Sea of Sand Tour
Bright and early on a February morning set off towards the Namib Desert looking for adventure. The Hilux was fully loaded with 120 litres of diesel in jerry cans, 50 litres of water, and a substantial quantity of Windhoek lager. It gets hot in the Namib, so staying hydrated is critical!
The adventure begins!
Leaving Windhoek via the Kupferberg pass, we headed towards Nauchas and on to the Spreetzhoogte Pass. The Spreezhoogte is known as Namibia’s steepest pass, separating the central plateau from the Namib Desert and coastal plains. The views from the top are magnificent, certainly some of the best in Namibia. And after the excellent rainfall in January, everything was tinged with green.
The pass is paved with interlocking bricks, making it an easy drive, unlike the rough and rugged gravel track that it used to be many years ago. We reminisced on how, decades ago, we had spent 6 hours stuck here in our tiny Bantam bakkie after the CV joint sheared off halfway up the pass. Not a single vehicle passed us in all that time. Eventually, we managed to get the wheel re-attached using a fence pole for leverage and a tent peg to replace the missing bolt. This time, there was no delay, and we were soon enjoying coffee and cake at Tsondab Valley Lodge. This has some of the most stunning desert scenery in all of Namibia, but this is a story for another time.
Rush hour on the Spreethoogte
Views over Tsondab
Sossusvlei with water
The following day we had time for a quick visit to Sossusvlei, which still contained some water. We were pleased to see the number of Namibian’s visiting the vlei; it seems more and more of our countrymen are getting out and exploring their own country. This is undoubtedly one of the positives of Covid – we have become all too used to only meeting foreign tourists on our drives around Namibia.
After some photos and a chat with a lovely family, we were back on the road, making a short stop at Solitaire to refuel. We drove north to Bushman’s Camp / Sossus on Foot. This was the start of our real adventure as we were meeting up with the Namibian Scientific Society members for a five-day trip into the Namib dunes. That evening the group shared a few drinks, and we headed to bed early in anticipation of the following day’s drive.
View over the Kuiseb
Lowering tyre pressure
After leaving camp, we entered the Namib Naukluft Park and later the restricted diamond mining area (Sperrgebiet). These areas require permits and can only be visited when accompanied by guides from one of the two companies which hold concession rights.
Usually, the first day would have been a relatively easy drive along the dry Kuiseb River. However, the river still contained water and more suited to a boat than a convoy of 4x4s. So we headed through the dune fields on the southern bank.
The 4×4 track snaked through beautiful long, green grass and sand dunes. As recommended by Route Africa Expeditions, we were pleased to have attached a seed net to stop grass from entering the radiator grill. We were even more glad we’d taken this precaution when we encountered two burnt-out vehicles. Simon, our guide, was on the radio to explain that some years previously, in another good rainy season, one of the cars had caught fire when seeds had ignited from the heat of the radiator. The other vehicle’s occupants had turned around to help and also caught fire in the long grass. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it was a good reminder of how quickly one’s vehicle can become braai fuel.
Namib sea of grass
Shortly after the burnt-out vehicles, we encountered the first big dune we had to cross. As we were near the back of the convoy, we watched as most vehicles in front of us got stuck 3/4 of the way up the dune. Simon and Rudi (our back up driver and recovery guru) were hard at work, offering encouragement, advice (which was largely ignored) and the occasional helping tow to get the convoy safely over our first major obstacle. Despite Rachael taking a slightly unconventional route through (rather than around) a rather substantial bush, we were soon on the other side with no drama.
Over the next 5-days, this was to become a common occurrence. Simon, Rudi, and the team tirelessly advised, cajoled & frequently dragged scientific society members through 350kms of remarkably sandy terrain. Our Hilux performed admirably, steadfastly refusing to get stuck despite our best attempts. This was not due to superior driving skills, it was simply newer & lighter than most of the other vehicles. The almost instant acceleration from the turbo driven engine and automatic gearbox proved to be a blessing.
Sea of sand
Slightly more challenging 4x4ing
On day three, we (I would like to state it was not me) even managed to conquer a particularly steep dune using the lesser-known ‘let’s do this with the handbrake on’ technique. This earned someone (Rachael) the nickname of ‘handbrake hooligan’ for the remainder of the trip!
The first two nights were wild camping amongst the dunes somewhere around 100kms south of the Gobabeb Research Institute. Both these camps were in stunning locations (is there a location which is not astonishing in this section of the Namib?) Simon’s voice would often come over the radio advising us that we were about to reach ‘the best view in the Namib’. It’s easy to become blasé about the vastness and beauty of these dune fields, but nearly every moment of the five days was breathtakingly beautiful.
Abandonned mining settlement
Peringuey's adder or sidewinder
Nights three and four were at a very rustic camp called Olifantsbad. This meant a little less work for the guides as there were permanent ablutions. I’m told these wooden showers were more than adequate. However, I opted to save water and forgo washing for a few days!
Now that we had negotiated the Namib Dune fields, we headed down to the coast. Visiting abandoned diamond mining villages and Conception Bay. Then a race against the tide along the beach and back to our camp. Giant dunes on our right and fiercely crashing waves on the left – seals and jackals watching as we cruised passed.
The final day saw us head north to Sandwich harbour; now, the dune driving had become almost second nature. And sliding down near-vertical slip faces, which had been terrifying only days before, was done almost without thinking. The rumble of the sand’s friction as our vehicle slid down a slip face, becoming a mere background to the days conversation!
Presentation on the Shawnee shipwreck
The Shawnee shipwreck
Quick visits to the shipwrecks of the Eduard Bolen & Shawnee were followed by reaching Sandwich Harbour. Usually, day trips to Sandwich Harbor are a big adventure through massive dunes. But now, it all seemed effortless in comparison to what had already been conquered.
Heading north from Sandwich toward Walvis Bay, an air of disappointment began to develop as we realised the trip was nearing an end. As we entered the town, a quick reminder over the radio that we must remember to wear our Covid masks marked the end of the most amazing journeys we’ve ever undertaken.
You can find more pictures of the Sea of Sand Tour in our gallery