If a simple elemental experience appeals then there can’t be too many things that will beat a couple of days exploring the colossal dune system that extends several hundred miles along the southern end of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and reaches over fifty into the hinterland in a dramatic sweep of orange.
We organize private camping tours to Sandwich Bay and the Namib Desert, which we can include in self-drive itineraries or to combine with visiting other key areas of Namibia. Contact us for details.
Skeletons and gemstones
Most people who visit Namibia get to Swakopmund, the quiet provincial town that sits at the mouth of the Swakop River with its back to the desert and its face in the stiff South Atlantic breeze. But far fewer people take the time to visit Sandwich Bay, a few hours by 4x4 to the South.
This is a fascinating natural lagoon used at one time for small-scale fishing and commercial whaling, but today firmly in the grip of the wild once more. Today any signs of human presence (the odd decaying house) are rapidly being swallowed up by the dunes.
For birders the myriad species from Great white pelicans to greater and lesser flamingos, terns and turnstones make this place a must-see, but it’s the wider setting of the dunes and crashing breakers on the Skeleton Coast that make Sandwich Bay a place that you really shouldn't miss.
The drive alone, along miles of deserted Skeleton Coast beach, a world of sand to the east and the desolate expanses of ocean to the west, is an eye-opener. And one not to be taken lightly as the chances of inexperienced drivers being caught by unforgiving tides is high.
True to its name, the coast is littered with bones of seals and other unfortunates who have met their end. Here and there you'll encounter astonishing patches of pink sand. Get down on your hands and knees, and, using your binoculars as a magnifying glass (turn them round) you'll find that the sand here is made of gemstones; garnets washed down the Orange River to be deposited on the coast by the Benguela Current.
Wind, Sand and Stars. But animals too…
Beyond the shoreline you enter a world defined and dominated by sand. Sand as you have probably never imagined it before. Immense blond dunes like whipped vanilla ice cream rise hundreds of feet and stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions.
Travelling by 4x4 (tracks are erased in a matter of days or hours sometimes) you follow a sweeping path that feels a little like surfing, following the curves and valleys of the dunes. It’s a total removal from the outside world and deeply mesmerizing.
What’s truly startling is the quantity of life that this most rarified of environments supports. Not just the specially adapted beetles that use elaborate adaptations to capture moisture from the sea fog, but mammals, from herds of spring bok to magnificent oryx that, seemingly against all odds, manage to make a living in this monochrome world.
They also seem to be universally aware of how photogenic they are, although you need to be quick on the draw as they wont hang around while you play with your f-stops.
Rain (rarely) stops play
The astonishingly low amount of rainfall in the Namib Desert (more accurately described as precipitation because it’s mostly sea fog) means that sleeping out under the stars is something that can be done with little chance of the weather spoiling things. Nights – as in all deserts – are cold (sometimes very), but bed-rolls with specially made canvas hoods do a great job of keeping the warmth in.
After a day gentling traversing massive dunes by 4x4 and on foot, camp is set up at the base of a dune. There’s a refreshing simplicity to this way of doing things. A windbreak is first up, then - cowboy style - a simple grill placed over a wood fire forms the centre-piece of the camp for the evening. As the evening turns to night and the stars emerge in their millions, you can sit quietly as a simple feast is prepared in cast iron cooking pots over the fire.
Not for everyone?
Like all the best things in life, camping with simple bedrolls won't appeal to everyone. This is a particularly good example of the luxury being in the experience. The desert and dunes are harsh environments and while the guides we work with have many years of experience in this area, cars can get stuck (this calls for jacking and digging and is usually a straightforward process) and sleeping on bedrolls will never be as comfortable as a bed in a hotel. But of course that’s not the point. The objective here is to experience a unique environment without impacting it. And to have an experience the like of which you may not get a chance to repeat.
Contact us if you'd like to receive a sample itinerary for a trip of this kind
Posted by: Alex