On the way down to Rehoboth
Organising the trip wasn't easy: the long weekend thanks to a public holiday on the Friday meant that most hotels were already booked, and those with spaces left were over £200 per person per night! After endless searching, Eveline and I stumbled upon Betesda Lodge, which was much more reasonably priced (£63 per person per night, Bed and Breakfast) and conveniently located.
Stopping to take photos
Mathieu at VSO had given us some excellent advice regarding travelling in Namibia: carry lots of water, and carry extra petrol. The roads are long and empty, and if you break down it will be some time before the next car appears to help you: you therefore need to have enough water with you to last a while, some food to keep you going, and if you run out of petrol before the next garage appears (which is entirely possible) then you need to be carrying some spare. Alex had a lot of fun going to Bushwackers and browsing through all the boys' toys before buying jerry cans for spare water and fuel.
Gravel roads, and the dust that is thrown up behind them. Beware overtaking cars!
The Friday morning we set off with Eveline and Nienke in the back of the car and enjoyed the drive down south. We'd taken some (bad) advice from our landlord on which roads to travel on, so the journey down took around 8 hours (it should've been about 5), but it was so beautiful and interesting we hardly noticed the time and really enjoyed the trip. From Windhoek to Rehoboth, and then a little further, was a good tar road, but beyond that were gravel roads. Driving on gravel roads is very different - a huge cloud of dust is thrown up behind you as you drive, and you have to drive very carefully, especially on corners. The speed limit here is 120km/h for travel on the long roads outside of cities, but Mathieu had advised us to only go around 70-80km/h on the gravel roads. Drive in the middle for the best 'track'. He was right, of course - and we haven't had any chipped windows so far (touch wood).
Enjoying the view
It was around 3pm when we arrived at Betesda Lodge (having set off at 8am that morning, with frequent stops along the way) and at 4:30pm set off for a sundowner trip with our guide, Smittie. Smittie drove us along the paths in the surrounding hills up to a spot where we could overlook the whole valley and watch the sun set over the sand dunes, drinking a glass of wine and cool spring water.
After a great night's sleep, we woke at 5am and were given coffee and rusk biscuits, before our breakfast was wrapped up in boxes and loaded into the car along with lots of water and supplies for the day. Driving over and into the first part of the park, we saw lots of Springbok and Oryx, and mountains that gradually turned into the sand of the desert.
Walking up dune 45, one of the more accessible dunes
The wind was quite fierce at that time of the morning, and whipped the sand up and off the dune.
View from the top of the dune
In the back of the car eating breakfast while Smittie drove
From Dune 45, we drove through the 4x4 track (I'm so glad we bought a 4x4!) over to Dead Vlei - dead valley - which is a vast space in between the dunes where some trees grow, but is so parched that everything looks absolutely dead. Once a year, this valley becomes flooded with the rains when it turns a lush green - but for the rest of the year, you wouldn't know that anything could grow here.
In front of Big Daddy Dune
The parched and cracked ground
Alex and Smittie
View of Dead Vlei from half-way up Big Daddy
After climbing some of the way up Big Daddy dune, we took the car over to Sossusvlei, and looked at the mud which the sun had baked into hard clay, before heading out to Sesriem Canyon, so-called because it took six lengths of leather to fall from the top to the bottom (Ses-Riem). We were so glad we'd taken 20litres of water with us that day - by the middle of the day it was baking hot and we'd drunk nearly all of it!
And then it was a hard couple of hours sitting by the pool at the lodge, with a glass of wine, before dinner...
Our journey back the next day involved a pit-stop at Solitaire to taste the famous apple pie baked at the lodge there, and then through various shallow streams/rivers through the mountains, which had stunning scenery and was absolutely worth the 5 hours drive back.