The country only celebrates its 20th anniversary of independence on 21 March this year, but as Intrepid’s Gill Leaning discovered, Namibia is an ancient land of dramatic deserts and stunning landscapes…
“Golden quiver trees burst proudly out of the dusty ground, reminding the clumps of dry grass and black skeletal tree frames surrounding them that it is possible to thrive in this harsh environment. Sociable Weaver nests weigh heavily on the branches of camel-thorn trees like giant haystacks hanging out to dry in the midday sun. Ostrich show off their impressive plumage as they parade along the roadside, whilst agile Springbok skip lightly across the road in front of us.
This isn’t my first time in Namibia. Well, not technically anyway. I once crossed the border on my way to Victoria Falls and promised myself that I’d make time to come back and explore the incredible contrasting landscapes of this unique country. As I catch my first glimpse of sand dunes shimmering pink in the distance, I wonder what’s taken me so long.
We’re travelling through one of the least densely populated areas of Namibia, and for a country with only 2.4 people per sq km, that’s saying something. I feel so off the beaten track I’m starting to wonder if this track was built just for our journey. A petrol station looms into view as if to suggest that we’re not the only people ever to travel this road, but as the only other customer is a cow who looks in no hurry to re-fuel, I can’t be too sure.
Our group is heading towards the Namib-Naukluft Park, one of the largest national parks in Africa, covering much of the central Namib Desert. This vast 50,000 km wilderness contains the Welwitschia Trail, Sandwich Harbour, the Naukluft Mountains, Kuiseb Canyon and Sossusvlei – home to some of the tallest sand dunes on earth and the reason for our journey. As we near the park gate at Sesriem, the excitement is rising at the same rate as the mercury. The distant orange glow of the dunes has been teasing us for the last hour, and we can’t wait to explore the iconic landscape.
As we enter the park it’s hard to understand why the Nama people called this area ‘gathering place of water’. It looks as though the parched land hasn’t seen a drop for the last hundred years, let alone been the location of a ‘gathering’. But in fact Sossusvlei is actually a clay pan set amid the impressive towering dunes. The white ground which contrasts starkly with the ever-changing hues of the sand is the endpoint of the Tsauchab River, and around once every 10 years the rainfall is sufficient to flood the pan. If this landscape wasn’t already in every travel photographer’s top 10, the refection of 200-300m high dunes mirrored in the floodwaters has got to swing it.
As the sun lowers in the afternoon sky, shadows plunge one side of the dunes into darkness, creating a magnificent desertscape which is as dramatic as it is vast. There’s no doubt that this is some of the most incredible scenery on our planet, and as we make our way back to Sesriem past the snaking dunes and lifeless black tree silhouettes, I’m thrilled I was able to keep my promise to return to Namibia.”
* photo by David Williams – Intrepid Photography Competition