Waves of Sand and Ocean, Namibia
The sensual curves of Dune 40 in the Namib Desert flow over the gravel plains below: ever-changing in the light, ever-shifting in the winds.
It was another 4:00am wakeup call: we were expected to break camp before 5:00am so we could drive back into Namib-Naukluft National Park and catch the sunrise colours over the sand dunes near Sossusvlei.
Sleep, as they say, is over rated.
We were aiming for Dune 40 – 40 kilometres past the Sesriem gates on the road to Sossusvlei, Namibia. Dune 45 is the more famous one, with a carpark sitting right at its base, but Dune 40 was less likely to be crowded with tourists climbing to the top before the sun came up.
The Namibian dunes are like living things: with a still, enduring character, but with a personality that changes with every flick of the wind or shift of the light. They tell a long, long story of time and flow; of millions of years spent growing and flowing – one spec of sand at a time.
The Namib Desert stretches its gravel plains 200 km (124 mi) from a high inland plateau in the east to meet the Atlantic Ocean. Winds from the ocean bring fog – the desert gets more of its moisture from fog than it does from the very sporadic rainfall – and sand. Over the eons, this sand has formed into towering sand dunes which are the among the highest in the world. Their colour is a sign of their great age: as the iron in the sand oxidises, it turns burnt orange, like rusty metal. The older the dune, the more concentrated the colour.
I was travelling in a small group with photographer Ben McRae, Pedro Ferrão Patrício from Photoburst, and Namibian guide Morne Griffiths; we were chasing the light on the waves of sand, and following them to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Pre Dawn in the Dunes
Before the sun was fully up, our truck was parked at the side of the road and we were crossing the hard, flat ground towards the still-dark dunes on the horizon with our tripods in tow.
Photographers at Dune 40
By the time the sky lightens, photographers are dotted all around the grounds.
Sun Rising on Dune 40
The sky remained uncharacteristically overcast and hazy, so the colours on the sands were muted and subtle.
The morning light slants acutely across the dunes, filling the dips in the sand with shadow.
Light over the Dunes
There were moments when the sun broke through the high cloud and set the the sand and shrubs alight.
Dune 40 Up Close
Trees on the Edge
It’s hard to believe anything can grow in the dunes, but the odd camel thorn trees (vachellia erioloba) seem to manage.
Sweeps and Curves
Trees on the Dunes
Ostrich (Struthio Camelus)
Namib-Naukluft National Park
The mountains rise up in the distance as we drive back out of the National Park.
We stopped in Solitaire, a small settlement near the entrance to the park. (iPhone6)
In the sandy centre of the settlement – decorated by cactus and old cars – the gas station, post office, and general store service the crossroads. The bakery, with it’s good German heritage, cooks up the best apple strudel I’ve had in a very long time. (iPhone6)
Cape Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis Nitens)
Birds gather outside the restaurant, hoping for crumbs.
Rock and Bush
Following another gravel road, the C14 northwest of Solitaire, we crossed the dry Kuiseb River bed and climbed the mountain on the other side. We stopped at the Carp Cliff Viewpoint overlooking the Kuiseb Canyon and climbed the rest of the rocky knoll on foot. It amazes me how vegetation can cling to the exposed cliff-top.
Limestone Pile on Carp Cliff
The upheaval of time has left limestone slabs slanting sideways out of the ground …
… while harder rocks like quartz and marble sit like stepping stones on the windswept cliff.
Ground Agama (Agama Aculeate)
This little lizard – I think it’s a ground agama – was almost invisible against the background litter.
As we get close to the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal city of Walvis Bay, we can see “baby dunes” all around us. The dominant winds here are from the south-west, and strong enough to carry sand and even small pebbles. As a consequence, the dunes are constantly growing and shifting. (iPhone6)
Walvis Bay Home
The wide streets into the city are lined with neatly landscaped, architecturally designed, homes. (iPhone6)
They are a stark contrast to the rows of tiny, low-cost houses on the other side of Walvis Bay. (iPhone6)
Flamingos on Walvis Bay
The ocean outside the peninsula of Pelican Point near Walvis Bay is renowned to surfers for its waves, but it is the flamingos that draw people to the inner bay.
Flamingos on the Bay
Flocks of lesser and greater flamingos gather here to feed. To be honest, I can’t tell them apart; …
Flamingo and Skyline
… I just love how they catch the light, and how their leggy stance mirrors the industrial cranes behind them.
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra Avosetta)
Flamingos aren’t the only bird who feed here: avocets are among the water birds who winter in the southern parts of Africa.
The coastal city of Swakopmund (“Mouth of the Swakop”) is rich with the neo-baroque architecture of its German colonial heritage. (iPhone6)
Just 70 km north of Swakopmund, the holiday settlement and fisherman’s haven of Henties Bay has a much more casual feel. (iPhone6)
The Skeleton Coast
Our last stop on the Atlantic was the Skeleton Coast, north of the Swakop River. Originally named for the whale and seal bones that scattered the area in the days of whaling, this stretch of water is also home to over a thousand ships which have come to grief because of hidden reefs and sand dunes, strong crosscurrents, heavy swells and dense fogs.
We were there to photograph the most recent wreck: the Zeila, a fishing boat that was stranded on August 25th, 2008.
This wreck has long since been stripped of any useful metal, and now serves as a resting place for cormorants.
After spending time with the winds and the waves on the Atlantic Coast, we turned back into the desert, this time to the northerly part, with its clear skies (see: A Sky Full of Stars) and dramatic rocky outcrops (see: Morning over Spitzkoppe), leaving the ocean and the sand dunes behind us.
Until next time,