Deadvlei Brings Beauty to Death in Namibia

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My alarm rang into the dark silence of the morning. It was 5:30 am and I was in the washing group. After our activities this morning that included hiking to Deadvlei, we would be heading out in The Beast to our next destination.

This meant everyone up, tents were torn down and packed away before breakfast. Those on duty had to be up earlier to start setup for breakfast.

Following breakfast, we would be hopping into our first safari vehicle since touching down in Africa to explore the vastness of Sossusvlei National Park including a chance to hike over the dunes and visit the famous Namibia site of Deadvlei.

Safari Jeep

The safari vehicles were surprisingly comfortable as we cruised along deep sand tracks away from the campsite. You certainly wouldn’t be moving anywhere if you didn’t have good clearance ad 4-wheel drive.

The drivers are experts in dealing with sand tracks and even when we encountered deep spots that had us assuming we’d all be out pushing, they smiled, changed gears and plowed along.

The campsite we slept in last night is the farthest into the park most vehicles will ever go. The sand tracks can’t exactly be called roads so if you want to travel into the far reaches of this beautiful park, you have to hop in a safari truck.

Luckily for us, it was a slow morning. As we learned early on in our overland trip through Africa, the winter months are shockingly cold. While this may be an inconvenience when camping, it means fewer tourists which can be a really beautiful thing.

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Oryx Sossusvlei Deadvlei Namibia

Our morning drive involved only 3 safari vehicles, meaning we were pretty quiet entering into the depths of the park. What does this mean? Better chances to see animals.

While there is not a lot of game to be seen in the desert, we were pleasantly surprised to catch several Oryx making their way across the sand dunes during sunrise. Not something you get to see every day and it made for beautiful photo opportunities.

Once arriving at the parking area for Deadvlei, we exited the safari truck while being informed about the hike to visit the white salt pan. It wouldn’t be short and it could be difficult for people who are not fit due to having to walk in the sand.

Imagine walking along a beach in the area where the sand gets soft and it makes your legs feel heavy.

David Stock visiting Sossusvlei Deadvlei Namibia

Hiking into Deadvlei

Confident in our fitness and supplied with water and snacks, we headed off into the vastness of the red sand piles. From the drop off point, you can’t see Deadvlei and you are given two options for viewing the salt pan.

You can either head up the massive sand dune to the left, meaning a very steep climb that is rewarded with an overlook of the Deadvlei from the top or you can head over the rolling sandhills until you reach the edge of the actual salt pan.

The second option gives you a chance to explore the interior of the salt pan and wander among the dead trees. Because I wanted a chance to gain unique perspective photographs, we chose option 2 and headed off over the rolling sand dunes.

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Man Walking to Deadvlei Namibia

Thinking it would be close, it wasn’t till we reached the top of the first dune and looked off into the vastness of sand that we realized we had a workout in front of us. As far as the eye can see, it was rolling sand.

There seemed to be a footpath from other travelers leading forward, so we followed that assuming it was correct. There were no signposts after all.

An hour later, we reached the top of the last dune and were greeted by the most magnificent view of Deadvlei. I had seen photos and videos, so I knew what it looked like, but to be standing there in the presence of such a beautiful natural wonder was overwhelming for me.

Related Article: 13 Things you need to know before visiting Namibia

Cracked landscape of Deadvlei Namibia

The Deadvlei Salt Pan

There are claims that Deadvlei is surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world. The highest of these dunes reach 400m and the rest average 350m. The white clay pan that makes up Deadvlei was formed during a period of heavy rainfall.

These heavy rains caused the Tsauchab River to flood, creating many temporary shallow pools that allowed the growth of many camel thorn trees. When the climate changed causing drought to his area, the sand dunes encroached on the pan and blocked the river from supplying the area with water.

The remaining skeletons of the trees are believed to be around 900 years old and stand within the Deadvlei pan completely black and dead. The intense desert sun has scorched them, making it impossible for them to decay because of the dry climate.

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Tree in Deadvlei Namibia

Exploring Deadvlei

I was living out a dream, traveling my way across Africa and finally having the chance to see the things I have pined over in magazines for years. It was a beautiful moment that I stood in for several minutes before descending the last dune onto the salt pan floor.

The ground turned starch white and stepping onto the salt pan from the sand was like becoming a feather. The ground was firm and my muscles felt instant relief after the labor of walking through deep sand for an hour. Within seconds, I was mesmerized by the scene in front of me.

Looking up, the sun beat down from a clear, blue, cloudless sky before meeting the deep red sand of the giant dune that towers to the left of the salt pan. Then the sand just ends to a floor of white that has been dried and cracked from the intense sun.

Ground view of Sossusvlei Deadvlei Namibia

Standing in the middle of the pan are several black skeleton trees. Completely dead, yet still rooted into the ground holding their own. Random deadfall was also seen as my eyes scanned the surroundings. We even found the bones of an animal that came to the Deadvlei to meet its final moments.

Even in it’s apparent void of life, it held a beauty that only a place of death could hold; a silence with a feeling of solace and peace.

We spent the better part of 1.5 hours wandering the pan, photographing the surroundings and taking funny photos of us posing in random places. When it was time to leave we found ourselves struggling to pull away from the scene. The pull to remain was intense.

Perhaps this is how the animal, whose bones now rest in the pan, felt when it came time for him to leave, so he didn’t. That we will never know. We picked up our feet and made way to the red sand once again to start the journey back to the pickup station.

Dead Tree in Sossusvlei Deadvlei Namibia

Unforgettable Deadvlei

Our experience in Deadvlei is one we will not soon forget. When people ask us about Namibia, we immediately start talking about Deadvlei and the surrounding desert sand dunes. Of the many wonders that Namibia has on offer, Deadvlei is one you should not miss out on.

America's Adventure Travel Couple in Sossusvlei Deadvlei, Namibia - Divergent Travelers

How Can I Get to Deadvlei?

We visited Deadvlei as part of our 17-week overland trip through Africa with Oasis Overland. We camped at the Sossusvlei campground and then ventured into the park in the early morning hours to beat the heat and the crowds. From this campground, we also visited Dune 45 for sunset, which is another special Namib Desert experience to have.

We did see plenty of independent travelers camping alongside us. Some even attempted to drive their 4×4’s into the park that morning but many were stuck. If you don’t have experience driving in deep sand, please don’t consider trying for the first time in Sossusvlei. The safari transport is cheap and the guys are a hoot.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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