Solo Travel Namibia: Dunes of Sand and Salt

Namibia. Dune Shadow - Sossusvlei. Photo by Jeanne Block
Dune Shadow – Sossusvlei. Photo by Jeanne Block

My stomach churned and my pulse raced as we roared up the face of a steep sand dune and hung suspended for a moment in open space before dropping down the other side. Gunning the engine, we raced ahead to do it all over again. I was on an all-day four-wheeling adventure with Sandwich Harbour 4X4 in the Kuiseb River Delta just south of Walvis Bay, Namibia.

On the southwest coast of Africa, Namibia sits just above South Africa, with Botswana to the east, and Angola and Zambia to the north. About the size of California, Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. It is also a leader in environmental protection, with more than 40 percent of its land under some form of conservation management, encouraging the protection of wildlife and benefiting rural communities through wildlife tourism.

Walvis Bay, the main ocean port of Namibia, is a gateway to the coastal sand dunes which are part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest game reserve in Namibia. The park covers a large swath of the south-central and coastal areas of the country. Walvis Bay is also home to colonies of flamingos, Cape fur seals and one of the largest solar salt works in Africa.

Travel in Namibia

The 4X4 excursion began with a visit to the Pelican Point peninsula for a great view of ocean-going freighters in the harbor framed by lounging groups of seals and flamingos wading in the shallows close to shore. I saw black-backed jackals, which I first thought incongruous on a wet sand spit, but then realized the seal colonies provided an easy meal on occasion.

Then our caravan of three four-wheelers headed for Sandwich Harbour south of Walvis Bay. In this protected lagoon, the sand dunes literally drop away to join the sea. Of course, getting there was the real thrill, at times racing along the beach, flirting with the incoming tide, then crisscrossing stories-high dunes in a natural roller-coaster ride.

For the pièce de résistance we stopped in a protected bowl in the dunes for a gourmet champagne lunch. Besides great food, there was a lively discussion of travel and world politics among my dining companions, who were an interesting international mix, including three from Italy, two each from France, Belgium and Namibia, one from Germany and one from Switzerland. I was the lone American on the trip.

Before dessert, I got up to stretch my legs and walk a bit. To my delight, I saw a tiny brush-tailed gerbil busily feasting on a Nara melon. He seemed to be enjoying himself as much as we were.

Namibia. Walvis Bay Salt Works. Photo by Jeanne Block
Walvis Bay Salt Works. Photo by Jeanne Block

Our last stop was the Walvis Bay Salt Works, the largest producer of sea salt in sub-Saharan Africa. Here the dunes of sand are replaced by dunes of salt, which are dried through solar evaporation in huge brine ponds, then harvested for further washing and drying.

Finally, we headed back into town where I bid farewell to my travel companions, several of whom I met again several weeks and hundreds of miles north in Etosha National Park.

Earlier in the trip I had booked a 4 day/3 night Namib Desert Dream Tour through the Cardboard Box Travel Shop based in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city. The Cardboard Box has a website that is a treasure trove of information and knowledgeable staff  who love to promote their country. They helped me with everything from booking lodges, campsites and a rental car, to providing maps for a self-drive tour and suggestions for places not-to-be-missed.

Namib Naukluft National Park

Within the Namib Naukluft National Park, the Namib Desert Dream Tour takes you inland from Walvis Bay and deep into the Namib Desert – the oldest desert on earth. It includes a stay at the Namib Naukluft Lodge and visits to the undulating red sand dunes of Sossusvlei (dead end marsh) and the fossilized acacia trees of Deadvlei (dead marsh or death valley), two of the best-known attractions in Namibia and among the most photographed areas in Africa. Pictures of the other-worldly beauty of this desert are what attracted me to Namibia in the first place.

The Namib-Naukluft Lodge is located on a 25,000-acre farm turned private game reserve. Each of its 16 rooms provides stunning views of the desert and mountains. It offers guided tours of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, a hiking trail that crosses open land, then snakes into rocky hills, and evening drives of the farm.

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