Driving towards Sesriem in Namibia, on the one side of the road the granite mountains become huge chunks of part-cut amethyst lit by the sinking sun. On the other side the dunes are lit red on the western side but remain inky shadows on the other side of the crest.
The wind carves the dunes into amazing formations. There are multi-cyclic or parabolic dunes, or more romantically star-shaped dunes. Each crest slides, sinuous towards the valley floor, all curves and rills and a final flourish before merging with the yellow tussock.
The desert wind is a constant companion in Namibia. It comes and goes like clockwork, drying the air and lungs, sending up dust whirlwinds over the plains. But still there is life.
This is part of the Namib Desert, and in the Namib Naukluft National Park, but this sea of mighty red dunes at Sesriem has become one of Namibia’s most popular natural attractions.
From the campsite at Sesriem vehicles take visitors in to Sossusvlei, a salt and clay pan in the midst of the red dunes. It is hot, unbearably so, and I found walking there a struggle. I really felt like I was going to pass out in the heat at one point.
The famous dead trees twist artistically against the white salt pan but I had to wobble to the shade of a Camelthorn, one of the few leafy trees.
The conditions were much more bearable next morning for the ascent of Dune 45 (so-called simply because it is 45 kilometres past Sesriem). It is only 80 metres high but my feet sank into the soft sand as I hurried towards the summit for sunrise.
The first rays of light turn the grey dunes of Sesriem pink and the colour becomes warmer and warmer until at last they are in their full red glory again. And yes they really are this red – no colour-enhancement here!
In the distance what looks like a rain shower moved across the ocean of sand, surreal in this desperately dry landscape.
Once again, the beauty of Namibia is overwhelming.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you experienced the red dunes of Sesriem in Namibia?
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