning Little Kulala the closest establishments to Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei – without a doubt one of the most renowned landmarks in Namibia.
My journey started in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. The 50-minute flight from Windhoek to Kulala over the escarpment of the Naukluft Mountains was truly breathtaking. At the Geluk airstrip I was met by my guide Markus and given my own Wilderness Safaris water bottle – it even had my name on it! This bottle is used by the guest for their entire stay, to decrease the use of plastic water bottles, thus helping to conserve the environment.
During my preparation for the trip I realised that it would be full moon on my first night, and that the moon would rise from behind the mountains east of Kulala Desert Lodge.
I set up my tripod at sunset waiting for the moon, and was able to capture it rising behind the lodge.
On the first morning we headed out chasing the sun (figuratively speaking) towards Dead Vlei, to experience the sunrise over the dunes in Dead Vlei itself.
Dead Vlei is magical. Approximately 900 years ago, the vlei (marshy area) was cut off from the Tsauchab River by sand dunes. There were large camelthorn acacia trees in the vlei, but after a few hundred years they died because their water supply was cut off. It is so dry the dead trees have never decomposed, and their skeletons remain in Dead Vlei, hidden from the roads, and guarded by the impressive Big Daddy dune.
There is something mystical about Dead Vlei. This was my fourth visit, and yet every time I cross over the crest of the dunes and look down onto Dead Vlei my heart skips a beat. What made this time even more special was finding a brown hyaena track, also heading towards Dead Vlei. Needless to say – this is a photographer’s paradise!
From Dead Vlei we retraced our steps slowly, stopping at numerous places just enjoying the incredible scenery and taking photos along the way.
We also paid a visit to the extraordinary Little Kulala, which is in the process of a major renovation. All I can tell you is that this already iconic camp is going to be even more spectacular!
As the morning was spent in the wonderful Sossusvlei dunes, we decided to hit the contrasting mountains on the afternoon drive. The Kulala Wilderness Reserve has the desert to the west, and the imposing mountains to the east.
The views from the top of the mountains are mind-blowing. What makes the reserve even more special is that it is for the exclusive use of Wilderness Safaris guests, which meant that we were able to explore the mountains in complete solitude.
The cherry on the top was a thunderstorm, complete with a rainbow! What a special scene, to see a rainbow on the edge of a desert! It was good for the soul...
On my second morning we headed to Dune 1 and Elim Dune, where we searched for the smaller wildlife of the dunes. The Namib Desert might be the oldest desert in the world, but it is most certainly still alive! The amount of wildlife that makes a living in these harsh conditions is astounding. Although you don’t always see them, their tracks are scattered all over the dunes!
We spent time with Namibia’s only true endemic bird – the dune Lark. Then Markus pointed out the tracks of Namaqua chameleons and sidewinder adders. We came across shovel-snouted lizards, and even a “home” of the fascinating white lady spider!
Although Sossusvlei is famous for its massive dunes, it is these small creatures that make the dunes “alive”. When visiting the area, it is an absolute must to experience and learn more about the fascinating life of these little creatures!
On my last morning we explored an area close to camp. Our goal was to find a horned adder, and then head back in time for my flight. We found one resting on the rocks after not much searching at all, and even got some nice photos!
On our way back to camp we stumbled across a solitary brown hyaena, the perfect end to three perfect days! They are extremely difficult to locate, and it requires plenty of luck to get a decent sighting. What a privilege to see the secretive brown hyaena in such a stunning location.
Another interesting activity is to make use of an e-fatbike (making riding through sand and up a mountain easy work!) to explore the concession and feel the fresh air.
Unfortunately, the ballooning season was still closed. This must be the most scenic places of all to experience a flight. I have to come back to experience that magic.
I have very fond memories from my previous visits to the Sossusvlei area, but this three-night stay at Kulala Desert Lodge opened my eyes to so much more... Sossusvlei is definitely much more than just the impressive dunes!
Written and Photographed by Anton Kruger
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