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Namibia’s Desertscapes: A Photographer’s Paradise

Friday, 9th March 2018

deadvlei namib desert namibia

Considered the world’s oldest, the Namib Desert is part of Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park (say that quickly!). Here, the horizon never gets closer. Pastel coloured sand dunes and immense rocky outcrops line the landscape all around. The immense sense of wilderness to be felt here is like no other…

Stretching the entire length of Namibia, the Namib Desert is more than just… well, a desert. To the north outside Swakopmund, huge yellow dunes roll into the Atlantic Ocean. Further south, the iconic Sossusvlei holds the secrets of Deadvlei and some of the world’s tallest dunes.

Swakopmund dune namib desert namibia

Keen to experience the full spectrum of the Namib Desert, our journey started in Swakopmund, a beautiful town pitched on the extremity of Namibia’s west coast. Cooled by the Benguela winds, the fresher temperature of 18c was welcomed after a scorching week in Etosha, further inland.

Our first taste of the Namib was just a short 5-minute drive outside the town. Gorgeous soft orange dunes line the coast, rolling in-land for miles and miles. After an intense 10 minute hike up, the desertscape revealed itself to us. The view was akin to the rolling hills of the English countryside only that here, the fields were ever-changing, ever-moving.

To say it was a photographer’s paradise would be an injustice. The snaking s-shaped dunes provided mind-blowing compositions at every turn; the hardest part was knowing where to begin!

Swakopmund dunes namib desert namibia

Behind us, the setting sun slowly crept below the Atlantic Ocean’s horizon, providing the most amazing of welcomes to the Namib Desert. Keen to enjoy Swakopmund’s seafood, the downhill hike was considerably shorter than the uphill. Buoyed by what we’d seen, excitement levels were at fever pitch for the week to come.

The following day, we headed towards Sossusvlei, arguably the highlight of the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the quintessential picture of Namibia.

On the way, we snaked through various canyons, drove through Mars-like landscapes until eventually reaching Sesriem, the hub for all things Sossusvlei. After a quick pitstop (water and snacks are essential in the desert heat), we took the recently tarmacked road to Sossusvlei.

Seemingly partaking in a height contest, the dunes grew taller the further into the park we drove. Sparse vegetation dotted the landscape, giving scale as to the mammoth size of the sand-mountains. Oryx and ostrich were in abundance, on their lengthy journeys between meals.

Our objective was to photograph a pristine dune, untouched by human feet. As such, we decided to avoid the famous Dune 45 and visit its slightly smaller sibling Dune 44… and what a fantastic decision that was. With the wind whipping sand from its crest, #44 felt alive. The dune was changing before our very eyes, slowly moving westwards.

Dune 44 namib desert sossusvlei namibia

Next up: Deadvlei. The true icon of Soussusvlei and a pilgrimage for many photographers.

Over 900 years ago, the river artery that once flowed and fed the trees was cut off, leaving a large clay pan filled in by drought and blowing sand. The ancient Camelthorn trees still stand – almost frozen in time – as a reminder of what once was.

Having navigated an ‘interesting’ sand track (only do this if you’re confident in a 4×4!) we reached the road’s end. After a rather warm 20-minute hike inland, we reached Deadvlei. Acutely aware of its fame, we’d expected a hoard of photographers. To our surprise, we were alone. Just us, in this perfect landscape.

The blackened trees, white clay, blood-orange sands, and bright blue skies made for the most vivid of contrasts. We felt a strange feeling of awe walking amongst the frozen Camelthorn fossils; killed by the very elements that they still linger in. It was achingly beautiful yet so incredibly surreal.

Finding compositions here was harder than we’d expected. We found, in time, that the key was picking a subject, staying with it, then waiting for the light change.

As the sunset fell below ‘Big Daddy’ (the world’s 2nd highest dune), we headed back towards the car. Along the way we were joined by oryx – reemerging from their daytime shades – feeding on small bushes. The air turned a fantastic pink/purple, the temperature became more bearable. For us photographers, the feeling couldn’t have been more perfect.

All images © George Turner