Namibia is a country of almost-superlatives. The second-least densely populated country in the world is also one of the newest, and is home to some of: the largest dunes, the darkest skies, the oldest cultures, the biggest conservation areas in Africa, the world’s last rhinos and the most complex languages on the planet. (Thank you Namibia Tourism)
I quickly fell in love with the beauty of this country.
The Namib Desert is a coastal desert situated on the south-western coast of the African continent. It stretches over 1200 miles as it crosses Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. The Namib is considered one of the oldest deserts at the ripe age of 43 million years. The desert is well-protected through the national park system and a portion has been designated as a World Heritage Site.
As a desert, it is a barren with very little rainfall annually but there is an entire ecosystem thriving. It is a rainless area but some water from interior plateau flows into the desert from the distant mountains. In the northern part of the desert, the water will eventually reach the coast. But in the southern region, the streams empty into a mud flat (vlei) between sand dunes. Some water will seep into subterran streambeds for trees to reach.
We headed out of Walvis Bay on a highway and wondered if our rental of a 4×4 truck was a bit unnecessary until the highway and asphalt disappeared less than 5 minutes outside of town. We didn’t see another paved road for days. Luckily the road wasn’t too busy and you could pick the “smoothest” spot in the road- left shoulder, middle, or right shoulder. Somehow E&S both managed to fall asleep in the bumpy truck. A 5 hour drive in the US is quite doable for one driver; but after an hour or so my wrist was numb from holding the steering wheel! A picture was mandatory as we passed the Tropic of Capricorn (more information). The one town we passed was Solitaire (with its token gas station and restaurant). The apple crumble is supposedly quite good but they were out by the time we arrived. We had a couple quick snacks and continued our journey. Little Kulala Lodge was a welcomed site!
Little Kalula Map of the area
As a family, this place will remain as one of our favorites. After 5 hours of rocky dusty terrain, it was an oasis for us. We were met instantly met with a cooling beverage and washcloths (for sand removal from arms and faces). Little Kalula is luxury in the desert located on the Kulala Wilderness Reserve (about 40,000 hectares) that is within the Namib Desert. We were pampered in every way and didn’t want to leave. It may have started with the oryx greeting us by our rooms. We were located close to the park entrances which shortened the driving distances. Our rooms weren’t a typical room but a small thatched building with plunge pool, indoor and outdoor showers, sitting area, bedroom, and a rooftop bed for star gazing.
Everything about Kalula was wonderful. The meals were incredible- overtime we turned around we were being offered food and drink. The staff were professional and attentive. The staff catered to our children with careful attention. One night during dinner, they provided entertainment with Namibian song and dance. The animals were so accomodating to visit the water hole during our meal times! The decor blended perfecting with the surroundings. All of the design and construction was with Namibian sources products.
We had a morning and afternoon activity available led by the ever capable Ben (our guide). There were a multitude of activities: nature drives, quad biking, hiking, hot air ballooning, horse rides.
Dunes are characteristic of this desert and appear in countless postcards. Topping the list of the most beautiful sand dunes in the world (Sand dunes) are the ones in Sossusvlei. Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan and the word roughly translates to dead-end marsh. They embody the vast, dry, barren terrain of the region. The dunes here are some of the highest in the world, and the tallest in this area – 325m (1,066ft) – is appropriately named Big Daddy. Some dunes are as long as 10- 20 miles and reach up to 800 feet. The dunes run north-northwest across the desert. According to some sources, Dune 7 (near Walvis Bay) is slightly higher. We climbed both and found Dune 7 to appear much smaller than Big Daddy.
Luckily Ben had us start early in the morning for Big Daddy. It was a two staged climb. It took about an hour for the first leg and nearly as long for the second portion. The first section was longer but the second was steeper. We were slowed by some ill-tempered children but running and jumping down the dune can be mood changing. The dune was too large for sand boarding but it was a blast jumping, running, foot skiing down.
Big Daddy offers a vista of Dead Vlei, a white pan filled with the dark fossils of camelthorn trees. At one time, millions of years ago, the pan was a lake. Today, it is a parched area the size of a couple football fields. Somehow, trees still remain (although dead for many years). The dunes are called the “sand sea” since they continue into the coast. The dunes continue to shift and evolve with slight changes noted daily. There is no vegetation on the dunes but beetles and lizards live on the dunes. Planet Earth (the TV show) discussed the sand live beetles that live on these dunes and we saw them up close! The edge of the dunes are knifelike and split the dune into halves with differing colors and shadows. Throughout the day, the colors shift from pale pink to deep red to a light brown depending on the location of the sun. The reddish sand-covered dunes were a near constant in our view wherever we journeyed.
Essentially, a sun set scene. For both evenings, Ben would pick a location for a sun-downer. We would pile in the 4×4 and head out. Then Ben would bring out the snacks and beverages (adult and non-adult variety) as we enjoyed the setting sun. Ben always had snacks and beverages. The shadows across the desert would grow and grow as the sun slipped below the horizon. Both locations were equally beautiful. The Namib Desert has a quiet mystical beauty. It doesn’t possess large trees or grasses or herds of animals, but it has a magical quality as it showcases an ecosystem. Wherever you look, the rocky desert floor with an occasional plant tuft flows into a dune or a mountain. It’s a quiet serene beauty that surrounds you.
This canyon has been shaped over millions of years by the Tsauchab River. The river no longer rages through and has only a small showing of water deep in the canyon. Today, the river only returns after a good rainfall in the mountains. This gorge is between 2 – 4 million years old. The canyon reaches depths of 300 meters and extends approx. 1 km in length. We were able to walk into the canyon and through the gorges. We were able to see the various layers of exposed rock and ponder how trees remain alive!
There are times when an experience can never be captured with a camera. The night skies were that incredible. The night sky was so intensely dark and the stars shone with such brilliance that you felt you could pluck one up in your hand. There was no light from roads, towns, or buildings. It was complete darkness. The camp would shut off all lights exterior lights at 10 pm. Falling asleep while stargazing was a beautiful experience; I counted falling stars instead of sheep. I didn’t even attempt to photograph the night sky. Here is a website with some wonderful photos Namibia Night Skies.
ATV or quad biking
We may need to purchase a couple ATVs once we return. They were that much fun. So much fun that we woke up early on our last day to watch the sunrise. S was elated to find out that he was indeed old enough to operate one. For 2 days, his behavior was perfect- he didn’t want to chance the ATV driving. We followed trusty Ben on our adventure. Although we were covered head to tow in sand, all four of us had a blast.
The animals we saw were sparse compared to typical safaris. The fact that any life could live in this barren desert was amazing. Ben patiently taught and re-taught us the prints in the sand for each animal. It was then easy to see the desert coming alive at night once you were able to tell the prints- lizard, snakes, oryx, hyenas all left marks behind. Ben was actually able to track an adder to a small bush by following the previous night traces. Some of the animals we saw: Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, impala, springbok, oryx, ostrich, fox, gecko. With Kenya as our next adventure, we knew that we would see wildlife shortly.
I am pretty lousy at identifying birds- but we saw several different types. The morning fog provides hydration for the smaller animals (insects and lizards). The short-growing plants also extract moisture from the air with the morning fogs.