Proclaimed in 1979, the Namib-Naukluft Park is an amalgamation of several areas into one nature reserve. It is the largest conservation area in the country and home to one of Namibia’s top tourist attractions, the legendary Sossusvlei, a spectacular white pan surrounded by some of the highest sand dunes in the world.
Many visitors to Namibia say that no part of the desert is visually more dramatic than Sossusvlei with its monumentally high dunes. These gigantic star-shaped mountains of sand – one of the largest was measured from the base as 325 metres high – are a sought-after topic for artists and photographers. The warm tints of the sand contrast vividly with the dazzling white surfaces of the large deflationary clay pans at their bases. One of these, referred to as Dead Pan, is a large ghostly expanse of dried white clay, punctuated by skeletons of ancient camel-thorn trees, carbon-dated as being between 500 and 600 years old.
Sossusvlei’s mountainous dunes lie at the end of an erosional trough formed by the Tsauchab River. They are shaped by strong multi-directional winds, primarily the southwester, and have three to five sinuous crests, which meet at the highest point to give them their characteristic star shapes.
Visitors are allowed access to Sossusvlei only between sunrise and sunset. The first 60 km of the road from Sesriem to Sossusvlei has a permanent surface and is suitable for sedan cars, whereas the last five-kilometre stretch of sandy track is negotiable by 4x4 vehicles only. A shuttle service is available for people who do not want to hike the last 5 km.
The permit office complex for entry to Sossusvlei and other destinations in this section of the park is at Sesriem. Four kilometres south from here is Sesriem Canyon, where the erosion of many centuries has incised a narrow gorge about 1 km in length. At the foot of the gorge, which plunges down 30–40 metres, are pools that become replenished after good rains. Sesriem derives its name from the time when early pioneers tied six lengths of rawhide thongs together to draw water from these pools.
To early inhabitants, the gorge was an important water source in an otherwise waterless area. Even during very dry times there is water in the upper reaches of the canyon, where the deep clefts reduce evaporation. The Tsauchab River flows through the Sesriem Canyon and continues down to Sossusvlei.
"The Namib-Naukluft is Namibia's largest conservation area."
NAMIBRAND NATURE RESERVE
What originated as a dream to extend the frontiers of the Namib Desert by consolidating a large number of former sheep farms and rehabilitating the land into a sanctuary free of fences and other farm paraphernalia became the NamibRand Nature Reserve during the second half of the 1980s. Many facets of the Namib Desert are represented at NamibRand, creating a living tapestry of colour and contour that makes it a visual utopia for artists and photographers. Game species found on the reserve include gemsbok, giraffe, mountain and plains zebra, springbok, red hartebeest, bat-eared fox, spotted hyaena, Cape fox and African wildcat. In the more rocky areas, kudu, klipspringer, baboon and leopard can be found, while the dunes harbour a rich and diverse microfauna of lizards, beetles and spiders, and even the elusive golden mole. The reserve is also home to a rich variety of birds – over a hundred species have been recorded on NamibRand. The NamibRand Nature Reserve today comprises 15 former farms and extends over an area of some 202 000 hectares, making it one of the largest private nature reserves in Southern Africa, and it is also an International Dark Skies Reserve. Situated on the reserve are the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) Centre, and the NamibRand Desert Research & Awareness Centre