The unrivalled Sossusvlei amidst the Namib Sand-Sea

Gemsbok at Sossusvlei. Photo: Frank Steffen

The unrivalled Sossusvlei amidst the Namib Sand-Sea

09 September 2019 | Tourism

The Sesriem Canyon and Sossusvlei Lodge belong together like bread and butter. In order to understand these two environmental marvels found in the area of the so-called “Namib Sand-Sea” - a UNSCO heritage site - you need to visit both. Neither of these would exist, if it was not for the Tsauchab River, an ephemeral stream which originates from deep within the Naukluft Mountains.

Frank Steffen

The Tsauchab is not particularly long (little more than a 100 kilometres in length), but it takes water to the Sesriem Canyon, which it has shaped over millions of years and from there flows onwards to the Sossusvlei - depending on the amount of rain in its immediate catchment or the overflow of water running down from the Naukluft Mountain range. Flash floods have been known to turn the Tsauchab into a strong river within a very short time.

It is assumed that the Sesriem Canyon has been shaped by the Tsauchab over a period of around two million years. Water has steadily eroded the sedimentary rock and has thus created a little environmental master piece. The canyon is rather short, spanning a little more than a kilometre and is at most 30 metres deep. Hence its name, which was derived from a time when the local folk had to tie six lengths of rawhide thongs (riem) together in order to draw water from the pools below.

But what the canyon lacks in size, it makes up by majestic appearance. Temperatures in summer can rise beyond 40° Celsius (with winter months also remaining hot), so it is best to visit it in the early morning or late afternoon - and during rainy season, you might have to swim through ponds, when trying to enter the deep recesses. During the dry season the canyon more often than not serves as emergency water hole to Oryx, Springbok, Ostrich and other desert game, which miraculously survives in this harsh environment.

Close to Sesriem there is a myriad of Lodges and camp sites ranging from budget-type accommodation to luxury of the highest order. While only having a limited number of camp sites at the entrance leading to Sossusvlei, the benefit of camping on sites such as the NWR Sesriem Camp is, that you can leave for Sossusvlei in the early morning hours - quite apart from the fact that it is a magic experience, with many a Gemsbok passing through the camp at night. Remember that access to Sossusvlei is regulated and you are not allowed to overnight at the Vlei.

Sossusvlei is a salt- and clay pan, situated on the spot where the Tsauchab is brought to a sudden halt as it runs against the dunes of the Namib Desert. Appropriately the word “Sossus“ in the Nama-vernacular refers to a dead end. This is part of the dune belt between the Koichab River in the south and the Kuiseb River dissecting the Namib as it runs towards Walvis Bay. This part of the Namib comprises of some of the oldest and highest dunes of the world with the red shade being caused by the oxidation process brought about by the high iron content.

Climbing the dune encircling the Sossusvlei, or for that matter any of the dunes along the way (notably Dune 45) is as physically challenging as it is rewarding, while allowing for plenty of photo opportunities thus creating lasting memories.

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