After getting up at 5am for a quick shower, we headed back to Sossusvlei Lodge at 5:30am for breakfast. Despite the early hour the lodge was busy with other guests also fuelling up for a day in the park.
Jordan chatted to some other Americans who were also visiting Namibia. One of them asked him if it was his first trip to Africa and got a bit of a surprise when he said he had actually visited all of them!
We went to join the queue of vehicles at about 6:15am, ready to enter the park when the main gates opened at 6:30am. One of the Park Rangers went down the line taking everyones details so that they could pay for their entrance when they left the park, rather than hold up everyone when they entered. He checked our permit we had gotten back in Windhoek and said we were good to go.
Right on 6:30am they opened the gates and we followed the big queue of vehicles into the park.
Three hot air balloons in the distance. We had looked at taking a dawn balloon ride over Sossusvlei, at $N5950 ($461) per person. After seeing both Sossusvlei balloon and helicopter video's online though, we opted for a 90 minute helicopter flight later in the day instead.
Continuing our drive to Sossuvlei. The drive from the park entrance at Sesriem to Sossusvlei was 67 kilometres.
A couple making a lone ascent of one of the massive sand dunes.
The beautiful warm early morning light bathing the rugged lansdcape in the distance.
Our first stop in the park, at Dune 45, named after its location 45 kilometres from the main gate.
Joining other visitors for the trek up the 170 metre tall dune.
The morning sun now well above the horizon. Dune 45 is a star dune due to the multidirectional wind.
Jordan trekking up the crest of the dune.
A great place for another selfie!
A Namib darkling beetle that also some how managed to make it to the top of the dune.
Rianda and Jordan contemplating how to descend without getting their shoes full of sand.
After emptying all the sand out of our shoes back at the carpark, we headed off again to the Sossusvlei.
The final 3-4 kilometres were driving through soft sand. After engaging low gear and locking the diffs on the Hilux, Jordan showed off his expert 4WDing skills on the bumpy and soft sand.
After parking the Hilux, we started the ~1.5 kilometre trek to Deadvlei (bottom-left).
The interesting shapes on the parched ground as we made our way to Deadvlei.
The contrast between the clear blue sky, red sand and white clay pan made for a very surreal and beautiful landscape.
Deadvlei is a white clay pan that was originally formed when the Tsauchab river flooded, creating temporary shallow pools which allowed camel thorn trees to grow.
A line of people trekking along the top of the dunes...
...and on to the top of Big Daddy (top right), the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area at about 325 meters.
During a period of drought ~600-700 years ago the dunes encroached on the pan and blocked the river from the area.
The camel thorn trees hence died with the skeletons remaining after drying out in the desert sun and wind.
I had watched a recent National Geographic series called 'Tales by Light' which followed photographers around the world.
In one of the episodes, Australian photographer Stephen Dupont used a DJI Inspire quadcopter to take aerial photographs of Deadvlei, capturing the skeletal trees along side the water channel patterns that looked eerily similar to a tree.
I couldn't resist trying to capture something similar with my DJI Phantom. The aerial perspective looking straight down produced some slightly unusual but beautiful shots.
The skeletal remains of the trees were oddly hypnotic and also very photogenic.
Looking down at Jordan on the white clay pan taking some photographs of the surreal landscape too.
The trees juxtaposed with the water channel on the clay pan made for very sublime and alluring composition.
An amazing and unique experience, definitely worth the long flight, drive and trek!
We then walked back to the carpark to the 4WD to begin the drive back. It was about 11:30am and getting quite warm with midday approaching.
At a monument by the main road commemorating the Namib Sand Sea which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.
During the drive out of the park we got a bit of a scare when the 'check engine oil' light briefly came on. We went to the service station back in Sesriem to check the oil but the dipstick showed plenty of oil though.
After the substantial breakfast earlier in the day we just grabbed a few snacks at the service station to tide us over until dinner.
An Oryx enjoying some shade by one of the chalets back at the Desert Camp.
I took the Phantom up for a fly in the afternoon. Looking west at the Desert Camp.
And out to our 'backyard' to the east.
A mountain range after flying ~3 kilometres to the south.
After exhausting the batteries on the Phantom, we went to join Jordan by the pool.
The water was a bit chilly but very refreshing!
A great place to relax after the adventurous morning and before our afternoon helicopter flight.
At about 3:15pm we hopped in the Hilux again and headed back to Sossusvlei Lodge to meet up for our flight briefing. After signing a waiver, weighing ourselves (for weight distribution on the helicopter) and paying $N4950 ($380) each, we met up with our pilot Harmand.
On the short drive out to the helipad we got buzzed by a Cessna 210N taking off!
Harmand giving us a quick safety briefing on the four seat Robinson R44.
After buckling ourselves in and putting on our headsets, we were off just after 4pm for our 90 minute flight across the Namib Sand Sea.
Fast and low.
Looking across to the Sossus Oasis Campsite in Sesriem.
And to our left as we enter the park is the Sossus Dune Lodge. As well as the park campsite, the lodge is the only place to stay within the park.
It was great to look across the unique landscape from the doorless Robinson R44.
The dry riverbed of the Tsauchab.
The main road to Sossusvlei which we drove on in the early morning.
Flying over the red dunes.
The high iron content of the sand results in the deep red rusty colour.
The sand is ~5 million years old.
Despite the lack of rain, some plants survive on water in the humidity brought by the morning fogs that enter the desert from the Atlantic Ocean.
The unique pattern and shapes in the dunes were very photogenic.
The red sand that forms the dunes was originally deposited into the Atlantic Ocean from the Orange River millions of years ago.
The Benguela current then carried this sand north, to be deposited back onto land by the ocean’s surf.
Rianda enjoying the view from the back. The temperature was about 28°C so not too uncomfortable with the wind blowing with the doors off.
After being carried back onto land from the ocean, the wind carried the red sand inland to slowly form the Sossusvlei dunes over time.
The scale of the dunes was quite impressive, with many being over 200 metres tall.
Looking across to Dune 45 where we trekked up in the early morning.
A car on the main tarmac road returning to Sesriem.
Looking across to one of the vlei's that flood when there is sufficient rain.
Deadvlei to our right as we continue our flight towards the coast.
And the White Mountains to our left.
As we continued the sandy landscape became less mountainous and more like typical desert.
We spotted some vehicle tracks below and were amazed that someone could drive out all this way in such a desolate environment!
About 40 minutes after leaving Sesriem we finally approached the Atlantic Ocean.
The air temperature immediately droped by ~10°C as we flew over the water.
Such amazing and breath-taking beauty with the Namib Sand Sea meeting the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
We descended and flew south along the coast.
A massive seal colony soon came into view.
It was quite a sight (and smell) to behold with with literally thousands of the seals on the beach and in the water!
It was amazing to see such abundance of life too after flying over the desolate and almost lifeless desert.
Harmand then flew back for another pass by the seals.
After swimming with Brown fur seals in Cape Town last year it was great to see them again while visiting another part of Africa.
We spotted a jackal on the beach too and was quite surprised to see it all the way out here. Harmand said that they love to feed on the baby seals.
We then flew back along the coast again but at much lower altitude. The seals obliged by putting on a show by jumping into the surf as we whizzed over them.
Getting abit of sea spray from the breaking waves as we head back up the coast again.
And heading back inland to begin the journey back to Sesriem.
We could just make out the tracks of antelope and jackals on the dunes by the ocean's edge.
The temperature noticeably warmed back up again as we skimmed the desert dunes as we headed back east.
The sun starting to get close to the horizon at the end of the day.
The low sun created some long shadows over the dry but beautiful landscape below.
Looking down on the sand dunes.
With the peaks of the dunes getting higher again the further we flew inland.
Deadvlei again with the shadow of the surrounding dunes now covering almost half of the white clay pan.
Looking down at the otherworldly landscape.
Dusk now well under way with long shadows almost completely covering the dunes.
The older, deep red dunes now returning below us.
Sesriem now in sight as we got closer to the end of the flight.
Sossus Oasis Campsite again with the sun about to dip below the horizon.
Banking right as Harmand brings the R44 in for landing.
And about to touch down at the end of an amazing flight!
We thanked Harmand profusely for the breathtaking experience, definitely a highlight of the trip and of all my travels!
He then drove us back to Sossusvlei Lodge where we said farewell.
It was close to 6pm so we chilled out at the Lodge bar and enjoyed a drink before dinner.
After the light lunch and busy day we were looking forward to another fantastic feed.
And were certainly not dispappointed with another amazing smorgasbord of exotic meats and tasty sides.
Managing to find some room to overindulge in some sweet desserts.
And back to the Desert Camp at the end of an exciting and eventful day 3 in Namibia.
The glow of the sun below the horizon from the front door of our chalet just after 6am on the morning of day 4. We then checked out of the Desert Camp at 6:30am and headed off in the Hilux to Sossusvlei lodge to have some breakfast.
Eggs being cooked on the outdoor braai. We were just after the morning rush for guests heading off to the park so the restaurant was not too busy.
And enjoying the beautiful view with boerewors and eggs for breakfast.
After another fantastic and very filling meal we headed off in the 4WD again.
Turning left to Solitaire.
Topping off the diesel in the Toyota again at the Solitaire Service Station.
Rianda picked up a few souvenir Solitaire t-shirts to take home.
Luckily more rain for the first four months of 2017 than all of 2016!
We had arranged a 9am visit to the Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre. After a bit of confusion on the meeting point, we finally found the right place and after paying $N465 ($36) each, Kelsey from Michigan took us for the short drive to the Cheetah enclosure.
They had rescued a mother who then had six cubs. Luckily they were all lazing under a tree, so it didn't take too long to find them.
One of the ever curious female cubs immediately got up to check us out. Kelsey said that Namibia has the highest population of Cheetah's in the world with a population ~7,000.
Kelsey said that a litter of 6 cubs is quite large, and if they had been born in the wild only a few of them would have survived. She said that they are also preyed on by lions, which I found quite surprising.
Two of the cubs trying to get a better view of us up the tree. Kelsey said that their paws are similar to a dogs rather than a cat, so they are not natural tree climbers like leopards.
After a very interesting hour with these beautiful animals, we hit the road again to begin the drive back to Windhoek, heading north out of Solitaire before turning east on to the D1275.
A steep section of the road that had been paved with bricks to help with traction.
With the clear blue sky the view seemed to be endless.
A panoramic view from above as we continued on
Heading left to Rehoboth.
Looking across farmland where cattle were being raised.
And on to the C26 for the final 36 kilometres to Windhoek.
We finally rolled into Windhoek and made it to the Hilltop Guesthouse just before 3pm.
Our room for $112 for the one night stay.
The view from the guesthouse to Windhoek below.
After a bit of a rest, a run and a shower in the afternoon, we headed down the hill to Joe's Beer House for dinner. My guide book said that Joe's was a 'legendary Windhoek institution' and it definitely didn't disappoint!
The menu was quite a treat with lots of interesting meals including zebra tenderloin, ostrich skewers, peppered springbok steak, oryx sirloin, crocodile hotplate and marinated kudu steak!
Myself and Rianda settled on the fresh oysters to share for the starter.
For the main myself and Jordan each had the Bushman Sosatie, which consisted of a selection of loin cuts of crocodile, zebra, kudu, oryx and springbok, served with mango-chili sauce and mieliepap croquettes. Baie lekker!
For dessert Jordan had the Malva pudding while myself and Rianda shared a Amarula Don Pedro.
A really great last meal to end our trip Namibia. When then managed to walk back up the hill to the guesthouse to catch a few winks before our early morning departure tomorrow.
I crawled out of bed at 2:30am and had a quick shower and packed a few last things. We had booked the taxi to Windhoek Airport for 3am to make sure I made my 6am flight back to Johannesburg.
Rianda's flight back to Cape Town wasn't until 8:20am but she decided to catch a ride with me to avoid the hassle of organising a second taxi.
After saying farewell to Jordan and thanking him for the awesome trip, we went outside to wait for the taxi at 2:50am. The taxi driver was already waiting so we headed off for the 46 kilometre drive to Hosea Kutako International Airport.
45 minutes later we arrived at the airport gates. Unfortunately passengers weren't allowed in yet so we had to wait in the taxi for a bit.
Finally at 4am they opened the gates and we were finally allowed in.
After checking in and saying farewell to Rianda, I went through security and immigration and waited for the Air Namibia flight to Johannesburg to board.
Walking across the tarmac to the SW A319.
Tasty sausage and eggs served for breakfast.
And a very welcome cup of black coffee. The flight was only ~25% full with plenty of spare seats.
Back at Johannesburg's O. R. Tambo International Airport after arriving on time just before 9am. I couldn't check in for my 2:10pm flight to Addis Ababa until 11am so I caught up on some Netflix while I waited.
A big juicy burger airside at Mugg & Bean for lunch.
Our ET 777 pulling up to the gate for the flight to Addis Ababa.
And about to board the plane for the final flight back home after an amazing trip to Namibia!